The Design Matters Interview: Cheryl Strayed

Posted inDesign Matters With Debbie Millman
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Cheryl Strayed was only 22 when the floor gave out beneath her.

Her beloved mother had just died of cancer at the age of 45. Grief gave way to infidelity. Infidelity gave way to heroin abuse and divorce.

And then, an impulsive decision—explored in this episode of Design Matters—led to her rebirth.

If you listen to Design Matters on PRINT, you know we’re fond of quote roundups—and so is Strayed, herself a prodigious collector of curated quips (or as she describes them, “mini–instruction manuals for the soul”). In 2015, Strayed released Brave Enough, an assemblage of highlights from her larger body of work.

As a complement to this episode of Design Matters, here are 15 of our favorite selections from the book.

Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. Be brave enough to break your own heart. You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you’ve got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all. Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. Believe in the integrity and value of the jagged path. We don’t always do the right thing on our way to rightness. How wild it was, to let it be. Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. You go on by offering comfort to others who can’t go on. You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and by allowing the pleasure in other days. You go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage. No is golden. No is the power the good witch wields. Inhabit the beauty that lives in your beastly body and strive to see the beauty in all the other beasts. Be about ten times more magnanimous than you believe yourself capable of being. Your life will be a hundred times better for it. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. Put yourself in the way of beauty. The body knows. When your heart sinks. When you feel sick to your gut. When something blossoms in your chest. When your brain gloriously pops. That’s your body telling you the One True Thing. Listen to it.