After losing herself in the modern world of hyperproductivity, Jocelyn K. Glei now helps the rest of us find the light at the end of the long, tech-infused tunnel.
When she looks back on it now, it’s a moment imbued with tremendous weight. As a kid, Jocelyn K. Glei could more often than not be found playing in the wilderness of rural Virginia with her friends. And then one day, as she was running home alone, there it was: a massive male deer, grazing in the woods. She hid behind a log among the flora and gazed upon it, frightened, yet in awe.
It feels close to a cinematic moment, and one’s mind fictively fills in the details—streaks of sun breaking the green canopy, the deer pensively munching leaves and shoots, its muscles tensing and its head snapping to attention at any errant footfall; Glei, 5 years old, holding her breath.
She observed the creature for a series of frozen moments before it pranced off, sealing a memory that today represents freedom, innocence, wonder. And it’s a moment seemingly made more rare day by day since, given the evolving norms of parenting—and, moreover, the endless barrage of digital distraction in which we now live.
Which brings us to a second key moment in Glei’s upbringing: the day her family got their first computer. She was a teenager, and it changed her life, offering not just an outlet for her creativity but also a porthole to her future in digital media. She experimented with the art of curation via her first zine. She explored and absorbed the machine’s tools. And despite having self-diagnosed herself as having “Peter Pan” Syndrome as a kid, she grew with it.
Glei attended Boston University and studied French, screenwriting and American literature, and after graduating and spending time at a small web design firm she moved to New York City and volunteered her skills at the upstart website Flavorpill. She rose from volunteer to senior editor and New York City managing editor to global managing editor. After a stint at a music site on the West Coast, she moved back to New York and had perhaps another seminal moment in life—she met Behance co-founder Scott Belsky.
Belsky was at work on the soon-to-be bestselling book Making Ideas Happen, and he needed someone who could help him out with some editorial aspects of the title. Glei and Belsky had an immediate bond, and Belsky soon asked Glei if she’d be interested in working on a burgeoning Behance initiative dubbed 99%. The core thesis of the project was the Edison quote that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, and with a website and conference for creatives, Glei became the driving force that would empower so many to pursue, and have a realistic shot at, their goals and dreams. (Following the dawn of the Occupy Wall Street movement, 99% evolved into 99U, the ‘U’ for “university.”)
Glei’s own creativity was seemingly fully unleashed, and she thrived, orchestrating brilliant conferences with the top minds in the design and creativity fields, stocking the site with stimulating content and extrapolating the lessons of creative gurus for the masses in a medley of ways, such as the books she edited for 99U, Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential and Make Your Mark. Throughout her tenure, she worked obsessively, intensely and comprehensively (as she has noted, it wasn’t enough for her to simply curate the program for the 99U conference—she insisted on managing details like the music playlists for the breaks, too).
All the while, by studying and sharing the wisdom of the aforementioned gurus, a funny thing happened: She became one herself.
And that’s why what happened next is perhaps so important.
She had a bit of a breakdown.
As Glei has written, she had become obsessed with her own productivity and output—to the point that she’d get home every night around 8 p.m., open a beer and order some takeout, and then do it all over again. And again. Her relationships suffered. Her health suffered. At the end of the day, she was utterly and completely exhausted, “a burnt out husk of a person,” as she has described it.
To those who knew Glei for her prolific output and sage advice, it might have indeed seemed surprising. But unsurprisingly for someone who specialized in moving from idea to execution, she decided to actually do something about it. And perhaps with the zeal with which she took on her work projects, she turned her focus inward—consulting an acupuncturist, a psychotherapist, a physical therapist, a life coach, a personal trainer, a shaman, a Reiki healer.
And over time, she healed.
Her most recent project, RESET, focuses on the distillation of what she learned as she sought to stop and recalibrate her own life—and how others might do the same.
Rarely do gurus reveal vulnerability, those stress cracks that run through life. Via a carefully curated persona, the sum toll of their life and output tends to look flawless.
And more often than not, that’s a lie. (After all, a persona is a persona.)
In Glei, the creative world has a powerful ally—one who is not ashamed to reveal vulnerability, and one who shows the rest of us that it’s OK to wave a white flag, reflect and reset, and that it in fact can be a miraculous thing. That in a hyper-paced society, slowing down can be a miraculous thing. That in a perpetual “yes” career culture, saying “no” can be a miraculous thing.
As Glei told Creative Mornings, “If creativity is self-expression, then every idea is a chance to move deeper into yourself.”
Perhaps an indirect yet poignant reminder to listen and absorb the world and all the gurus around you—but to also always look within and assess what you find there. You never know what glimpses of yourself you might catch in those ethereal woods.
—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief