The joke asks, “How many Designers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” Here’s a hint: Most of us Designers are top downers.
I‘m so enjoying teaching Kick Start Your Dreams, and last week there were some sighs of relief when I talked about two different ways we hook up our dreams to what we actually do— and vice versa. That connection doesn’t always come easily, and sometimes it doesn’t come often at all. So the idea that, in pursuit of our dreams, some of us are top downers and others bottom uppers offered some unusual insight.
Generally speaking, in most situations, I’m a top downer. (No innuendo implied.) Once I have an inkling of an idea my mind starts to expand it until there are infinite glorious intricacies to said inkling. The play I wrote a few years back is incredibly complicated, involving musicians that are also actors and singers, projected words and images, audience participation, and time-stopping special effects. It was too complicated to simply read in a group without pre-recording all the music and choreographing some technical acrobatics. I kept very busy writing, recording, and designing, but I rarely felt like I was getting closer to making theater. I wasn’t.
Top downers think huge and have trouble finishing the next medium-sized step. We’re always taking many tiny steps toward an every-growing master plan. Does that sound like you?
While master planning is like masturbation for us top downers, asking a bottom upper about her master plan is usually a buzz kill. She knows better than most top downers what to do next because that’s her realm. “Sounds good to me!” is the cry of the gung ho bottom upper. She knows what feels right, and when someone else takes the lead with something she can get behind, she’s a real trooper, and when a decision needs to be made, a bottom upper can see the nearest finish line.
Conversely, the questions, “Is there something you know you want to do before you die?” just causes her anxiety because it sounds like an unrealistic commitment to an unknown, distant future. It is, if that’s what the question actually implies.
Skip Over Anxiety to Touch Our Dreams
I admit I use the fantasy of “pursuing our dreams” to trigger seductive delusions that we have some control over our futures. It feels great, especially during a binge of master planning. That’s because I’m top downer. My anxiety comes when I don’t feel I’m making progress. Will I ever get there? I’ve talked to bottom uppers who feel anxious or depressed when they don’t feel like their actions are adding up to some grand vision everyone tells them they should have.
In both cases the dreams and the doing feel too far apart.
Take heart! For top downers and bottom uppers alike, anxiety settles down somewhere between next and before I die inside the womb of a cozy SMART & SEXY† short-term goal, one that helps us focus on the present while our hearts lay cradled in sweet daydreams of a better tomorrow.
So, if designers are typically top downers, how many designers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Does it have to be a lightbulb?
† SMART & SEXY goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resonant, Timed (and Triggered), Shared, eXcelling, and Yummy.