defragment.me

Peer recognition

Been busy with work lately but think it would be nice (can't find a better word, sorry) to share some positive news.

Nothing beats being recognised by industry peers, it serves as a great motivation for me to continue pushing myself further.

My portfolio site's current incarnation celebrated its one-year anniversary a while ago, and during its early launch period it was featured in a few css galleries which I was already over the moon about. However lately, on a second wind, it is being featured in several high profile sites:

Am passionate about typography and set out the design of my portfolio to be strongly minimalistic and type-based, which I thought would not be well-received by a mass audience as people tend to go for visual richness. I am also well-aware that my site does not look too good on a Windows machine without anti-aliasing (font-smoothing) turned on. Nevertheless I wanted to push some boundaries and demonstrate that a site can look great with carefully used type and almost pure code without much imagery. I am glad I stuck to my beliefs, as I knew that there will always people who'll appreciate it the way I do, even if a handful.

It is the law of attraction at play here I guess, because the way the site is designed, it does attract potential clients who appreciates design the way I do, and no words can describe how helpful that is to me.

Today, just for this moment, I allow myself to be in pride of my work, especially with the recognition of some of my peers – I thank you from the bottom of my heart, you people have no idea how much it means to me.

My hopes for 2009; the right time is now

The previous few years were major milestones of my life: in 2006 I met the person whom I think I am going to spend the rest of my life with, in 2007 I took the leap of faith into self-employment, and in 2008 spirituality took on a whole new meaning as I seeked for answers . All these events happened without any form of warning or planning, and therefore I have come to the conclusion that the best things in life happen when you're least expecting it.

I have no doubt that the sequence of events were intricately linked – the stability of my personal life allowed me to seek the instability of a solo career, while the freedom of being a solo designer allowed me to experiment with spirituality. I do not think I would think of attending workshops had I still been trapped in the body of an overworked designer. :)

Looking forward to 2009, I do not want to plan resolutions because I know life typically, at least for me, does not go according to plan. Instead, I hope to draft my hopes for this year, setting the intention, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

No more waiting

Near the very end of 2008, I came to the realisation that I cannot wait any longer put my dreams into action. I have spent most of my life waiting, waiting to grow up, waiting to start working, waiting to be financially secure. Yes, even for someone like me, financial security is important. I had wanted to wait till my income would be strong enough to support my conquer-the-world plans. However, a series of happenings opened my eyes to my own foolishness. Life is unpredictable, just like happy events occur when you're least expecting it, unfortunate ones happen without much warning too. What if financial security eventually arrives, and my health can no longer support my travel plans? Wouldn't that be the greatest irony?

I know I sound paranoid, but I sounded paranoid when I used to speak about banks collapsing and people losing money that were earned over a lifetime. This was before the economic crisis and it sounded unfathomable, yet am sure it does not really sound unrealistic now.

A friend of mine recently recounted how her cousin's husband passed away unexpectedly with a heart attack, at the age of 28. The age I would be turning in approximately four months time. I do not want to have the it-will-not-happen-to-me mentality, because I jolly well know anything can happen to anyone.

The right time is now

Thus, this year I intend to put my travel plans into action, no matter how much it disturbs me to see numbers in my bank account dwindling. Ironically, I never felt the pinch when I was younger and poorer, when I was living paycheck to paycheck and would be lucky not to incur any debt. People tend to fear losing when they have more to lose. The instability of freelancing have forced me into putting money away for the rainy day, but the more money I put away, the more I become attached to it. I am not saying that I want to go back living to paycheck to paycheck, but I do recognise the need to adjust my mentality.

The illusion of security

With the state of the economy, it seems like madness to want to be less attached to my money and initiate travel plans. These are times of uncertainty, I should be saving every single cent I can grab, right? Yes, there is also a possibility I may become the most successful money hoarder in 2009 and still get stricken down with illness, and I am not willing to risk that possibility. Times of uncertainty or not, life is still fragile.

To me, security is an illusion anyway. Times can be good, and no matter how secure or prepared anyone can be, everything can still be taken away from you in an instant.

