The Rider, The Elephant, and The Path

Amara Poolswasdi - Thailand

For every instance of change in our lives, we have to deal with three things: our rational side, our emotional side, and the path in which we eventually choose to embark on. Not every change in our lives is welcomed — most of it is painful but necessary. Take, for instance, my February challenge. I am on day 5 of 21 of creating healthier habits, like running daily, taking vitamins, logging my nutrition, and watching what I eat. It’s not easy but it’s necessary. I have to address not only my rational decision for making this change in my routine (I need to live a healthier lifestyle to ensure I have the strength to carry on my daily duties) but also the emotional side as well (I want to feel better about myself and serve as a great example for others). Despite those two very important components of creating change in my life, it is impossible to make the change without setting a path for success. How would I be able to live a healthier lifestyle if I didn’t give myself the time to exercise everyday, or if I stocked my pantry full of chocolate and cotton candy? It’d be impossible for change to take place without shaping that path.

Enter Dan and Chip Heath’s Switch: How To Change When Change Is Hard. I came across this book multiple times in 2010 and kept putting off reading it. The title itself was intimidating. “How To Change When Change Is Hard” sounded…well…hard! It was one of the hardest reads I had ever completed in my life. I kept having to put the book down to just marinate the information. At the end, the book helped me embark on one of the most painful journeys in my life last September.

Switch Book

The book helped me break down this process of change. The analogy of the rider, the elephant, and the path completely resonated with me. Having been in Thailand a few years prior, I actually had the privilege of riding an elephant through a sanctuary in Surin. As the rider, you direct the elephant down a path. Similarly, when you come to a point in your life where you have to make a decision to change, you are the rider — you are the rational component — of that decision that has to guide the elephant, otherwise known as the emotional component. Note the differences in scale: a rider is a fraction of the size of the elephant. The elephant has the power to override the rider at any time and to destroy all potential. But, once a rider maintains control of the elephant, there is a powerfully symbiotic and beautiful relationship that can emerge. To that analogy, your rational side can guide the emotional side if you know where to look and what to target. Also, by thinking just a few steps ahead of yourself, you can shape the path to your definition of success. Whether that is moving on, getting healthier, maintaining a better relationship with yourself, or just making a difficult decision, understanding these three components to the decision making process will guide you on the journey to change.

How will you guide the rider and the elephant while shaping the path to change in your life?

Day 3 and Keeping Tabs On Progress

It doesn’t matter if you’re on a fitness kick, gearing up for a new semester, or trying to save more money from your paycheck. You should be documenting EVERYTHING you’re doing that puts you closer to success.

On that note…Hooray! I’ve survived Day 3 of my challenge.

I’ve found some great tools to help me stay on track…primarily to keep tabs on my own progress.¬†Aside from blogging (obviously!) it’s also really important to keep track of the little steps I’m taking that will accumulate in to big changes. I’ve gone running a few times this week and wanted a way to accurate keep track of my distance and speed, so I joined RunKeeper to help me do that easily. It tracks my runs, calories burned, distance, time, etc…really nifty! Additionally, I’ve had a membership to eDiets that hasn’t quite seen the light of day these last few months (I joined last August), so I decided to dust it off again and sign in to take advantage of the customized workouts, meal plans, and the nutrition tracker.

One of the most important things about making a concerted effort to achieve a goal is keeping yourself accountable. I find that it is easy for me to stay true to my word if 1) I have to answer to other people and 2) I have to document my progress. What helps is that I am seeing immediate benefits — I feel great, I’m sleeping better, I’m focused on tasks at hand, and hey — I slayed my to-do list today. (I crossed off a record 18 items!)

How do you keep track of your progress?

21 Days To A New Me (And You)

After a few weeks of feeling mentally energetic but physically demotivated, I’ve decided that it’s time to flip the switch (again).

My health and I have a cyclical relationship…I usually don’t really care until I have to, which means I have a health scare or I have some big event I have to physically prepare for (also known as ‘look good for’). Pop-psychology tells me that it only takes 21 days to create a new habit, I’d have to say that I am up to the challenge. It is time to (try to) get healthy (again)! About two years ago I had a health scare — false positive on precancerous cells found in my body — and then last summer I had another bout of high cholesterol issues.Well in this case I truly am a creature of habit because have a few things coming up that I have to physically prepare for…and they’re not health related. (You’ve been warned!)

  1. My 27th birthday is a little over a month away…which means I’ll be seeing a lot of old faces again. And there will probably be pictures. On Facebook. Oh the terror of the digital footprint.
  2. SXSW is in about five or six weeks…which means I need to look good for, uhm, yfrog/twitpic/Facebook/geeks mostly.
  3. I was chosen to participate in the Chevy-sponsored SXSW roadtrip challenge for LA…which means I need to look presentable in every photo, on my blog, on other people’s blogs, on videos for YouTube, on camera for VOKLE, etc.
  4. The 5K LA run is in about seven weeks…which means I need to haul serious booty!
  5. I’m going to have to go and see my parents sometime soon…which means I’d prefer to stave off passive-aggressive comments about my holiday-induced whalishness.

Unfortunately I can get pretty shallow when it comes to my own body, but it’s nothing I’d ever project onto someone else. (Kind of like my eating habits.) So, naturally when I came across photos of myself from December 2008 I was stunned. My face was skinny! I was smiling! I actually liked being photographed! Maybe it was the two dirty martinis I had prior to these shots being taken, or the fact that my hair is a lot longer and balances out my cheekiness, but it’d be nice to get back to that point again. I don’t think I’m too far off as my weight and overall flabbiness generally only tips the scales within 10 pounds in either direction. (Wait, isn’t today GROUNDHOG DAY?)

A few years ago, when I was in college, I dropped a gadzooks amount of weight — I think 35 pounds or so in one month. I exercised twice a day and pretty much existed off of a combination of Slim-Fast and salads for about 30 days and voila, I dropped it. I was also pretty motivated since my doctor had told me that I was on the fast-track to diabetes. At that point I figured the benefits of weight loss outweighed the drastic short-term measures I took. Although this time (and all of my subsequent times) haven’t really been as drastic, I do plan on staying incredibly disciplined.

So, since it takes 21 days for me to form new habits and all of these events are more than 21 days away I should be in good shape. (Knee slapper!) I’ve done this a few times and I usually love it and hate it at the same time. It would be so much easier to just maintain good eating and exercise habits but for some reason it seems as though I enjoy these cycles. As my beau put it the other day, I really enjoy a great challenge…so this should be an interesting journey. I never believed in measuring my success through numbers so I don’t have a goal weight, running time, or dress size. I just want to be happy and healthy and serve as a great role model for people around me. Let the fun begin! You can follow my progress at RunKeeper and cheer me on. (I’d really, really appreciate it!)

What great habits do YOU plan on forming in the next 21 days?

Do You Really Need a Degree To Succeed in Graphic Design?

In short…kind of.

Bauhaus Poster

For people who are unfamiliar with the technology and processes of design — from the artistic form to the technical know-how necessary to execute ideas — going to school is one of THE best ways to learn. You have to choose your school carefully though. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting caught up in a program that doesn’t necessarily fit your goals or approaches.

I was lucky to go to a private art school for one (very short) semester. In that space of time I learned a lot about the art behind it. I spent almost ten years learning the science of it beforehand, and imitating what I saw in magazines and books. In that short period of time I was thrown in to the more artistic, ethereal challenges behind my projects. When I left that private art school and transferred in to a local state university, I was flabbergasted. Students were still learning to kern. They still tried to run RGB layouts through our four-color printer. They were designing booklets in Photoshop. They hadn’t the slightest cue about binding technologies, HTML, print production, etc…all things that I had essentially grown up with.

The traditional design school experience was very tough for me. I breezed through the coursework but quickly approached my two design professors and asked that they challenge me as hard as they could. (That they did…one drove me to tears!) In my experience it wasn’t the actual course work itself that taught me a lot, but instead my interaction with my professors and the internships with which they connected me. It was also in my dealings with my classmates, by being patient and helping them grow as designers through fair and honest feedback and critiques. It was in helping them understand that design was simply not just a pretty picture but a piece of visual communication that was to eventually be consumed by millions of people…and that it needed to be taken seriously.

What I also never expected was to deal with politics. Different professors had different teaching styles and their own philosophies about how to run their classes. When it came time to seek funding for an international project, I had to deal with the politics between departments, and getting recommendations. Some of the hardest lessons I learned in design school was knowing when to drop a design argument when it became apparent that it came down to taste; understanding that honey attracts more flies than vinegar; and that sometimes it didn’t really matter what other people thought — that if you could unequivocally defend your design, you were designing from an informed point of view. It was also really difficult for me to deal with rejection: I had applied to create my own masters degree program but was rejected on the grounds that my GPA was not high enough. (All credited to the hop-skipping of majors I did prior to switching in to design.) In retrospect that was a blessing in disguise: I would have missed out on the opportunity to work for a boutique ad agency and learn the reins of running a business from the inside out. I would have missed out on working with The Rainmaker Network. I would have missed out on starting my own company. I would have also missed out on enrolling in the degree program at Golden Gate, which has served me so well thus far.

No, it wasn’t the brand identity assignments or the poster designs or even the portfolio class that taught me a lot about the design process. It was the people. It was the patience that was required of me to finish the classes. It was learning how to follow protocol, even if I didn’t want to. It was learning that forms of expression require a process, and that there were no shortcut to success. Design school taught me that I would have to work hard, commit to goals, and set to achieving them if I were ever able to make something of myself.

Amara Poolswasdi Working
A quick snapshot of my working process while I was in Thailand. Note the Advil and sketches EVERYWHERE

So, although you don’t really need the degree itself, I believe that it will help you build the patience and understanding necessary to succeed.

(crossposted to unicornpress.net/blog)

Can Net Neutrality Realistically Exist?

Net Neutrality Poster by BugbyteHeated discussions are abound online and off regarding net neutrality.

Let’s take a second to actually define net neutrality so that we aren’t operating from errant presuppositions. Net neutrality has been defined as a “buzzword used to describe a principle proposed for users’ access to networks participating in the Internet. The principle advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and the modes of communication.

My opinion in 140 characters or less: Net neutrality is a GOOD idea, but impossible to achieve under our current global infrastructure. #EPICFAIL. PLS RT

My expanded opinion: Let me preface everything I am about to say with this statement — I believe that the concept of net neutrality is fundamentally just and right; it is Utopian in its ideals and has a genuinely deep-seeded objective of freedom of information through technology. Unfortunately, like most of the consortiums, news outlets, and textbooks we have at our disposal, every information source is subject to bias, opinion, and bastardization.

Dalai Lama Tweet

I present to you five obstacles that are currently in our way of complete net neutrality:

1. Commercial Internet Service Providers: As it stands, the Internet is primarily a pay-to-play arrangement. Because access to the Internet isn’t inherently free to begin with, the trickle-down effect presupposes that the actual content that you receive once you get online won’t really be free either. This results in media that is placed or paid, through journalistic perspectives, sales/marketing objectives, or agendas of major financial backers realized through a farm team of advocates. (See #4.) IRL examples: Google search engine advertising; Software/hardware/appware strategic partnerships for smartphones (i.e. Motorola Droid with Google via Verizon Wireless service with Amazon MP3 store preinstalled).

2. Governments and Political Agendas: (In this case I am using “governments” and “political” in their fundamental context, where institutions that regulate any social relationships via authority or power qualify as a government or political institution and can carry out the agenda of a select few. This can be the city/state/national government, a religious institution, an educational system, and other culturally accepted bodies of authority) Governments are supposed to work with us, not against us. Unfortunately this has been the struggle since the beginning of recorded history since our usual protocol is 1) we elect them, 2) we decide we don’t like how they’re running things, 3) we do nothing about it OR we inefficiently try to solve the problem by addressing the symptoms and not the causes of our problems. IRL examples: The Great California Marijuana Debate, PETA.

3. Lack of Web-wide Credibility Standards: There is no governing body or accreditation of information provided online. There is no “stamp of approval” to qualify truths and credible information. Currently, credibility is cloaked by commercial and political agendas. Because you essentially “get what you pay for,” the rules of caveat emptor (buyer beware) apply. Credibility is being bought and sold like a commodity — and when that “credibility” has the power to sway nations into action or economies into tailspins, then yes, I suppose you can in fact put a dollar figure on it. Unfortunately, since information is not a tangible good, you cannot “return” it. All you can do is try to erase it from our collective memory, but unfortunately, the information has been imprinted in our culture and thought processes. I don’t know about you but my mental environment is much more expensive than the Internet bill I received and paid for. IRL examples: All unsponsored content in the blogosphere.

4. Paid, Earned, and Owned Media, a.k.a. Commercial Agents of Information:¬† It’s hard to report the news with freedom from commercial interests when there are bills to pay. Whether it’s through sponsorship, controlling interest, or strategic injection of loaded opinions or material, paid, earned, and owned media makes it difficult to have an honest conversation. If someone is paying to place content, it’s not unadulterated truth: it’s advertising. If it’s a story that has been deemed newsworthy by a writer, an editor, etc., the story probably got to them through marketing and PR efforts…and that qualifies as earned media. If the media channel itself is owned by a person or a company, and not the people, then it has an agenda. Logically then, by those standards, all paid, earned, and owned media serve as commercial agents of information. IRL examples: My mother watched a video news release on Christmas Day and thought it was factual and not opinionated. Public radio stations getting paid to play the same songs over and over again. Texas rewriting textbooks that will eventually be distributed to the rest of the United States.

5. Dumb People: Not everyone will make the best choices with the information they find online. This isn’t to stay ignorant people are to blame. (Ignorant people just don’t know. Dumb people don’t know any better.) Dumb people — the people who read unmoderated information and believe it to be the truth without challenging the PR spin, the loaded statements, and/or the statistics blown out of proportion — make net neutrality dangerous. For the most part, people who are fighting for net neutrality tend to be pretty intelligent people to begin with. They can form cohesive statements and arguments in any direction if they tried. If said dumb person reads unmoderated, unfiltered information online and can’t discern between truth and false, and right and wrong, then net neutrality puts all of us relatively intelligent people at risk. IRL examples: Woman gets murdered after changing her Facebook relationship status. Tea Party mind control rhetoric. Kid finds recipe to make a pipe bomb and blows up the neighborhood by accident.

My conclusion:

  • Net neutrality begins internally — we must first examine our collective processes of the way we consume, interpret, and synthesize information.
  • A completely free Internet dilutes the collective intelligence required to discern truth from false.
  • To truly achieve net neutrality, we must all break down the obstacles that are in our way. Seeing as though said obstacles are finely engrained in our global infrastructure, its pursuit many actually cause more harm than good. (Will the ends justify the means?)
  • We ought to focus on closing the digital divide before we focus on net neutrality. We put the cart before the horse again.
  • Net neutrality is Utopian and worth striving for. We just need to proceed with caution.

I’m curious to see what your thoughts are on it! What’s your opinion on net neutrality?

Achieving Balance

Ahhh, the eternal struggle. How does someone balance all of their obligations and cram 30 hours in a 24 hour day?

I stumble and fall but I find that most of my lessons are learned when I get back up. No one likes a frazzled and stressed person! The time has come that I put more personal responsibility into my schedule instead of filling it up with more and more project work. If I can’t be relied upon to take care of myself, how will my clients be able to trust that I can take care of my managed aspects of their business?

With this realization, I have decided to be proactive, rather than blindly placing the blame on external factors. The only way to achieve happiness is to manage what you can control…and, chances are, you can control your environment. For example, I can’t blame anyone else for my over-committed schedule but myself! The key to balancing obligations is to never actually attempt to cram 30 hours into a 24 hour day. It means breaking up chunks of work into manageable pieces so that the right amount of time can be devoted to each project. It means saying “no” to projects that you are disinterested in. It means that you have to plan fairly far in advance and to stick to your goals in the face of procrastination, laziness, and sloth in general.

Jon Bernstein, the author of The Power of The Notebook, says that when you write down your goals you are more inclined to put a plan of action together to achieve them. Here are my goals for the remainder of the 2010 year:

  1. Maintain a regular exercise regimen and train for a 5K
  2. Delegate tasks to my employees at Unicorn Press and trust that they have the judgment to get them done properly
  3. Be more disciplined and focused with my masters’ program classes
  4. Make it a habit to answer every email in a timely manner.
  5. Regularly go “off-the-grid” to recharge my batteries (no pun intended)

Let’s see how well I commit to these goals!