As a freelance designer I look at the end of the month with a love/hate relationship.

Love because I get to send out invoices in order to get paid.

Hate because I have to send out invoices in order to get paid.

The nature of my work and agreements I have with my clients allows me to do all invoicing at one time, so the end of the month can be daunting when you are counting up hours, figuring out the cost of projects, and sending out emails to clients. It’s a lot of work to do at the end of every month and I try to avoid it as long as possible most months. It’s necessary, but that doesn’t make it fun.

What is fun, I have found, is tracking my finances. I’ve kept a spreadsheet for 4 years of all my earnings broken up by month and client. So at any point I can glance and see how much I’ve made at any given point from any given client. It allows me to look at trends (i.e. I made more money during the summer while I was in school because I had more hours I could work) and forecast projections for next year. For not being a “numbers guy,” I actually find these numbers extremely fascinating and get lost in them every month.

The more I look at them over time, the more I see a bigger trend: generosity.

Before you take that as a humble brag, I want to explain what I mean.

I see all my finances as an act of stewardship. Yes, I work hard for my money; yes, I like to spend it on things I love to do. But, in the end, it’s not mine. I view it as a gift from God. He didn’t have to give me the skills to work with the clients I work with, but He did. He didn’t have to equip me with the ability to create and design, but He did. He doesn’t have to reward me with paying clients who are a joy to work with, but He does.

What I do and what I have been given are unbelievably unequal. I have been blessed with more than I deserve—it’s called grace. The most simple definition of grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

And I’ve learned the only response to grace is generosity.

Someone who has been given so much does not clench their fists and hold on tightly for fear of losing it. No, they hold it loosely with a grateful disposition, humbled to be given the opportunity to steward the resources they have been entrusted. Then, they look for opportunities to do the same to others because the precedent has been before them to give.

So when I look at my finances on my spreadsheet every month, I try not to look at it as “This is how much I’ve earned this month” but rather “This is how much I’ve been given this month.” It shifts your perspective from a selfish consumer to a grateful giver. It is a subtle reminder that you have been given the greatest gift of grace that can never be out-given.

It is a reminder to give because you have been graciously given.



For the past year I have been a Fellow (read: intern) at GiANT Impact. My job has been to be the internal graphic designer for both of the brands we steward—Catalyst and Leadercast. From day one I knew this would not be like most internships, especially like those in the creative industry. I wouldn’t be getting coffee, picking up dry-cleaning, reading through reports my boss didn’t have time for, or making supply runs to Costco every other week. The projects I would be working on were not just portfolio padders but real projects for real events. What I did and how I did it mattered.

I know most internships are not like this. You either shadow someone who is doing the job you want to eventually do or you are given menial tasks and minimal autonomy to carry out orders. In short, most internships are grunt work, plain and simple.

And, to be honest, it doesn’t help anyone. Sure, the company benefits but the individual who is doing the work is learning very little about how to actually do the work and be successful at what they want to do. It’s not setting them up for success or even equipping them with the skills to land a full-time job.

Thankfully, my internship has done quite the opposite. I have been given responsibility, coached through transition, and set up for success in future work. I have learned there are tangible ways employers can utilize interns, maximize their time, and set them up for success in the future.

1. Set Them Up to Succeed You

If you withhold information, knowledge, or opportunities because you are afraid they will take your job, you are not a leader. Your job is to prepare them to leave the internship better equipped to do their job—whether that is at your company or another. Set them up for success wherever they decide to.

2. Coach Them Up

Look for moments to coach them in better business practices or strategies rather than jumping down their throat about what they did wrong. It doesn’t mean let them avoid consequences, it means being mindful of teaching scenarios that can grow them as a person too.

3. Allow Them to Fail Forward

Good interns want to learn which means they will make mistakes. Give them opportunities to fail forward. Invaluable experience is gained when you take risks knowing you have someone in your corner who is on your side.

4. Give Them the Right Amount of Responsibility

Some interns find their niche and take everything that comes their way in stride. Identify these tendencies and begin to add a little more responsibility to their plate when you can. The confidence you show will encourage them to rise to the challenge and work even harder.

5. Invest in Them

Most interns are temporary labor. They will only be at the company a short time until they have to go back to school or move on to another job. While that sounds like an excuse to not make time, it actually means you should make more of an effort. What if they end up sticking around? If they do, it probably would be less awkward if you took an interest earlier rather than later.

6. Invite Them into the Inner Circle

Nothing makes someone feel more important than being “called-up-to-the-big-leagues.” Even if you’re just riding the bench. If you really want to set them up for success in their future, invite them into meetings where they can learn the reasons why decisions are made.

7. Ask What They Think

New faces mean fresh ideas. In a department that might be operating on the same system for the last few years, a new voice might offer fresh insight and help solve stale problems others couldn’t quite seem to figure out. Doesn’t mean they’ll get it right every time, but they will feel like they matter when it is clear their ideas are valued.

8. Stop Treating Them Like Interns

Don’t talk about them like they’re not in the room. Don’t make sarcastic remarks when they ask uninformed questions. Don’t belittle them in front of coworkers. Praise them publicly every chance you get. Speak highly of them to superiors of their work. Brag on them in front of other employees. Interns, even if they are at the bottom of the corporate food chain, are people and have feelings too.

Internships have become industry standards, but they don’t all have to be that bad. I’m grateful to have found a company that practices these eight things and more. No company is perfect, but if you treat your interns with a little more respect and attempt any handful of the suggestions above, you will begin to have more interns who desire to stay on not because it’s just a job, but because they feel like they actually belong.

One of the examples Simon Sinek almost overuses in Start with Why is Apple.

The reason why he uses is them is because they are an absolutely brilliant example of the Golden Circle. In various chapters he points to how their WHY has been engrained in their company since the first days Wozniak and Jobs worked in Jobs’ garage. Apple’s WHY was to challenge the status quo and inspire others to think differently. They started by making computers that reflected that, but over the decades their reach has revolutionized many other markets.

One of the keys, Sinek argues, to a successful company is a CEO that embodies the WHY of the company. They have to be the visionary that naturally exudes the qualities your product or service provides. They become the physical manifestation of the WHY. They draw in customers with their passion but they also inspire employees with their vision.

This was Steve Jobs for Apple.

If you have read anything about him from his time at Apple—pre-1985 or post-1997—Jobs was the visionary at the helm that made Apple what it was and is. He was the embodiment of the Apple mentality. Steve Jobs equalled Apple, and visa versa.

Until his death in 2011.

Analysts, shareholders, and Apple fans all wondered who would step into the shoes their mythologized founder left. Who would fill the “One more thing…” hole in presentations.

Enter Tim Cook.

I remember articles and blogs written comparing Cook and Jobs once it was announced he would be taking the reigns permanently as CEO. They could not be more polar opposites. Jobs was erratic, charismatic, and borderline maniacal at times; Cook was collected, genial, and soft-spoken—at least in the public eye. These two stark contrasts did not sit well with me then, and I wasn’t sure why until I read Start with Why and began to understand the principle job of a successful CEO.

Cook doesn’t embody Apple.

Granted, there will never be another Steve Jobs. Period. No one will ever be able to do what he did ever again. But Cook does not embody the rebellious attitude that has become synonymous with Apple’s products. Based on some of Sinek’s arguments and examples, this does not bode well for Apple’s future.

This doesn’t mean everything will be derailed and the company is going down the tubes. Most companies can ride the wave of their founder’s passing for some time after their departure, but having someone at the helm that doesn’t naturally portray the WHY of your company takes a whole lot of extra effort… and it hasn’t worked out well for Apple in the past (see John Sculley).

I’ve been skeptical, like many other Apple analysts and fans recently, of the future as each “new” product has appeared to be an evolutionary design rather than a revolutionary design. Whether the innovation has dissipated slowly or we’re just in the holding pattern for the next market to be overhauled, time will only tell.

But I read an article that gave me a glimpse of hope recently from BusinessWeek.

Amidst the talk of dollar signs and projected earnings, shareholders reaffirmed their faith in CEO Tim Cook and the direction he is taking the company by approving the board of directors once again and other decisions. In a year where Apple is the world’s most valuable company yet also recording a drop in profit last fiscal year, the support didn’t make complete sense to me but it wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary.

That was until I read a quote from Cook when asked about having a vision like Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerburg to connect every human to the internet. He responded with, “Many companies sell futures. I’m not saying companies that do that are right or wrong. It’s just not who we are.”

And that’s when I realized the CEO of Apple gets Apple. He might not be the same kind of rebellious Steve Jobs was, but Tim Cook is rebellious in his own way… all the way to the core.

I recently read Start with Why by Simon Sinek (review here). His major concept of “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” really struck home as an advertising and brand-centric mind. But as I was reading I thought through so much more.