Life should not come to a standstill in times of uncertainty. Fear breeds more fear. On the bright side, travel costs would probably be significantly lower. For example, it is a great time to visit the UK now, because right now it is 1 SGD to 2.1 pounds, whereas it used to be 1:3 in better times. Ditto for Australia, it is now 1:1 instead of 1 SGD for 1.3 AUD.

My immediate plans

I would probably try hopping across the Asian region first, before venturing further. Armed with my laptop, and designing websites from some remote guesthouse that provides a table and internet access.

I used to get raised eyebrows all the time when I tell people of my dream to travel and work from anywhere in the world, but it does not seem so far fetched anymore.

One big hope and a few small ones

This is my one single big hope for 2009, to finally be able to try traveling and working. Along the way, I would hope to:

  • find ways to diversify my income streams
  • contribute more to causes
  • connect to my spirit guides
  • meditate more
  • pick up yoga
  • stay healthy

Here's to a great 2009 to all of us.

Looking back at 2008

2008 was a breakthrough year for me.

personally

  • visit Noah's Ark for the first time, which opened my heart and mind to experiencing the joy of seeing them liberated, roaming free on safe grounds
  • fostered a stray
  • got involved in a cause for the first time, inspired by the noah's ark visit as I begun volunteering as and when I can with the local stray volunteer groups
  • quit coffee as a daily fix which was a mini-miracle because I thought I could never live without it
  • went on a meat-free diet due to spiritual and animal-loving reasons, another mini miracle because I enjoy my steaks
  • paid more attention to my digestive system, or rather how the digestive system influences our overall health
  • finally launched my blog, which you're reading now
  • bought a Nintendo wii & the iPhone 3G
  • finally visited Pulau Redang and it did not disappoint
  • I started to use twitter, which actually brought me some meaningful relationships, very kind words and support in good or bad times.

career-wise

  • celebrated my 1st year anniversary as a solo freelancer in July 2008
  • tried to work in a foreign country for the first time at Bali, in an effort to try out my dream to work from anywhere in the world
  • celebrated the launch of a few websites that I am proud of
  • learnt through the hard way that it is not realistic to expect myself to design for 8 hours a day, and that not to overbook myself or there will be repercussions
  • discovered that the relationship between a client and a designer is akin to a romantic relationship. There must be some level of chemistry, and sometimes it works like a match in heaven, other times it doesn't work out as beautifully as expected

family

  • had a peaceful year with my family, which has not always been the case, so I am very thankful
  • having things put in perspective because my parents were caught in the Sichuan earthquake while on a tour, thank God they managed to return home safely
  • celebrated my 2nd year anniversary with my partner, whose support has been the cornerstone of my life and work
  • discovered my dear friend whom I affectionately call 'mudder' may well be my daughter in my past life.

spiritually

The pain of swimming against the flow

Many people go out of their way to be unique. They spend tons of money to buy that item nobody has, or to make themselves look better than others. Work their entire lives to be at the top, or to be at the center of attention. I have actually spent most of my life trying to be like others, to fit in, to stick out less like a sore thumb.

The childhood

I am not sure when was the exact moment in my life when I discovered I was unlike most, or at least, most of the people around me. A vivid recollection was of myself when I was 5, looking out of a window of a 10th floor apartment, wondering how it feels like to die. I was contemplating life, wondering what was the meaning, why do people want to live, when at the end of the day, no matter how you lived your life, it comes to naught. I was wondering why do I have to spend 70 years living to die.

I did not know at that point, that 5 year old kids shouldn't be thinking about life and death.

The education

I did not enjoy school very much, I could not talk to my peers. I tried very hard to be part of cliques, to feel that I belong somewhere. While the other girls are talking about shopping and boys, I was more intrigued with computers and design. The other kids tried to outdo each other academically, and I just wanted either my life or my education to end. I never liked to study, when the definition of the term equated to storing as much information as you can in your memory in order to excel in school. I was criticized endlessly for being lazy and complacent, when all I wanted was for someone to ask me whether I was even interested in what was being taught. Not that we had much of a choice when it comes to education in our system.

