defragment.me

But as a designer, hell, as ANY type of craftsman, you are responsible for what you help to put in the world. You are defined by the clients you take on, and you can only stand as proud as the work you do and its benefit to society entitles you.

Mule Design, How to Pick the Right Clients

Why I need to find myself

I remember this time around last year, I fell into a drain.

I remember laughing at myself, and I gave myself a promise that I will, finally commence on my journey.

A journey I’ve always felt compelled to make – a journey to find myself.

Somehow, the practicalities of life took over. I had to move residences, rush deadlines because of the interruptions faced while moving, and then cope with all the repercussions. The unsettled environment, the fatigue, the financial drain.

I should have gone anyway, and simply trust that everything will work out the way it is meant to be.

I didn’t. I couldn’t find the strength.

On the other hand, my work was slowly getting recognised, and I was worried if I didn’t build on it I would lose all the momentum I worked so hard to gain.

Somehow, I fell back into the usual pattern – trying to be happy living life like how others do – working all the time, trying to build some financial security that would make me feel safe enough to venture forward, some day.

I spent the entire second half of last year trying to re-settle, pad my finances again, thinking that this year, would be the year I would finally commence on my journey.

Crisis

Life almost never works according to plan (at least for mine), so it didn’t really surprise me when something happened at the turn of this year. I have to move again, out of a place I thought I would occupy for the next four years.

Faced with the prospect of moving in this property climate (read unaffordable rental), I was contemplating all sorts of ideas that I would never consider in the right frame of mind, stuff like going back into employment for a stable income.

At the same time, I was going through an emotional crisis (which I didn’t realise until a month passed by) because whatever that happened involved close family members and it brought back painful childhood memories that I thought I had gotten over for a long time.

Who would have thought that an adult almost reaching her thirties will still be so haunted by the past?

Denial

My career was going well and I was trying really hard to keep everything going. The truth was that I was so affected emotionally and stressed out with my financial situation that I felt like I was struggling to match the high expectations I have put in myself. It was like a vicious cycle, I needed my work to ease my financial worries, but I wasn’t producing the quality I wanted, that in turn gave me tremendous frustration and stress and I was just slowly drowning.

My soul was slowly dying. And I could feel it.

It took me a while to get out of denial. I kept telling myself that I will be okay, it was just temporary, I was going to get out of it. I had this opportunity to work with people I really respected and I was getting paid significantly well. With so much uncertainty financially, I did whatever I could to hang on.

You know how I got out of this self-denial?

I literally crumbled. Until I thought I was losing my self.

And it all led me to think. If I was going to lose myself, what would financial security mean to me? All the good work that I was doing would mean nothing, even if one day I could afford my own house to stay in would mean nothing. I was just in tears all the time, I could no longer pull myself up and I can no longer smile. I was a mess and my partner bore the brunt of it. I was getting very sick, physically. I could not get out of bed and I could not breathe.

Only then, I knew what was important to me.

My Self.

Why

Many people don’t understand why am I always seem to be in some form of self-torture, but that’s because they don’t understand what is going on in my mind or in my heart. I just don’t pursue the same things most people seem to enjoy pursuing. The money, the ambitions, the assets. Sometimes I wish that I was mercenary, at least life would be simpler in some ways, wouldn’t it?

I am constantly in search of answers. Why am I here? Who am I? I’ve been asking myself these questions ever since I was a toddler. Sometimes I wake up and I feel bemused to be here. I never felt like I belonged here. I never found the meaning in growing through childhood, scoring straight As, getting a good job, getting married, having children, growing old and dying. It was like, all these doesn’t interest me so I may as well skip everything and just go straight to my death.

Over the past few years I’ve been evolving spiritually, in my own ways, and that made me feel a lot better. It is a trial and error process but to me, at least I was trying.

I somehow stopped trying or remembering to try getting so caught up in the worries and practicalities of life. I was just working all the time, trying to rebuild my sense of security. I've lost sight if what I truly wanted to do.

On hindsight, whatever that happened at the turn of the year was needed to give me a huge shove out of my comfort zone and my delusion. I was caught up in the whole ‘wanting to build a comfortable life for myself and my partner’ thing.

Falling apart was the best thing that could ever have happened to me.

I was falling out of love with my work, I started to be resentful, I was falling sick. I couldn't even love my partner anymore. How could I when I couldn't even love myself?

I need to do what I had to do one year ago. Find myself. Follow my heart. Expose myself to different things. Learn. Be touched by people's lives. Find the opportunities to touch people's lives. Feel excitement again.

In short. Live.

I don’t know what I am going to do next, all I know is I need to tie up some loose ends in terms of work, and go on my journey. I don’t know what is going to happen, or if I am going to end up penniless, but I just know that this is what I have to do. I don’t have much of a choice because my soul would wither otherwise.

Travel

Travel, travel, travel, were all the words that were popping up in my mind. Go somewhere, find yourself, I hear my heart speaking.

So, when I visited a channeler (yes, go on, roll your eyes ;p) this morning, when I was barely into my first question and was just about to ask her about my intention to travel, she was already mid-way through her sentence about me needing to travel and rebuild my energy. I have grown out of this place she says. I will find what I am going to do next on my travels. (I may elaborate about my visit in another post, it was definitely interesting and positive.)

How come I’m not surprised. :)

And how come it took me so long.

I already knew, didn't I?

I am not going to let myself fall back into the same old pattern again. I am just going to go. I look back at my twenties and I'm thinking why did I not do much more when I had no financial commitments and less health problems?

In roughly a decade's time, when I am 40, I am going to look back at my thirties and be really proud of myself.

Confidence

There are generally two types of people in this world. People who have innate self-confidence and people who needs others to deliver confidence.

I happen to be the extreme end of the latter.

The downfall of my confidence

I think I used to be self-confident as a child, maybe because I never needed to study much in primary (elementary) school and still managed to ace my papers. I was the child that my parents would literally be boastful of. My achievements year after year was trumpeted like a media press release. Perhaps I was never confident actually, more like complacent because of my environment.

The turning point came when I was 11 and having my primary 5 year-end exams. As the routine goes, I never put any effort into revision, I had never needed to. I stumbled horribly for my maths paper, because usually I would finish any paper an hour ahead of my peers – thus I took my own sweet time and I only managed to finish 60% of the paper before time was up. For the very first time in my life, I experienced failure. (And for my poor parents, the beginning of the end for their trumpeting.)

This set the tone for the rest of my years until my mid-twenties. The vicious cycle of failure, disappointment, trying really hard not to fail again, even more disappointment. The bigger the disappointment I had grown into, the more pessimistic I became of life. And of course, the discovery of the fact that there are millions of people smarter than me, so much so that I was convinced that my primary school achievements were a fluke.

Letting go of past achievements

I remember looking my primary school report book wistfully for many years later, until when I was about 17 and I threw it away accidentally in the middle of a move. Perhaps that wasn't an accident. I spent years mourning about it, thinking that I would never be able to look at it proudly again.

Till I realised that my 'success' as a kid was holding me back – what could the past for for me? Even if I were to ace my education till the tertiary level, that would not guarantee me success or happiness in my adulthood. I bore a grudge towards my parents because I felt that they were holding on to the past too much and thus I could never be the prodigy they envisioned me to be. Never did I realise, I was also holding myself back.

For the world can have so many plans and visions for me, ultimately it is my own destiny. (lol, pardon me for the cliche.)

Taking ownership

I think my life really transformed when I took ownership of my own life. It only happened after I had tried really hard to please my loved ones and realised all the attempts were futile. I could never be someone who would live a life someone had designed for me. It was a matter of time that I would break free – the choice was either breaking free or ending my life. Around this time I came across a book which the theme revolved around "You are what you believe" and it all became so clear to me.

All my life till then, I have been trying to get people to believe in me, but I never really believed in myself.

That was a start. I wouldn't say I found my confidence overnight, but I think what started the process was that I desired to find my confidence back. Or my life back. To own my life and not have it owned by circumstances or the environment.

I think that was in 2005.

Still taking baby steps

Now, in 2010, I am still seeking confidence. It has been a slow but sure process. Baby steps. I still fear speaking to people, and I would not remotely consider speaking in public, and I still feel very nervous about my work, or go through countless sleepless nights when I question whether I am cut out to be a designer.

A huge difference is – the future looks bright to me. Quite bright actually from where I am standing. Whereas life used to be a pain looking forward, now I am slowly getting excited about what is in stall for me.  I had been truly blessed, for there have been a few good people who have shown the faith in me that I could not even find in myself. But I had to open my life up to even have the opportunity to meet these people in the first place. The desire to push myself out the comfort zone.

Serendipity

I am currently in a new set of circumstances whereby I would never imagine myself to be. In a place where I am given a huge vote of confidence and an incredible amount of validation by some exceptional people. I would not have met these people if I did not push myself out of hermit-dom. The experience I am having now can be all traced back to that single flip of that switch in my mind. (Aided by some strange dude from the UK named Andy who never gave up asking me out for coffee lol.)

For many people, making a change in their lives seem really difficult. Many a time, the results would not be visible until a long time after. We just need to have that desire and commitment to make changes, even how miniscule it seems to be. Who would have known that the casual coffee I had with two strange Caucasians would be the beginning of of a mini-revolution in my life?

Though I should include a standard disclaimer that says, there is a thin line between self-belief and insecurity-influenced arrogance.

Looking forward with confidence

I don't know what is life going to bring me from now onwards, I just know that I am immensely grateful. It does not matter if the bright future I envisioned turned out to be not bright at all – it is really the process that matters. I think many of us are just fearful of losing what we have now – and if it helps I can remind all of us that it is not in our hands entirely whether what we have remains with us or not.

"Confidence, Sir Alex Ferguson once said, is the key to about 99% of what is achieved in any walk of life."

I wouldn't say it is 99%, but it is a major influence on how we perceive ourselves, and in turn, that determines how we perceive life. Having that bit of confidence has definitely made a huge difference for me – that confidence allows me to dictate many of my choices and not let it by dictated by my circumstances.

As long as I have that bit of confidence, the competition doesn't matter, the economic conditions doesn't matter, because if I believe that you have something to offer and you work really hard, there will always be something on that plate for you. And if it really turns out that the plate is empty, if I have the confidence in my own survival, then what is there to be afraid of?

There is only one self to be afraid of, because it is the one self that self-determines whether he/she can survive or be fearful of any circumstances or conditions given to him/her.

The more you travel, the less you realize you know...When you travel it changes the definitions of words that you thought you understood. You thought you knew what the word "work" meant. You didn't know if you're from the West until you've seen a rice farming community, for instance.

Anthony Bourdain on How Travel Has Changed Him

Resetting my priorities and perspectives due to shame

The past few days, if not weeks, have been hugely reflective for me. It seems like a major conspiracy from the universe to wake me up from my deep slumber. I have been feeling quite disturbed for a long while now, it has been such a while that I do not even remember when did it all start.

The issue on the surface

I have always prided myself for loving what I do and being able to do what I love. This has not been entirely accurate lately and it has been bugging me from my deepest consciousness. It eats me up slowly.

Is it because:

  • I have overworked myself
  • I have taken up web projects because of the freedom it entails me and perhaps being a print designer at heart I am actually trying to condition myself into settling for less because it gives me more
  • The projects themselves are not interesting enough
  • It is not about the work but the issue is me

The deeper, actual issues

The above questions to myself may be the cause of my dissatisfaction partially, but my gut (or my higher self) tells me there is more to it.

I have been neglecting the bigger picture.

The bigger picture has never been the work itself. Would I be satisfied and truly happy if I am doing the best work or the most interesting projects? If I imagine myself as one of the best-recognised designers right now, will that take away all my dissatisfaction? If I had less work now and have the chance to rest, will that make me feel significantly better?

A couple of years ago I have realised that even if I was doing the best work, earning the best keep, I would not really be satisfied, I would not lie on my deathbed and smile, telling myself that I have lived a good life. What is the point of even if I were to be recognised as one of the best? It does nothing except to feed my ego and probably I can tell myself I have been one of the best designers – but what comes after that? This is not meant to be any disrespect to the best designers out there now, honestly, just that different factors make different people happy, and I would not say that being one of the best makes me truly happy. I love my work but it is just not what my life should revolve around.

The picture changes significantly when one is able to contribute to the greater good with the work. I have always been a fan of Stefan Sagmeister, not because of his creative, provocative work, but rather that the messages he carries by just being himself. The work he does encourages people to be themselves, not get sold into the whole materialistic lifestyle and most importantly, to pursue your dream. Or one of those industrial designers who designs something that enables handicapped people to move more freely, for example. Or the copywriter who conceptualises the ad that carries a life-changing message to the mass public.

Yet I asked myself honestly if I thought I would ever touch people in this manner and the answer was no. It is not because I am pouring cold water on myself, but a very honest assessment of my own self. I have been doing consistently good work, but it has never been in that league. I will not say never ever, but the possibility is really remote.

What truly makes me happy on my deathbed

One of my facebook contacts had linked an article that profiled a woman with the highest recorded IQ, and the article questioned if one was obligated to use his/her natural high intelligence to 'change the world'. I remember responding to it on facebook, commenting that not everybody has to be Obamas to contribute positively to the world. I really do believe in all of us having the ability to contribute in our own unique ways, however small or supposedly insignificant it may be. The point of it is to have the intention or desire. One small gesture may change someone else's life. I have had other people's small gestures that significantly changed mine.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost. My work has taken up so much of my time that I no longer had time to do things that I deeply cared about or that I originally set out to accomplish.

Success in the typical sense will not feed the soul, because we will always want more. Creativity declines when the soul is not being fed. I guess this makes up a lot of the reason why I have been feeling like something is withering inside me.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost.

The conspiracy that woke me up

As I mentioned earlier, I have been feeling disturbed but I only started an in-depth interrogation within myself only when I was clearing my Google Reader's feeds and discovered that quite a few  high-profile personalities in the web industry have written about their stress-levels, work-related depression and significant decisions to do something about it. One has called it quits to his freelance career and returned to employment, one has decided to halt his thriving small business, another has gone on to another level by revolutionizing his life.

I asked myself what was I going to do about mine. In order to know what I needed to do, I have to find out the root of the issue first. That started my whole self-analysis. That was not all.

Feeling ashamed

I was extremely ashamed, yes ashamed of my own lack of guts when I saw Susan Boyle's courage to take the stage despite the expected public ridicule of her age and looks, while I would not even go anywhere anything that resembles a stage. I was totally envious and ashamed again when fellow local blogger Adrianna, at the tender age of 24, escaped a suicide bomb blast in Yemen by a twist of fate, not because she was there for work, but she was touring the Middle East by herself because she wanted to. Like seriously? I have reservations touring just South-east Asia by myself and someone else is enjoying her life and death tour to the Middle East?

I can continue to cite many more examples that made me look at myself and shake my head. That I am sitting here, being troubled about my work and not having enough guts or determination to change the situation. That I am moping while someone almost lost his life when he offered himself to the pirates as a hostage in exchange for the release of his crew, women in South Africa are getting raped to 'correct' them of their homosexuality. I feel very ashamed to have allowed mundane issues to depress me, when there is actually much greater pain and suffering out there – not to mention that there are people who are doing actual meaningful work with their lives at risk, some without a penny to their name.

Rectifying the situation

I do not want too much more of my life to tick by and lessen the time to do whatever I need to do to make myself proud at my own deathbed. This has been an on-going merry-go-round for me because I have been aware and yet getting lost repeatedly. I want to share and set my intentions openly with all of you. I may not succeed at first try, but at the very least I want to try.

The list of intentions consists of things I would like to do that I feel will bring back my passion for my work, as well as actions I can initiate in order to aid my quest to lessen my stress levels and increase the quality of my life, plus some perspectives of life in general I should constantly remind myself of in order to be grateful and not wasteful (the rhyming is not intentional ;p). Lastly, I want to consciously increase the opportunities that will allow me to contribute positively in my own ways, within my own capacity, as much as possible.

  • I want to learn hand-lettering. Looking at type, especially hand-drawn type, makes my heart skip a beat. I did not think I would be good at it so I never really tried because I suck at drawing anything by hand, but I do believe that anyone can learn almost anything if they set their heart to it. If I start drawing circles now perhaps by the time I'm 40 I may be remotely good at it. I should stop having the mentality that I am too old to start learning how to draw. (stifles laughter at myself)
  • I should not give up on doing things I truly love because it seems difficult to.
  • I must try to find more me-time and time for non-commercial creative projects to feed myself creatively.
  • I really need to look into how I can gauge myself more accurately and stop overloading myself with work because it is my number one stress factor. I will consciously finish whatever I have to do on hand and re-look into the type of work I should be working on in order to create a better creative and time balance.
  • I will also need to look into diversifying my income streams, especially the passive ones, which I do not even have one yet.
  • I want to explore other avenues of interest apart from design. I have always been interested in spirituality topics - perhaps more workshops?
  • Travel plans are still in place and will take place soon. This is important because I feel called to do so. I have a feeling this will open up the doors to more avenues for contributions.
  • Find ways and time to contribute more to the causes I support. I have been neglecting to give to my causes because I have been so caught up in my own work.
  • Should really start meditating regularly and having proper exercise soon. The health needs to be taken care of in order to have the ability to accomplish more.
  • Constantly remind myself to be grateful and to be aware of the suffering of other beings. That I should focus my energy on meaningful matters than to get myself down over minuscule matters compared to people starving in third world countries and people dying in wars. This is extreme yes, but it is real. There are people and animals who are really suffering out there and I feel upset with myself for feeling like it is the end of the world when I encounter small setbacks.
  • To not let fear affect my life and my desire to be true.
  • Spend more time writing to share my experiences so that some souls may benefit from it.
  • Write more openly and honestly on this blog about myself, my fears and failures, not worry about what the negative reactions to my honesty, and instead focus on those who appreciates me for me.
  • Give my best in trying to do what I want to do, but try not to let myself get attached to the outcomes, and not let my desire for self-improvement become unrealistic self-expectations. It is the journey that counts, not the destination.
  • Understand that while it is nice to be doing great and interesting work, ultimately whatever work I do should enable me to live out my purpose and live my life the way I want. I should never give up on finding the best compromise though – between the quality of life and the quality of work.

I hope I have not bored all of you to tears with my list and it will also be nice if any of you can share some of yours with me. :)

Renewing a promise made to myself on my birthday

I have been somewhat neglecting this blog, not without proper reasons. Few months ago I have decided that I want to realise my travel plans by this year, so I set my heart to it, taking on work so that I would be in a good state financially to embark on my travels later this year.

Just that I probably took on much more than I should.

I had spent the last couple of weeks before my birthday frantically trying to tie up loose ends, meet not-very-realistic deadlines, all because I wanted to go for a week's trip to spend my birthday in peace. I have never been a huge fan of my own birthdays, but have learnt to respect the special day that marks the time of my birth. This time I planned a month or two in advance, not knowing of the destination yet, but notifying all my clients that I will be away for a week.

To be really honest I do not think it is a matter of life and death if a project was delayed for five working days (four actually, with good friday), but somehow I let the guilt that should not have existed eat into me and I agreed to deadlines that were never possible in the first place. Deadlines that were supposed to take place before my birthday so that the world can continue to function during my absence.

The result was a lot of unnecessary stress, till the day before my departure, I was effectively burnt out. I could not do a single thing except wait for time to pass. I was simply drained. I still did not manage to meet a couple of deadlines despite my best effort but I was aided by the client-decided delays of a couple of projects. For the one deadline I genuinely thought I would meet but did not, I wrote a very honest email to the client describing my not very creative-state-of-mind. It would be ideal if he understood, if he did not, I can only say that I have tried my best.

The promise I made to myself last year that I broke this year

I knew there was nobody else but me to blame. I let this happen to myself. One year ago around this time of the year, my parents almost perished in the Sichuan quake, surviving only by a twist of fate that delayed their road trip by a few minutes and not less, because they found themselves in the middle of two huge landslides. If they have been earlier, they would have been gone, same goes for few minutes later.

I was in the same situation at that time last year, burning myself out with work, postponing family dinners because I was 'too busy with work'. I almost never got to see them again. I made a promise to myself, to never let work take priority in my life, never should I burn myself out again.

One year on, after seemingly having learnt from my previous lesson, I forgot about the promise I have made to myself. Ironically, because all I wanted was to be financially ready for my dream.

This has been a recurring theme of my life. It has been such a vicious cycle that I am appalled at myself for not getting it after so many attempts. It just has to recur until I get it. And a new theme starts.

I cannot promise that it will not recur again. However, I will try. My trip was almost ruined because of the guilt and baggage from work I had to carry, not to mention I almost fell sick again due to the lack of sleep and increased stress levels. Where is the line I should draw in working harder, setting boundaries, and yet maintaining the quality of my life?

I was in the same situation, burning myself out with work, postponing family dinners because I was 'too busy with work'. I almost never got to see them again. I made a promise to myself, to never let work take priority in my life, never should I burn myself out again.

Renewing my promise with the Universe

Looking at the beautiful beaches and seas of Phuket (no, Patong beach is not the only beach that Phuket has), basking myself under the solar rays blessed by the sun returning to the same astrological position on my day of birth, I made a renewed promise to myself. I will continue to put in my best for my work, but I will listen to my gut feel more. If it says no more new projects, I will need to listen to it. I have lost count of the times my gut tells me no, but I still carry on thinking that I am capable of exceeding my own expectations. How much would I have to give up to earn that extra bit? At the expense of my own well-being, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Taking in the sights, sounds and smells, pausing in the moment to appreciate Mother Earth's natural beauty – that is how life should be, isn't it?

Cape Sienna room view, Kamala Beach

Still grateful & blessed

Nevertheless, looking at the neverending horizons, I felt blessed that I was able to make it to the trip in one piece. That somehow the Universe consipired to ease my workload prior to my departure, because I know it could have been worse if not for the unforeseen client-side delays. That the clients I have understood. That I have my health intact, my parents well, my partner by my side, and that I was able to afford that bit of luxury to even be at Phuket. That I do not have a huge circle of friends, yet a handful of true ones who know me for me. I am loved by the Universe, and I know it in my heart.

I may not get the hang of finding the intricate balance between work and the rest of my life yet, but am slowly getting the hang of placing my undiluted trust and faith in the Universe.

That alone makes me feel truly blessed, because despite being trapped in my own maze of confusion I have managed to rediscover the magic of the Universe.

Happy birthday to me, and may I be blessed enough to spend the rest of my birthdays basking in the magical energy of Light – that gives life to all.

Getting good clients is like dating.  It’s about building a personal relationship, building trust.

Mirko Ilic, via Success Secrets of the Graphic Design Superstars