One of the ideas I am still chewing on is the relationship of the WHY, HOW, and WHAT in organizational structure.

Sinek suggests that the CEO is the responsible for the WHY in the organization. He/She is responsible for clearly communicating and reminding those who work under him/her of the WHY the company is doing what it is doing. If they are not effectively casting vision, clarifying the wins, and reminding everyone of WHY then everyone else in the organization can lose sight of the WHY and it becomes fuzzy.

This job makes sense to me. Why? Because most CEOs are dreamers. They are people who have a huge picture in their head and want to connect people to make that picture a reality. They do not have all the tools necessary to make it happen, otherwise they wouldn’t need a team and could do it on their own.

But they do need a team. They need a team that will help think through the HOW.

This is the first line of management. In some companies the HOW is made up of other “C-level” management while in others these are mid-level managers. Regardless of how the structure looks, the HOW is responsible for translating the vision into practical tasks to accomplish the vision of the WHY.

This means creating the systems and processes for the WHAT to do their jobs so the company continues to function like the well-oiled machine it should be. The WHAT are most employees at companies. They are responsible for the day-to-day tasks, execute the plan, and move the company forward.

Everyone has a role. Everyone is part of the process. Everyone can’t be the WHY otherwise nothing would get done. Everyone can’t be the WHAT otherwise the vision and direction would get lost.

The key is learning your role, and here’s what I’ve learned:

I’m not a WHY.

I’m too much of a realist to be able to think up new visions and dreams to drive a company. While I have the creative capacity, I lack the imagination and optimism that is usually associated with good WHYs.

I’m a HOW.

I think in systems, processes, and strategies. I get excited about planning, trying to find all the pieces to the puzzle and assembling them; it energizes me.

But, right now I’m a WHAT.

My position requires me to do daily tasks to help move the ball down the field for the rest of the company. I don’t have the influence to leverage my voice in the decision-making process right now. I am more task-oriented in my job than planning-oriented. I do more of the practical rather than strategic.

And that is okay.

Being a WHAT is not a problem; it is actually a strategic advantage. The more you can familiarize yourself with the inter-workings of the majority of a company or process, the more informed you will be once you become the HOW. Too many management-level bosses run into issues because they have lost touch with the people who routinely carry out the decisions they make. They can lose sight that each choice has a repercussion and effect on someone directly.

And that is a problem. One I hope to avoid making as much as possible.

Which is why I am perfectly content being a WHAT until the opportunity to be a HOW serving under a WHY presents itself.

I don’t like the label “graphic artist.”

It’s not that I have something against people who are graphic artists. Many use the terms “graphic designer” and “artist” interchangeably. But, the reality is, that title doesn’t apply to me.

Why? Because artists just operate on a different plane than normal people. They view the world differently. They see from a unique perspective. I have a friend who is this way. He is a phenomenal painter. His portraits (of which I have been a subject of many) are so realistic and beautiful. But it’s not just his work, it’s the way he thinks. It is the way he approaches life and art that makes him… well, an artist.

And I don’t see myself in that category.

That is why I prefer “designer.”

According to Merriam-Webster a “designer” is someone “who plans how something new will look and be made.” And if you look at the definition of “design” it says “to plan and make decisions about something that is being built or created.”

For example, my job title during the week is “graphic designer.” But that doesn’t mean I sit around at my computer all day creating images to share on Instagram or creating ads for event journals. It means I have to critically think through size specifications, photography from events, copy changes and edits, juggling time-sensitive deadlines, and managing relationships between departments. My job revolves more around making design-centered decisions rather than creating the beautiful works of art. Sometimes that process culminates in beautiful works of art. But other times it just moves the ball down the field for the team.

I believe I stand at a crossroads; I believe design is stands at a crossroads. An intersection of beauty and function, art and strategy, speaking the language of artists and bridging the gap to those who don’t think of themselves as such. It funnels creativity and filters ideas into a cohesive message, and it encourages imagination and dreams up new, innovative directions to go.

Because design is all about the planning; design is all about the process.

And the world needs more designers. Not artists who think they are designers, but true designers who solve problems by marrying beauty and function, who change the world with stunning simplicity, and alter the course of movements through insightful thinking.

Because designers make the artists’s world a reality.

According to @UberFacts, J.K. Rowling wrote the final chapter of the Harry Potter series nine years before the first book was released. Who am I to question the validity of almighty @UberFacts, but, if it is actually true, we can learn a lot from that kind of creative process.

