Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.
Fe is a designer, creative strategist, and leader who puts her full heart into what she does. She loves blue skies, sunrises, sunsets, and other things that make her feel like a little speck of dust.
What is the thing you like doing most in the world?
It is impossible for me to answer this question with “one thing.” I have a few, and they’re my favorite in different moments of my life. I love listening to music while cooking dinner with my husband, while I make up a recipe as I go. I love long hugs! I love getting lost in thought during an easy run (especially while gazing at the mountains on the horizon). I love walks with my pup Aspen as he walks beside me, taking a look up every now and then. I really love moving my body— in running, hiking, yoga— and have rediscovered a new form of deep gratitude for every time I get to do it. I love seeing the places I can get to on my own feet. I love meeting people I love for coffee— coffee is my favorite beverage and such a great prompt for moments of connection at any time of the day, even at night. And I absolutely love getting lost in my own world when drawing and painting, and it has become my lifeline over the past few years, since I rediscovered it as my own ways to express and process my feelings and emotions.
What is the first memory you have of being creative?
I don’t know how old I was— the memory is very faint (I may have been five?) but there was this long table I used to draw on with my dad when I was little. Not only did I draw on paper, but I also drew on the table itself! I vividly remember this witchy-looking girl character I drew on the wood surface of this table: she wore very pointy boots, had a sweet but disheveled hairdo, a really whimsical facial expression, and I remember how happy with myself I felt then— both drawing her and looking at her every time I’d come to my drawing table to draw something else. It was the first time I remember feeling this thing inside of me that I now know I get to feel when I feel creative.
What is your biggest regret?
Having convinced myself that “professional creatives” focus on the professional creative stuff, right around my first year of design school (I was 17). That meant I dove deep into learning all the “real design things,” but it also meant I abandoned my drawing in the same measure; meant abandoning that same spark I felt when I drew freely on my drawing table top. My set of coloring and watercolor pencils sat completely untouched for almost two decades— the more time passed, the more afraid I’d grow of having forgotten how to even begin doing anything on a blank piece of paper. I wish I had not abandoned that part of me for so long, because it is now the part of me that truly gives my heart an extra boost in each beat. Abandoning the joyful kid in me that couldn’t stop drawing was a way for me to learn how to let real defining parts of me go to the back burner, waiting until “I finally made it there” so that I would finally allow myself to finally be who I really am. That is why this is my biggest regret: by learning how to abandon drawing, I learned how to compartmentalize my life in ways that didn’t serve me. Unlearning this meant rescuing drawing, but mostly it meant rescuing me. I was able to take inventory of how many times I had compromised on what my heart told me in the name of “professional growth,” what others think I “should do next,” you name it. This regret has become an unstoppable driving force in me: I live a more intentional life now and make decisions that closely align with the energy I feel in every step toward either reclaiming a forgotten part of me I love, or toward creating a new part of me that supports the life I want to live.
How have you gotten over heartbreak?
That’s a question I wouldn’t really know how to respond to a couple of years ago, or maybe I would have made up an answer that sounded good enough. But the truth is: the biggest heartbreak I’ve ever gotten over has been a recent loss, and it took me almost three years to come to a place I can even talk lightly about it. I lost someone who was incredibly important to me early in 2020, and it was a very difficult and complicated thing to process. Thankfully, at that time, I had started surrounding myself with support in therapy, as well as learning to reach out to loved ones who are close to me; my previous pattern would’ve been to shut it off and push it down. In processing and grieving this loss, I was also faced with the reality of sitting with it during the heights of the pandemic, unable to get busy on work trips or distracted with a busy social life. I was left with me, my breathing, and learning to sit with what is. It forced me into a mindfulness practice so that I could learn to be present with my feelings instead of numbing them, and drawing was a huge component of that. It took me a couple of years to even be able to talk about this without sobbing, to mention this loss without the air escaping my chest, but I believe I started turning a corner once I truly allowed myself to be present in my feelings while taking in all the love I had around me— especially love toward myself, which was a hugely new concept for me. It took a lot to truly see that I have so much love around me, even though there is also a hole in there. I got over that heartbreak by letting my broken heart be repaired without trying to conceal the scars— they will always be there— while allowing myself to lean on, breathe into, accept, and believe in the love coming toward me.
