Turning Forty

by Konstantin Weiss on February 2, 2020

Turning 40, it all boils down to one question, a hand full of answers, and a clear path forward.

When I was in around seventeen, as all of us do in that age, I wondered what I would become, what I would like to achieve in my life, which profession to learn, which path to go. I remember I've asked myself one question: If I would have everything in my life which a man needs to have their basic needs satisfied - shelter, food, a partnership if you wish, security for the tomorrow, whatever is needed in order to not worry about life - would I be satisfied? Living such a life, would I leave this world, and leaving it would be satisfactory for me? Would that be enough?

I've come to realize that the answer was No. No, it would not. If I would not leave any trace, besides raising children, some friends remembering my life and CO2 emissions, that would make me sad. I realized that I wanted to create. To leave something that people outside of my friendship circle will get to appreciate. Something the world will have use for. Something that would come to existence with my contribution, at least in that particular form.

That question and answer were from there on like an inner compass. They helped me to decide that I would become a designer, and later to get to design dynamic systems.

In the meantime, I know that we humans are sense making creatures. Life has no meaning by itself, and hence we think up something we can cling to, and may use as our own, self-made raison d'etre.

Still, the question and the answer are still present. Actually, they were not anymore. Oblivion is powerful, and I've long forgotten about my thoughts of a seventeen, seemingly. But then.

This week, I've turned 40.

To be clear: it's all good. I'm in a good health condition. I was lucky to meet a wonderful partner, better than I've dreamed of. In the past 10 years, I've been raising two wonderful children. I have a great job, in which I have both the power to shape, and to use it towards a great goal. I don't need to worry about money, shelter, food, safety. I seem not to depend on fate, but could shape my life so far.

So it was a bit of a surprise to get caught by one particular thought, when turning 40. The thought is: 20+20. 40 years old, that's roughly 20 years to get to serious adulthood. And then 20 years of actually being an adult. Being responsible for one's choices, actions, decisions, plans, and their execution. The thought about the second 20 years, they struck me.

Because I remembered my question and answer from back then. And now the follow-up question arose: how far did I come? If fate would decide that I would be hit by a bus the next day, what would be left of me? Is there actually anything that I've contributed to the world, that is of any significance?

Not much, to be honest.

There's a lot of design work, sure, which I could list here in length. All those projects, for clients, for users, for purposes. Most of it is ephimeric. If it has seen the light of public existence and usage, it was gone shortly after.

So here is basically what's left:

Probably the biggest achievement is a thought construct and a view on the organization of information, which I call the Container Based Information Architecture. If there is any single thing that captured me (my attention, motivation, energy, passion, skills, time), it is this. It captured me for years, in fact. The "Containerist" Concept, how I nickname it, is unique. Something that I have not seen anywhere else yet. And now comes the bittersweet bit: hardly anyone knows about it. Which is no surprise, since I've hardly invested in articulating it. I've hardly written anything about it, there are only some talks and workshops at some conferences, where one could guess a glimpse of what that thing is. Still - it's a strong idea, and it still did not lose any of its potential. And it lives on, e.g. as a structural principle of The Guardian websites.

Then there is some "things", which I've had joy to do and develop, and some people sometimes would have fun with or may use. Here is a list, just for the record.

So, what does all of it mean? Well, first of all, it means that spending 20 years and having this result is sobering. On the other hand, I don't want to get too harsh. I've spent roughly 10 years into education, and it was worth it. I've spent now 10 years parenting, and it was worth it even more. And it's not a bad start. I see it as fertile ground, with some plants which need further care and nurture.

There is a clear path forward. Do what's unique and worthig it, and more over, make it available to the world.

I've realized that I want to make the Container Model explicit, accessible, and ready to be used by practitioners in the field of Information Architecture, at least.

And in parallel, I will finish off my card games, so that people can play them anywhere anytime without me. They deserve to become real, tangible products.

Last, but not least, within my company we are at something which has the potential to change people's lives, even in the very literal sense. It's actually two fold: what we do (the digital product), and how we do it (the architectural approach of how we build it). It's strong, and I want it to ripe and to succeed. And that's very good news: it means I'm at the exactly right work place.

Of course, I've left out all the relationships with partner, children, family, friends, relatives, colleagues. I've never been strong at keeping close relationships, but I love the people I've spent the last decades with, and I'm looking so much forward to share my life with them further.

On to the next 20 years! It's gonna be exiting :-)

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