Creative Revival with Debbie Millman


Debbie Millman is a writer, educator, artist, brand consultant, and host of the radio show Design Matters (the world’s first podcast about design).

In this episode, she shares her wisdom on dealing with criticism, what to do when you’re in an ‘inner critic storm’, and how to funnel your energy towards your one non-negotiable.

She and Majo also discuss Debbie’s darker childhood days, facing rejection in her twenties, and achieving great success in her thirties as a brand consultant. More recently, she realized a connection to her true creative spirit was missing and that she needed to circle back to it. As a creative woman now in her fifties, Debbie’s wisdom and words of encouragement strike a powerful chord.

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Highlighted Excerpt

Debbie: You know, it’s really only been in the last thirteen years that I’ve felt like a creative person again. I would say I stopped being creative between 1993 and 2003, and that was really when I built my career. Then, when I had the security of my career, I felt capable of reopening my heart in that way.

But you have to understand, one thing I want to make clear is that these were all choices I made. I remember standing on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Bleecker St., the summer I graduated college, and sort of peering into my future and wondering how on earth I was going to survive. I had no money. But I had always desperately wanted to live in Manhattan. That was the only thing in my life I can tell you I was one hundred percent sure of at that point.

And for many years, at least two decades, I told myself that I remembered thinking, standing at that corner on that balmy night in August, In order to survive, I’m going to have to do something that makes money, and that’s probably not gonna be as an artist. So I chose to be a designer so that I could afford to pay rent.

Majo: Right.

Debbie: Now that, to me, was a compromise. And I told myself for decades that that was the compromise. But really, my non-negotiable – and this is the big learning for me – my non-negotiable at that time was living in Manhattan. So I didn’t actually compromise on my one non-negotiable, I compromised to achieve my one non-negotiable. If I really truly wanted to be an artist, I could have lived with my mother in Queens, I could have gone anywhere, but for me at that time, the most important thing was living in Manhattan.

Majo: Interesting. I read somewhere that you did a drawing as a kid of yourself in Manhattan...

Debbie: (laughing) I did I did!

Majo: So do you think that even as a child you just had this sense of belongingness there?

Debbie: Yes. I’ve never ever wanted to live anywhere else. So in looking back, and for any of your listeners who are curious about how to make something happen for themselves, my advice would be to determine what your non-negotiable is. Just one thing. What is the one thing you want more than anything…  and seek to fulfill that.

Show Notes:

  • Debbie opens up about her difficult childhood, touches on her coming-of-age years, and shares how she was recently astounded by a picture of herself from when she was two. [5:01]
  • The evolution of her creative expression: From making perfumes and writing bad poems as a girl to editing newspapers and magazines in college. Plus, how her twenties came to be dubbed “experiments in rejection and failure”. [10:45]
  • On rejection and feedback, the idea of the “good girl myth”, and the parts of herself she disregarded in order to please her inner misogynist. [15:28]
  • Debbie talks about her success as a branding consultant, circling back to her creative roots, and how it’s taken a long time to feel comfortable in her own skin. [20:56]
  • On getting bullied by a design blog, taking responsibility for our choices, and achieving your one non-negotiable. [25:16]
  • “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Debbie offers advice on making things happen for yourself. [32:27]
  • How Debbie deals with criticism and feedback today. [37:08]
  • Debbie and Majo discuss an issue many women grapple with, and how they each are working to overcome it. [43:11]

Subscribe and listen to the full episode here (you must subscribe to receive latest episode).


Design Matters


by Lucia Lilikoi

Episode Sponsors:

Adobe Creative Residency


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