From designer Tibor Kalman, re-processed using

This phrase deeply stuck with me when I first read it, despite being so simple.

The phrase and the design come from Tibor Kalman, a major figure considered the “bad boy of graphic design,” elevating the practice to new heights by using design not just to support commerce but as a form of commentary. Aside from being the creative director for Barnes & Noble for a while, his firm M&Co designed album covers for the Rolling Stones and Talking Heads. He also worked at Colors Magazine, known for refreshing and bold takes on social issues such as HIV, race, gender, and power.

Kalman had a “perverse optimism” about the design industry and its relation with consumer culture. He believed that most “media, architecture, design and art exist for the sole purpose of creating wealth,” but also claimed designers could change the world. He was successful by any measure possible, both commercially and culturally. And yet, a sense of restlessness, curiosity, and naiveté defined him. As he became known for something, he jumped to something else. Constantly.

He’s a product of his time, and was deeply entrenched in the counterculture movement. There’s a passage about him that represents his way of being, described by the founder of Barnes & Noble, Leonard Riggio:

Tibor exists in a world of contradictions. He'll often get you to change a long-held position in a second. As soon as you start to agree with him on a point, he'll exercise his inalienable right to be contrarian, and reverse his previously held position. Over the years, I have been puzzled as to whether he does that merely to be argumentative, but I've come to believe that he starts to doubt himself when his views become widely accepted. Nietzsche has written that a person moves from A to B because he knows damn well he doesn't want to be at A — not necessarily because B is a desired destination. Likewise, once Tibor begins to get some consensus that A is a good place to be, he immediately has to move on. In the end, I think his work is much more about points of origin and departures than it is about destinations. In other words, he uses destination as a means of better articulating — not just replacing — the point of origin.

From the book "Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist"

I'm not one for having role models, but Kalman is one of the figures I look up to often. Like the other people I admire, he constantly desired to see what was around the corner. He treated success as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Success is a good thing. It brings comfort and confidence, but they can quickly become complacency and aimlessness. The people I most admire use success as a platform for bigger, important ideas.

Over the past decade, my main struggle with the corporate world has been the common sense that work and career should behave like companies: as an accumulation of wealth. Unlike Kalman, I don't have as many issues with capitalism. But I do see a problem with treating it as the sole goal. I derive meaning from what I create, not what's in my pocket. Lose the aim of meaning, and you lose the ability to make great things.

There's a question I often ask myself at specific inflection points: What would I prove or change if I'm successful? It creates a framework for me to think not just about the benefits to my career and personal life but also advance something bigger, whether it's a new way of working or a much-needed broader commentary.