What makes you cry?
I cry very easily, both happy and sad tears! I tear up watching a beautifully happy movie, and I also tear up at the sight of injustice in the world. I have cried when a song comes up in the very exact moment it matches my feelings, and I have cried hugging people I love after a long time. I have even cried during a guided meditation, depending on the prompts. In my view, crying is a way my body finds to process the feelings growing and swirling within me, and it feels good for my soul.
How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?
A very, very long time. I am still so proud of having crossed the finish line of my first marathon in 2015, just as much as I am also still so proud of all the inner work I’ve done to reclaim my creative side by finally conquering my fears and picking up the brushes and pencils back up again in 2020. Both took years of investment from my side— I’ve invested energy, effort, time, was willing to be a beginner, and to approach the learning curve forward. I find a lot of pride and joy in the journey toward accomplishing something, especially as I set the journey without necessarily predetermining what is ‘the thing’ I will accomplish at the end.
Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?
My biggest belief is that I am too rudimentary in my skin, bones, and even brain to truly comprehend what all happens around, beneath, and above us. I truly believe that there is a huge force in the universe, and that I am a small component of it, while being the true main character of my own story. I believe that there are too many unknowns for life to just be this short strip of time I’m on earth for— and I also believe this is way too vastly complicated for me to decipher on my own. So, if my life is a rollercoaster, I believe there might have been other rides before this one, and there might be others after this, but the engine and the mechanisms behind the rides are enormously complicated and I haven’t found it too important to figure them out. Most recently, after being involved in a horrific car accident that could’ve been the end of this ride, I’ve decided that what this looks like to me is to do everything I can to live a life that makes me feel complete if it ever flashes in front of me again.
What do you hate most about yourself?
I am happy to report that I don’t truly hate anything about myself! But the thing I don’t particularly love about me and that I wish I could change is my memory. I have a terrible memory for what I call “life logistics”— names, tasks— and it makes life a little more challenging than I wish it was. I depend very heavily on Google Calendar and still haven’t found a perfect system to organize myself. I have to work a little extra hard because of it sometimes.
What do you love most about yourself?
For as long as I can remember, I have known this about myself: truth and clarity are crucial to me. Brené Brown summarized it perfectly in the “clear is kind.” And even though I’m incredibly nuanced in basically everything in my life, this part is very black and white: you can expect truth and clarity from me, whether we just met or have been in each other’s lives forever. In all facets of my life, personal and work relationships. It means I don’t hold grudges against the people I love, because I am very capable of recognizing that something someone I love did wasn’t great, and I can move forward. It means I genuinely apologize when it’s my turn, as quickly as I realize I’ve done something that hurt someone. It means nothing told to me in secret leaves me. And it means I speak up to anyone regardless of hierarchy, even though it’s scary as hell sometimes— but telling the truth is more important to me than feeling comfortable in respecting authority. There’s a clarity in my relationships that comes with always holding the truth so sacred, and it’s something I really love about myself.
What is your absolute favorite meal?
That is the easiest question to answer: breakfast. Forever breakfast. Now, what breakfast food, exactly, you might ask? I will give you options: egg frittata with tomatoes and spinach, with a warm piece of toast. Scrambled cheesy eggs with a warm Belgian waffle covered in almond butter and blueberries. French toast— three slices, so that one of them has hazelnut butter and berries on it, the other has just butter, and the other is just plain with maple syrup. Also, quiches! And please never forget a glass of cold orange juice and a super warm and yummy oat milk latte. If I were left eating breakfast forever in every meal of every day, I am rather confident I’d be ok. Brunch is an acceptable favorite meal too, if I need to be flexible. :-)