Creative Business

ZAG. BELONGING TO A SMALL TRIBE

Zag small tribe by Erika Firm

Zag when everyone else is zigging. I’ve always been the outsider. The new kid. I went to at least 10 different schools by the time I graduated from high school (and loved it). Some kids who move around a lot learn how to fit in easily. They adapt and conform. I guess I never did that. I was never a joiner. No Girl Scout troops for me, no after school clubs, no sororities. Instead, my life taught me to be an observer. I quietly go about doing my own thing.

I might not talk to everyone at the table, but the conversations I do have with the few people are deep and heartfelt; true connections. I recognize that this can be dangerous. Quiet observation can make it seem like I don’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because I invest my whole self into the working relationships I have, it hurts more than it probably should when things don’t work out the way I expect them to. I end up feeling used and tossed away more often than I’d like.

Still, I wouldn’t change it. I choose to be part of a teeny tiny tribe. I’m usually the one sitting alone. Happily. Even when I’m part of a group, I’m on the fringe. I sit at the table, but on the end. I go to the conference, but prefer to watch rather than to try to make a million new friends. Some people see this as being disinterested, but really I’m soaking it all in, internalizing it. I don’t participate just to hear myself talk. I observe everything and put my all into the conversations I do have. When I participate in panels, coach businesses and design for clients I’m all in. They become part of my teeny tiny tribe.

When I started my business, I challenged the status quo. I zagged when everyone else was zigging: I introduced bold color and crazy overprint patterns into letterpress stationery when everyone else had a tiny icon centered in the middle of plain white paper. I built an online ecommerce business when everyone else was chasing wholesale accounts. I partnered with licensors when everyone else seemed to view it as selling out. Always observing and always internalizing the world around me, I made business decisions based on what I saw and felt, instead of following the predictable path. And it always worked out for me. The few times I didn’t follow my instincts I paid dearly.

As a graphic designer and branding pro, part of my design process is to guide clients through discovery and teach them how to be observers of their own business. Sometimes this is a tough sell: clients usually come to me when time is tight. They’re anxious to launch or rebrand. They want to throw the ball into my court so they can focus on other parts of their business. I get it! But taking the time to ask themselves some tough questions about their business, their audience, their products, their goals and their obstacles not only helps me design something that will work for them, but it often sparks some serious insights into their business plan. And every once in a while I get to see someone else zag.

 

 

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Laura
    August 31, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Maybe that’s why we became friends in 9th grade. I’ve never known what it was like to have deep roots.

    • Reply
      Erika
      August 31, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      Totally, Laura! It still kills me that we lived on the same base years later and didn’t know it.

  • Reply
    Caroline
    September 1, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I’m exactly the same way. I’ve been feeling like I’m doing something wrong but maybe I’m zagging 🙂

    • Reply
      Erika
      September 6, 2015 at 5:36 pm

      High five to a fellow zagger, Caroline! xo – E.

  • Reply
    Beatrice Firm
    September 3, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Always follow your heart and do your own “thing” ,you’re perfect! But again I’m your mom and couldn’t be happier to have that privilege….

  • Reply
    Kyle
    October 15, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Erika, this post just converted me into a future follower of your blog. I 100% felt what you said about observing and internalizing vs. trying to be heard all the time. I also wanted to say I think your branding is gorgeous – the colors are really beautiful! And I love that your work features a LOT of color. Thanks for zagging in a very zig culture.

    • Reply
      Erika
      October 15, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Kyle!

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