At 18 I made a huge decision to stand up against my parents and drop out of the diploma course I was studying for 1.5 years. The irony was I was in the course in the first place to try to please them, to be like the rest. What I really wanted to do was design, but it was deemed as the course with not much of a future, so I opted for the 'safe' compromise, a course in Information Technology. It did not take me long to learn that enjoying fixing computers was not the same as trying to comprehend data structures and algorithms. I excelled only in the soft programming modules and failed miserably at the rest. It was not about the tough work needed to complete the course, it was about being stuck in the industry after graduation for the rest of my life.

For quitting the course, my mom asked me what did she do to deserve a daughter like me. Again, the pain of being different.

For quitting the course, my mom asked me what did she do to deserve a daughter like me.

The career

I entered the workforce at age 19, filled with hope and idealism, thinking that finally am able to do what I love to do. I have chosen this path myself and I would be happy on it. I was wrong. I did not anticipate the employers taking advantage of my youth and naiveity, I was willing to work for very little money just to be able to do what I love to do. I was underpaid, overworked, and mis-managed. That I could accept.

I was underpaid, overworked, and mis-managed. That I could accept.

I could not accept the employer who told me to copy an idea directly from an award annual, or the employer who was evading debt which made the suppliers hound me endlessly, or the job when I spent 6 months doing nothing, or the partners of the firm who could not stand each other and ended up using the employees to spite one another, or the one who allowed the clients to art-direct, even if it meant that the work came out looking worse than crap. Seriously and honestly, these were what I went through job after job, still trying to find that one company which is passionate about the work, the company whose beliefs are aligned with mine.

I had spent seven years trying to be like others, because the society looked down on those who cannot keep a job. In between jobs I was once so disillusioned that I took on a temp job with an insurance company as an administrative assistant, just to avoid having my heart broken again.

It was a very simple wish, and perhaps its simplicity made it even more difficult. I simply wished for a firm that does good work, a firm that believed in its people and would treat them right.  I did not care about the money, the hype or the benefits. I just wanted to grow as a designer and do good work, and if possible, find a mentor.

I just wanted to grow as a designer and do good work, and if possible, find a mentor.

The harsh reality is, in Singapore's small and very competitive economy, it is difficult for a firm to stand firm in their beliefs and not end up boot-licking clients just to survive. There are a few, but only the very best worked for these. I was not good enough to be one of the very best, or would not be considered because of the lack of big names in my resume or the lack of a formal design education.

My desire to be a good designer was so intense that I wrote several cold letters to carefully chosen design studios for an internship, at the point of my career when I can comfortably take a senior position in a mid-sized firm. I consciously chose not to apply for work in big firms because I knew I would be pigeon-holed to work on a single client account. In all honesty I do not think I can be really creative staring at the same products for the length of my tenure.

Eventually one of the firms responded, but the situation did not last long, due to one of the human-related reasons mentioned above.

Time after time, I had my heart broken, and the people around me never failed to show me their disappointment. I loved my work, and because of trying to stay true to my own beliefs, I ended up disappointing those who love me. In their minds they are probably wondering why I cannot be like the rest that went to universities to get any degree, gotten a stable job, and settled down. I simply cannot stay in a job for the sake of staying in a job. Once, I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to find a job that I love, and she laughed in my face, saying that it does not exist. I would have been a very different person today if I had taken her seriously.

I simply cannot stay in a job for the sake of staying in a job.

The struggle

It is not easy to be different, to swim away from the mainstream. People misunderstand, people get let down when you don't fulfill society's expectations. When the people involved are the people you love, it is of no wonder that I have spent many years of my life trying to follow the rest and struggling with my heart. I went into a vicious cycle, whereby I would try to make a compromise, make a safe decision, and I would be unhappy, which was a matter of time that I would listen to my heart and bail out. I would tell myself not to repeat the same mistake, and I must be true to myself, but I would succumb to people's expectations again.

Deep in my heart, I just wanted to make the people who love me proud of me.

Deep in my heart, I just wanted to make the people who love me proud of me. However, in trying to do so, in attempting to live my life the way people wanted me to, I became really unhappy, and when I can no longer accept the situation, these people get disappointed again.

I realised I have ended up hurting them more by trying to be the person they want me to be.

In my next post I will write about why I gave up employment, how a series of epiphanies made me realise that I should take ownership of my own life and be proud of my individuality.