Think before you ink: a treatise on decision-making

I get asked questions about my tattoos a lot. It sometimes strikes me as strange—I have seven of them, which I suppose is quite a few, but they’re all really tiny black symbols—so it’s hardly as though they’re at all surprising.

A few years ago, before I quit my job to launch a business, I had my logo tattooed to my shoulder blade. (And actually, I haven’t been tattooed since—I’ve run out of strategic body space!) People thought I was insane. “What happens if your business tanks?” was the popular question.

Of all the tattoos I’ve had done, I’m furthest from regretting this one. Admittedly, my business didn’t tank, but I don’t think it would have made much difference if it had. It’s impossible to start a business without having it become a major event in your life—to me, tattooing my logo to my shoulder was no crazier than the people who tattoo their kids’ names to themselves. (And it’s certainly less crazy than those who tattoo their lovers’ names on themselves. As far as I can tell, my business will never leave me for a younger woman or run away with all my money. I hope.)

Logo Tattoo
I'm convinced that having my business logo tattooed to my shoulder makes me more rock & roll. Also, it totally counts as advertising and I should have thought to have written off the cost as such.

And actually, of all my tattoos, there isn’t a single one I regret. Some of them have decorated my body for nearly ten years, and I still love them as much today as I did when I first had them done. I think that I am, to a certain degree, lucky in that respect—where a tattoo is such a permanent decision, I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to regret such a choice.

There are very few decisions in life that have similar permanence, and as a general rule I try to avoid making those decisions. I’m kind of a commito-phobe simply for that reason—I absolutely abhor regret, and I work best when I feel that I have the flexibility to move halfway across the earth, change my name to “Ginger”, and start a banana farm if that’s what needs to happen for whatever reason.

However, most people don’t work this way. Most people make decisions that have similar gravitas as getting tattooed: they get married, buy houses, sign cell phone contracts. While none of these things are necessarily permanent (and neither are tattoos, in the same sense), reversing the decision after it’s been made is almost always a painful, arduous process.

It strikes me that, given the number of people running around these days getting divorced and getting laser surgery, these decisions-of-some-permanence simply aren’t being given the consideration they demand. It surprises me how often people go into a tattoo parlour and pick something off the wall. Or they sit in the chair and tell the tattoo artist to do “whatever he feels like”. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a permanent part of your skin now, for the rest of your life, and wherever you are, people will ask you questions about it. Doesn’t that require more forethought?

Nej's Chaos Star
My little sister and her chaos star, designed by me. She also had me design another tattoo that the artist screwed up by using the wrong fonts AND misspelling "Fahrenheit", but we don't like to discuss it.

Every time I want a new tattoo, I spend ages sketching out the shapes first. When I’ve got that right, I put it into Illustrator and trace it, smoothing out the lines until everything’s just so. Then I print it out in about thirty different sizes, just to see which one I like best. Finally—and this may seem like overkill—I take the printout and glue the damned thing to my body, just where I want it, and leave it there for a few days, just to be sure I like it. A little anal-retentive? Probably. Effective? Hell yes. I’ve got no regrets, and I’m a happier woman for it.

So for everyone out there considering a butterfly tattoo, or a flaming skull, please, please, think twice. Design something yourself, or ask your most idle-seeming designer friend to design you something wonderful. (Oh, and to the two people in my life to whom I still owe tattoo designs—I swear I’m on it!) This double for marriage and mortgage, and any other decision that implies an ink-on-skin level of permanence, like starting a business. Regrets are for the birds. Do without.

(Oh, and if you’re curious, you can see my tattoo designs on Flickr! Being a designer is a way cool job, I know. I’m a lucky lady.)