Temporary Lulls Are Just That…Temporary

This post sings a bit of a different tune. It’s more about the lulls in energy or drive that hit me in my daily life, be it work related, training related, or personally related.

It seems more so than ever I am aware that my life really is a series of unbalanced scales. I have a finite amount of hours and energy each day I bring to a project, to school, or to a training session. Sometimes when things in my life don’t seem to be in balance, it throws off the entire equation and I just shut down for awhile. Sometimes that while can last a few hours to a few weeks. And, every so often, I try to take a step back and really examine what I’m doing. Since I don’t work a 9-to-5 job, my projects last anywhere from a few hours to a few months. It’s nice and refreshing to be able to reframe my viewpoint so regularly. In fact, it is a luxury that I quite dearly missed in the spurts I committed to working full-time the few times in my adult life.

Lately I’ve been juggling more design work than school work. Just a few months ago, I was immersed full time in school work. What happened? Did I get bored or am I just coming up against a temporary lull? As you may already know, my interests oscillate between tech/design and health/fitness. One started off as a hobby and became a career, and sometimes it seems like I’m trying to redo that entire cycle over again in a completely different field.

I like to think of these temporary lulls as good practice for the Ironman. 17 hours is a long time to slug away at something. There will be some times when I don’t feel like swimming another yard, biking another mile, or running another step. It is in these temporary lulls that build character and grit. It is in trying times that you learn that the best things in life are the things you earn — education, leadership, strength. The things in life that are worth having are worth working for. Some have to work tirelessly before they see the fruits of their labor. Some people will never reach their end goals, but the journey is so consuming and well worth the investment that it is, in of itself, the reward.

It is in these quiet times I spend alone that I learn the most about myself and the people around me. A little bit of quiet observation unfolds a great deal of analysis of my past and present. I can’t predict the future but I can stack the odds. I can make plans for the future without sacrificing my appreciation of the present. I can honor the past by living fully in the present. I can (try to) learn to let go of the people and events in the past that burns inside of me.

I think the one thing I’ve learned the most in my adult life is how little I actually know. It’s kind of scary. I don’t have enough time on this earth for all of the books I want to read, the languages I want to learn, the places I want to visit, the startups I want to work with, the people I want to meet, the races I want to run. A lot of people at my age (and younger) feel invincible and on top of the world. I feel the exact opposite. I have so much to learn and so little time to execute it in. And, even though one of my goals is to complete an Ironman triathlon, I know that I have a lot of training ahead and a lot of life lessons to learn along the way.

I guess one place where I can start is…how the heck do I work all of the gears on my bike? That’s a pretty actionable first step, right?

I'm 28 and I Don't Know What I'm Doing With My Life…Still

Happy Tuesday, folks!

I’ve gotten a flurry of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ love for my birthday last week. Thanks again for your outpouring of love and support, especially all I’ve gone through this last year. It means the world to me.

So, on to the title of my post. Pretty loaded, huh? Well, it’s the honest truth. I think people have a tendency to frame the conversation — meaning that they want to express to people the version of themselves they want people to view them as. Perhaps not as genuine or honest, but it’s their only way to communicate their (somewhat) true selves. One of my friends (both online and IRL) has a priceless Twitter bio which sums it up perfectly: “Let’s be honest. I’m a nobody. But I’m working hard to change that.” There’s an element of truth to that for all of us, but I also suppose it depends on how you define yourself.

Historically I’ve always defined myself by my career — what I planned to do with my life, what I studied, what I’m working on. There’s an element of predictability and truth to that. You are what you spend your time thinking about, right? I design and design, mostly fatiguing my mind and interest on it until I find something to distract me long enough until I stumble upon something that will inspire me to pick up the pixels again. And so the process repeats. However, let’s get some facts straight here — as of last week, I’ve pretty much been doing the same thing, over and over (in different ways) for 15 years. If my personal philosophy holds true — that you shouldn’t do something for more than 10 years — then I’m approximately 5 years overdue for a major career change. However, in my attempt to change my career I’ve faced a number of “signs,” if you will, that keep bringing me back into the design sphere.

Let’s start with my reiki studies. Reiki is the study and practice of energy healing. In one of my texts, a short passage caught my eye.

If you a have a talent to help people and you choose not to, then you are stealing from yourself by denying your gift.

I stopped after reading that passage and thought about it long and hard. Was I really stealing from myself by denying this gift I have of design? Am I even helping people with my design work? I’ve come across a handful of scumbags in my design career. I’ve come across people who have told me to my face that I don’t have any real skill in design. On the other hand I’ve had plenty of happy clients, projects deployed, and work on display for the world.

Then I thought about what I’d rather be doing. Wait, let me rephrase that. Is there something I’d rather be doing? Design is difficult and taxing. It’s a problem that won’t go away. Will I be fulfilled by hacking away at the problems presented to me forever and ever? Maybe…maybe not. My focus as of late has turned to healthcare, wanting to get back to patient care. It takes a lot of time to retrain for a new career, especially in medicine. I’ll need a pretty lengthy runway and I will probably still need to design to survive. Will it be the best use of my time? Will I be able to affect the change I seek through this different medium, or am I just spinning my wheels?

Some of you are probably wondering what has caused this change in tune (again). There’s been a few things.

One, I’ve been removed from most of my friends and family and spending time solo. Wait a minute. I spend most of my time alone in my own head.

Two, I attended the LAUNCH Conference on some complimentary Broke Startup Founder tickets and met some amazing people that inspired me. I met a couple of other broke startup founders who were doing amazing things. I some incredibly smart people that were going to change the world. I saw one of my heroes and froze and then lamented that I never got a chance to shake his hand. I spent most of my time there live-casting the startups as they were pitching but also keeping a pulse on the general attitude of those around me.