Starting with the ending seems really counter-intuitive, especially when it comes to a writing a novel. How are you supposed to know what your characters are going to say in the final moments of such an epic series? How do you know their voice? Their attitude? Their personality? Their evolution? How do you know the story you’ve yet to write will actually end there?

That’s the beauty of it; it has to.

If you begin with the end in mind, everything you write will be filtered through that lens. If you want to get your protagonist to this climatic ending where he or she can end on a mountain top experience leaving your reader satisfied having stuck with you that long, you have to craft every scene to move them towards that point. Yes, Tolkien famously said “All who wander are not lost,” but when it comes to fiction, leading your readers through aimless chapters leads straight to boredom and disinterest.

But, isn’t that the same in real life?

Have you ever met someone with a dream for their life? I’m not talking about “I want to be a doctor… teacher… pastor… baseball player… author… etc. when I grow up!” I’m talking about someone with a clear vision that informs every important decision they have to make, from what college they attend to what internships they apply for to what kind of person they date to the organizations they volunteer at. It seems like every single area of their life is always pointing back to one thing: the thing they want to achieve the most. And everything they do the see as an opportunity to move them in that direction.

They live with the end in mind.

They sacrifice the present for the future. They forgo the “here and now” for the “what can be.” They have glimpsed the last chapter and are doing everything they can to edit their story to end up there.

They know how they want their story to end and do everything in their power to make it happen.

Some might think that makes life too structured and boring because you know how everything is going to happen. I would argue the exact opposite. If you live your life with the end in mind, the adventure is not something you are trying to find, rather it becomes the life you lead. Each curveball life throws become a plot twist for the next chapter begging you to keep moving to see how its all going to turn out in the end.

Therefore, if you have the final chapter written, the journey becomes more of an adventure to be had and less of an unknown future to be determined.

Maybe if we lived with what we wanted our final chapter to say, we could live more courageously at the end of today.

One of my favorite TV networks is HGTV—and, no, you cannot take my mancard from me. The design and building aspect is fascinating to me and fuels creativity and dreaming.

One show that seems to always be on-air is Love It or List It. Each episode centers around a family who is at odds whether they should stay in their current house or move. A designer has to remodel their current house in order to persuade them to stay while a real estate agent shows other houses that meet their dream criteria in order to encourage the move.

It’s a pretty cookie cutter show episode to episode. The hosts (designer and real estate agent) annoyingly banter back and forth, the family is unbudging on budget, the last house show is always the “perfect house,” and there is always a dramatic catastrophe that results in the family not getting everything they want in their old house. While almost 2/3 of families choose to stay, the “drama” created by the show keeps audiences engaged and somehow you find yourself four episodes deep wondering where all that time went.

With all that being said, there are only twenty minutes of the show that I really care to watch: the initial walk-through and the final reveal. Everything else I could really care less about. I want to see the before and after. There is just something that resonates when you see the old, cluttered rooms transformed into new, fresh spaces with color and cohesive design. I don’t want to see the actual renovation part or the houses they don’t pick. The middle 40-minutes are just not interesting to me.

I think this sentiment goes deeper than television though. Many times in our life we find ourselves in a mess and have a dream of where we want to be—emotionally, physically, spiritually, or intellectually. We might see other people who embody those qualities and we covet their life. We wish for patience like that. We hope for a happier marriage. We desire a deeper connection with God. We want that end result, but we don’t want to pay the price to get there.

We don’t want to watch the middle 40-minutes.

Because, those are the messy moment in life. They are the ones full of hard decisions. They are the ones where we find ourselves in the dark night of the soul. Things don’t always go the way we want them. Things take a toll on our relationships. Things become painful.

Because the middle 40-minutes are hard to watch.

But it’s in those moments that God is working. It’s in those moments He’s gutting out the mess. It’s in those moments He’s laying the new foundation. It’s in those moments He’s restoring areas in our lives that He sees more potential. But, it takes hard work. It takes time. It takes dealing with the mess we were so comfortable living in yesterday.

That is not easy. No renovation or restoration is easy, but, ask anyone who has done one, the payoff is worth it.

Maybe, one day, I’ll make build up enough courage to take on my DIY project, but until then, I’ll keep watching others struggle through renovations…

All the while God is leading me through my own 40-minute renovations to make me who He has dreamed for me to be.