2020

The Year of "Influence"

Ana Wang

I had written a whole long thing out, a year in review kind of post, but it just got to be too bloated. I don’t want this to feel like a chore. Yuck. This newsletter aka blog you can subscribe to aka words on the internet from a stranger - this was meant to be fun! A respite within a world of creative discipline I hope to carve for myself this year.

So goodbye, 3262 words in waiting. Hello, take two.

I was watching a video on Youtube the other day, where graphic designer and letterer Marian Bantjes shared her pet peeve on the question “What’s your inspiration?”, probably one of the most common questions creatives of all kinds get asked, after “How did you get started?”. When people ask this, they really mean: what are your influences? They want to know what you’re looking at, what you’re putting in your brain that they aren’t, how you deviated from the blank and average slate we all started with. What was the thing? (Answer: there is never a thing but I suspect most creatives have their go-to crowd appeaser.)

But in the age of (too much?) information, experiences are designed to keep people addicted to the things algorithms and analytics determine they already like. Never has there been a time where our minute-to-minute influences have been so expertly designed to cater so individually, so often, and so well that they control our attention and subsequently our lives.

A few years ago, I left my first professional vocation as a fashion designer and I’ve been searching ever since. I’ve lived in many worlds. As a freelance writer, my clients were entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, PhDs and engineers. I’ve designed all kinds of products, both digital and IRL. I’ve started a few businesses and quit some, sold products to people and talked to thousands of entrepreneurs. I’ve growth hacked and built communities, developed websites and photographed politicians. Funnily enough, it all kind of started when I was a mediocre blogger and accidental, terrible, low-level “influencer” before influencing was a job - then, I realized I had no knack nor desire for it. Most recently, I left a job managing a team of people at a world class tech company. Before this, I didn’t even know anyone who worked in tech. My work has been in Vogue, my words in Huffington Post. I’ve been a self-taught everything, and I’m not afraid to go for it, but there’s still so much I haven’t touched, so much I have no idea about at all.

All the while, the older I get, the more I’ve regretted not having a traditional university education where instead of learning practical skills that I’d never use ever again (how to operate an industrial sewing machine), I’d learn theoretical philosophies and models that the educated class take for granted (what are the driving forces of the world?). But because I am also financially pragmatic, I have taken up the mantle of active self-education and built my most recent career iteration (helping other people learn) around it.

I think we are what we consume, what we learn, what we know, and then from all that, what we want and what we do. And as we expand or not, so does the world. That’s my thesis of life, at least.

Wild at Home perhaps started out with a slightly different agenda (what was meant to be a broad encompassing log of creative process and life - see post #1), but the name, I hope, is still appropriate. It’s an ode to active self creation through learning - a rebellion, a statement, a stand against what we are fed and told and expected to be and know. You can change your mind and be someone new and different and better without upending your entire life for a grand and epic adventure. But it’s also a bit satirical, a backwards ode to my lack of conviction, and how uninteresting and unbearable I would find it to hike 1000 miles to find myself post-grief. And thus is proof of concept: that our influences define who we are and what we do, how we see the world and even how we heal, mine surely to vary from Cheryl’s.

From designers to scientists, fashion to news, from favourite blogs to good books, things I should’ve learned in school to random things no one needs to know. From tools and technologies to startups and stories - visual, mental, sensorial, behavioural, all of it. I want to break free from what I know and I am in the perfect time, out of all moments in the history of the world, to do that. Most of us just give that power up. So I think just maybe, that will be the question I ask myself this year: What are your influences?

What’s interesting to me and why? Am I looking as far and deep as I want to? That’s what I’ll write about.