I recently accepted an opportunity to work with a very cool venture in the autonomous mobility space with some amazing people I know and have worked with before. Aside from the people and the place, the opportunity has me thinking about the past as I move toward the future. The role involves leading a lofty digital design initiative, and it’s taking me back to earlier days in life and career.
I’ve always considered myself a “designer” in some fashion. In high school, I was voted "class Picasso” in the yearbook—I was always the kid drawing something. In my early days of college—like many of this age, I contemplated what I wanted to do in life without clear direction until one evening, after working a side job while applying to art schools—I came home and woke my mother up and told her that I had decided that I wanted to attend Pratt Institute. She immediately condoned the move even though she had no idea what I’d do with a design degree—but it was one of the best decisions I’d make in my life.
My career blossomed first as a graphic designer—then as a creative director leading teams of visuals designers, UX designers, writers, and to an extent, developers—to design and develop Websites for some pretty big companies. From that foundation, my career took on many different directions—some days, I’d find myself facilitating a meeting with senior executives, and other days, I’d be conjuring up services to fulfill increasing demand in new sectors. Through it all, I always applied what I learned in both school and my first decade-plus of professional contribution.
It’s been just over a year of pandemic-induced professional displacement, as I like to think of it, and like many, I’ve been hard at work navigating the next chapter and actively “reinventing.” But it’s not lost on me that this most recent opportunity feels like going back to my roots. And actually, this feels very right.
We go back to our roots.
In the pre-pandemic world, I helped my father do this because I knew it was important, but I also knew it was something he’d never be able to do by himself. Born in rural Sicily, my father grew up in a medieval town literally built on the side of a mountain. I had been there once as a child, but not since. Since my father is in his eighties, I wanted to take him back once more—as a way for him to go back to his roots. And he did—without missing a beat. He spoke Italian with a Sicilian dialect as if he’d never stopped, reunited with family, and strolled the streets of his hometown, with a few people even recognizing him and vice-versa. His roots ran deep in that mountainside village, and he still has brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles, that live there today.
(My dad and his family in Polizzi Generosa, Sicily)
Sometimes we see a business or brand go back to its roots. In my many adventures at Edelman, I was able to listen to Howard Schultz talk intimately about his return to Starbucks and, subsequently, the brand’s return to its roots. This well-publicized transformation of a household name brand involved mainly going back to the many practices that made it a household name to begin with.
We go back to our roots.
We go back to our roots for different reasons, but going back to them can have an even deeper meaning when roots run deep. While I spent most of my career and family raising years in Chicago—I always returned to New York and back to my own roots and still do. And, while I don’t see a permanent return to New York, I will return to my roots as long as I have the means to do so because…
“It is in the roots, not the branches, that a tree’s greatest strength lies.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo