On Determining The Value of Your Time: Good Snake
Leading up to our Winter ‘19 iteration of WORK, we'll feature select interviews with some of our conference's speakers and thought leaders. In this interview, designers Kayla Fritz and Hannah Epelbaum of Good Snake discuss the value of your time. Click here for the full conference schedule.
Kayla Fritz and Hannah Epelbaum are the duo behind Austin's own Good Snake. Together, they provide creative direction and consulting services on projects that can use a little color. They also host a podcast on design and design-adjacent topics, and lead courses on traditional sign painting methodology and mural painting. Kayla is a fine artist with a genetic predisposition to sign painting (thanks, Grandma!), along with a practical background in typography, illustration, and design. Hannah's expertise is information design, with a background in intercultural communication.
what they’re currently working on:
With their powers combined, they work to promote the accessibility of spaces for everyone, applying modern design tools, traditional techniques, and their unique aesthetic perspective to enhance the sense of place within physical spaces and help their favorite businesses get their message across through good design. You can learn more at goodsnake.com.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Fritz: Loyal, innovative, thoughtful.
Epelbaum: Always wanting more.
How would you describe your work?
Epelbaum: Kayla enjoys working on the parts of projects that allow her to combine her visual arts background with her solid technical design skills, while my favorite part of any project is identifying potential or existing challenges in systems, and figuring out what can be done to improve the makeup of those systems. Good Snake is the center of the Kayla-Hannah Venn diagram, and through Good Snake, we provide creative direction and implementation for all kinds of projects. We work within a wide range, from projects that have us developing visual messaging that communicates actually pertinent information to users of physical spaces, to projects that have us creating custom artwork, patterns, or other visual cues that convey the sense of place within spaces, to consulting projects where we simply provide space and a creative sounding board for our clients to work out what they need to be doing differently to promote accessibility and connect with their users and/or customers.
Fritz: We occasionally get clients who are eager to put us in a box of understanding based on what other people are doing. We do paint signs, but we don’t operate as a sign and banner service. Lots of what we do can fall under the umbrella of interior or graphic design, but we’re not expressly interior or graphic designers, and in fact, we often collaborate with interior and graphic designers to cohesively bring concepts and spaces together. We haven’t met anyone else who approaches projects the way that we do, and it seems that none of our clients have either, but we have a lot of fun, and they keep coming back and sending their friends, so we must be doing something right.
How do you approach concepts of "work-life balance?" Does that term mean anything to you?
Fritz: I’m horrible at it. And I think the norm isn’t helping. Millennials are forced to think that if they aren’t working constantly, we’re not accomplishing. Technology and social media follow us everywhere, so if you’re not careful, even if the computer is switched off, you’re still mentally exhausting yourself in other ways, and falling asleep with your phone in your hand. Healthy boundaries are so important.
Epelbaum: For me, finding work-life balance would mean that I’ve managed to fully internalize that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, and that includes me. My worst professional and personal challenges have come when I haven’t been able to respect my own time, my boundaries, or my other resources or needs.
How do you approach working with others?
Fritz: It’s the golden rule—treat others how you wish to be treated. We try to be kind, respectful, and accountable, and we ask for the same from our clients and collaborators.
Epelbaum: Our entire job is about enhancing accessibility, so a primary focus with clients and collaborators is to be crystal clear about what they can expect when they work with us from start to finish, and we ask for the same in return.
Fritz: If they don’t get what we’re about, or we don’t have good chemistry together, then we don’t need to work together. It’s that simple. I’m not here to convince you of anything, nor am I here to tell anyone what to do. Work with me or don’t. Get on the Good Snake gravy train because it’s going somewhere fun whether you’re on it or not.
What advice do you have for starting/switching career paths?
Epelbaum: You’re not entitled to a straightforward path just because you exist. I think a lot of us get held up before we even get moving because we don’t realize that going into a new career, or switching gears, is not necessarily intrinsically easy or linear.
Fritz: You have to be willing to hit rock bottom and lose everything in your pursuit of meaningful work. Not that it will happen, but if you already accept that mental space, you have the ability to navigate any situation, no matter how difficult. Some of my lowest lows have helped me find my most solid footing. It’s sort of a creative rebirth. It’s also completely okay to pursue more than one interest. You don’t ever have to just devote yourself to one thing. And it’s also okay to quit, or to pause and come back to something later. Being a quitter and making mistakes can be what drives you ultimately toward growth, improvement, and healthy change.
