Milton Glaser: Ten Things I Have Learned in Life

I can’t remember who pointed me to Milton Glaser’s essay about the ten things he has learned in his life, but it’s easily one of the best things I’ve read this year. I encourage you to read the whole thing.

My favourite lessons are below:

You can only work for people that you like. This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because in fact at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realised that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle…

On avoiding toxic people in life:

And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life. 

I want to surround myself with people that exhilarate me, that help me blossom.

Is less more? Milton Glaser doesn’t think so:

Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realised that it was total nonsense, it is an absurd proposition and also fairly meaningless. But it sounds great because it contains within it a paradox that is resistant to understanding. But it simply does not obtain when you think about the visual of the history of the world.

I applaud Glaser for understanding the importance of how environment shapes our development, particularly our brain:

How you live changes your brain. We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behaviour.

May I suggest you go back to the David Eagleman piece and learn more about how our brain is affected by environmental stimuli?

Do you approach things in life with, would you say, mostly unquestioning acceptance or doubt? I love this one:

Doubt is better than certainty. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course we must know the difference between scepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins. And then in a very real way, solving any problem is more important than being right.

Yes, there is nuance to the life lesson above. If you approach something with too much doubt, too often, you will become cynical. And that’s exactly what Glaser warns about in the essay. As for me, I have always been one to doubt first, accept second. Many times it appears as though I am trying to clash with someone’s belief on purpose, and I am perceived as obstinate and annoying. But those that can see through that personality quirk become my friends.

If you read through the end, the last lesson is: tell the truth. Milton Glaser is a designer, and his basic premise is that telling the truth is important no matter what field or practice you choose to go into. These are ten lessons to cherish.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s