Epelbaum: One of the biggest professional challenges can be determining whether to stay where you are, or to make a change, and it’s all about listening to yourself. I worked at a sad office job for a few years after I graduated from college, and I was able to complete my projects easily while spending hours checking social media, reading thinkpieces, and just generally doing nothing at my desk. It wasn’t until a few years in, when I was finally offered a small promotion that would require me to spend more time at the office, when I realized I might lose my mind if I had to stay there long-term. When you start to worry about the prospect of moving ahead in your career, when you start to dread going to work, when work-related projects are less interesting than distractions, listen to yourself- get out. Find new work that’s fun, that’s meaningful. You might not find it right away, but at least start putting yourself out there. And if it doesn’t exist (it might not!) don’t ever rule out creating it yourself.
Another thing to remember: when you allow yourself to fully see and feel where you are, you can start making smarter decisions. Kayla worked for someone else years ago where she was constantly taken advantage of, but it was such a slow and steady progression to worse and worse that it all felt normal at the time. Then, for tax purposes, we decided to start tracking use of our car, and we watched the numbers climb; hours Kayla was spending in the car, running errands for work and putting wear-and-tear on our primary source of transportation, gallons of gas she was burning through, miles she was driving. It all added up to just a little less than what she was getting paid in that position. Up until that point, we’d felt like something wasn’t quite right at Kayla’s job, but we hadn’t taken the time to look at actual data that was staring us in the face, waving a red flag from a flaming dumpster, data that could have helped us to understand the true investment we were making for Kayla to hold onto her position. If you’re in a position that doesn’t feel completely A-okay, but you don’t know what exactly is wrong with it, try to identify some metrics you can start tracking to see whether you’re experiencing growth or loss, and use that to make a more-informed decision about where you want to go from there.
Have you ever experienced a form of career uncertainty? If so, how did you overcome it?
Fritz: I transferred to a new college midway through art school, and a simple clerical error from the registrar’s office placed me in courses for my first year at the new institution that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would require me to continue as a full-time student for an entire additional year beyond what had been originally the case. After three years of breaking my body 40+ hours per week at service industry jobs, commuting hours daily, and going to class as a full-time student, I was informed that I’d need to continue this for two more years instead of one in order to earn my degree, and I broke. No matter how much I worked, it wasn’t enough. I ended up withdrawing from school and throwing myself into my job. I was devastated, and stopped making art completely for a long time. Thankfully, I was forced to make art again when someone at my restaurant job asked me to paint some pieces to decorate the space, and then another former coworker hired me to paint a sign for their pizza shop, and as the gigs continued to snowball, I was able to find inspiration again. I held myself back from pursuing a career as an artist because I didn’t have a piece of paper that said that I was qualified, but as it turns out, art is subjective, and while many try, it’s not something you can put an objective grade on using established metrics. Like so many things in life! People are attracted professionally to people who love what they’re doing and want to be a part of it, and beyond that, it’s about developing your capabilities, making the right connections, and working hard.
Epelbaum: I graduated from college at the height of the Great Recession in 2009, and I had a tough time finding work that was interesting, enjoyable and could give me any hope of paying off my student loans. I remember worrying so much, feeling like it was so problematic that I had no idea what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” It wasn’t until many jobs later that I found out that actually, barring some exceptions, most “adults” are just making it up as they go along, and that’s helped in moments of uncertainty. Another thing that’s helpful for me to remind myself in those moments is that throughout history, the vast majority of human achievements have been made possible through straight-up exploitation, so a lot of workplace practices and standards seem normal and fair but are actually not when you pretend you’re an alien encountering them for the first time, so if you’re experiencing discomfort in your career, it may be that little alien inside of you saying “WHAT? THIS ISN’T RIGHT!” and maybe you should listen to her.
What makes you resilient? (Resilience is the ability to withstand tough conditions and recover when things are difficult.)
Fritz: I grew up in a lower middle-class family that was always moving, switching careers, and nothing in my life felt dependably rooted in solid ground, and as a result, I learned how to think creatively and adapt to new and difficult situations. When I’m at my worst, feeling powerless and defeated, I use these traits to firmly dig my heels into terrible situations that I probably should move on from sooner, never feeling like I have the right to decide to change course. However, when I’m at my best, giving myself permission to make my own choices, I remain resilient because I’m the one driving, and I’m the one who most sees the direct results of my own actions.
Epelbaum: You’re the captain of your own destiny, no one is coming to save you, life isn’t fair, and we’re all going to die. So yeah, just remember that and you should be good to go.
About WORK: WORK is a biannual pop-up space, designed for sharing new ideas and approaches to creative and entrepreneurial work. The event's panels, workshops and speaker sessions explore personal and professional curiosity, storytelling, diversity and equality, business management and creative entrepreneurship. Our next conference pops up on Jan. 19, 2019 from 10 AM to 5 PM at Rowling Hall in Austin, Texas. ✨Click here for more information.