Third, the projects that are availing themselves to me are inspiring. I’m a bit superstitious so technically everything is in stealth mode and I won’t tell you about them…mainly for fear that they’ll go away once I talk about them. (Weird, I know.)

Fourth, it’s always so difficult explaining to my parents what exactly it is that I do. Social media? UX design? Mobile apps? Where’s the money? I don’t know, mom and dad…but it’s there somewhere.

Fifth, I’ve had somewhat of a new lease on life. A few years ago I had a bit of a cancer scare. After a couple years of refining the way I live my life and the things I eat, as well as the way I’m taking care of myself, I’m proud to say that all suspicious traces of whatever was in my system is completely gone. I got the lab reports back in February. I like to think of it as “free and clear.”

So yes, you can say that I’m 28 and I don’t know what I’m doing with my life…still. I’m certainly farther along now than when I was 18 but sometimes I’m not so sure. When I was 18 I was bright eyed and bushy tailed. I wanted to change the world. I stopped at nothing to make enough money to send myself to college. I explored different majors, internships, and even schools. I sought to meet as many people as I could. I spent more time in nature. I’m 28 and, to some extent, doing the same thing — except now I’ve dropped out of grad school (too boring), dabbling in other potential part-time endeavors (massage therapy school), working on other startup ideas (never-ending), and working for other startups (on-going). The projects won’t stop coming (THANK GOODNESS) but certainly I wouldn’t be getting offers for projects if I didn’t bring some sort of value to the table, right? The design community is this never-ending cesspool of disgustingly amazing talent and utter mediocrity. You’re kind of one or the other.

Maybe my self-projections were right. Maybe I was never meant to work for someone else. Maybe I’m doomed to a life of permalancing and chasing the next big idea in my sketchbook. I suppose if that’s the worst that can happen to me, then it can’t possibly be that bad.

Accepting Change and Moving On

Happiness is really a choice. Change? Not so much.

Change hits me really hard. For some reason I’m just really uncomfortable with it. Many times…rather, most of the time, change is really for the better. I’ve had quite a few things that brought along a lot of change…graduating college, moving out, ending relationships, leaving projects, ending tenures, starting/failing/re-starting grad school. The list can go on and on.

I think what bothers me most about change is that sometimes I feel like I could have done something better. Sometimes I wish I would’ve spent my time differently. Sometimes I wish I had focused a little more. Maybe if I had done something a little differently, the entire experience would have been better, worse, or otherwise different. It’s a classic case of analysis paralysis. Let me be the first person to tell you, if no one else has already, that change is hard and that I understand. Just know that everything happens for a reason. I’ve personally gone through a lot of change this month and it’s been one rollercoaster after another, but I can honestly say that things will work themselves out.

The reason why I take the concept of change so hard is that I personally see change as an end to something. Changing jobs or roles in life, moving on from dead weight, and growing all involve some sort of transformation. If I could just learn to flip a switch and see it as a beginning I think it’d be a lot easier on me. Change is a new beginning. You can wipe your slate (relatively) clean and transform. It’s a necessary step to reincarnation…so embrace it.

Some things I’ve done to accept change and move on:

  • Talk it out. Sometimes it helps to have a cathartic session with another person who is willing to listen.
  • Reflect on your experience and remember the good things. What made your experience enriching? What did you get out of it?
  • Get excited about what’s next. Now that you’re in a state of change, you have been handed a wild card from life. You are completely in control of your next move. Call the shots and take charge.
  • Give it time. Most people will go through the five steps of grieving (denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). It’s totally normal and no matter is too small that it needs to go ignored.
  • Do something to honor your feelings. Allow yourself to feel the way you do. This isn’t the time to deny or deprive. Do something nice for yourself…you deserve it.
  • When you’re ready to make a decision, don’t look back. Keep looking forward and move towards the future.

What else do you recommend?

Surrounding Yourself With The Right People

I had this great blog entry planned out, but then I decided I was too tired to write a post and edit it. Instead I decided to vlog and it took just as long…but at least it exercised a different part of my brain and I feel as though I’ve learned something new. Yay iMovie!

Here we go…

So, what are your thoughts? How will you strengthen your support network?

Getting Dressed For Work Is Kind Of A Big Deal

I’ve always loved dressing up.

Amara Poolswasdi, Dressed For Work

For some girls, that means whoring out or dressing skanky. For me, it’s always meant sophisticated/business casual. I grew up wanting to dress older than I actually was because I wanted to be taken seriously. In high school I was that annoying girl who really wanted to wear cardigans, slacks, turtlenecks, button-down shirts, and heels. (As a matter of fact, after I got my driver license, those were the exact pieces I bought after I drove myself to the mall. I was only sixteen at the time.)

To an extent I am still that girl. Unfortunately at my current age it ends up confusing a lot of people. “Is this woman 40 with amazing skin?”

I realize that I am in the business of packaging identities. Graphic design, marketing, and communications is all about what you say and how you say it. I am not really into fashion per se. I enjoy perusing magazines from time to time or window shopping like the rest, but every once in awhile I emerge from a maelstrom of identity-crisis inducing incidents as a reincarnated and refreshed creative. I find that it pays to let it show.

A significant other recently pointed out that as a designer, I had to pay more attention to the details of my own presentation. It wasn’t enough to have a creative portfolio or to have artistic interests. Not only do you have to play the part, you have to look it too. Time and time again, I’ve found a modicum of truth behind that statement. So, although I am not going to throw out all of my conservative clothing, I do resolve to add a bit more flair and fun into my wardrobe. (That can take the form of interesting accessories, rather than major pieces.) I want to approach my own presentation that I would my client’s brand identity, website design, or copywriting work. I want it to be fun, interesting, and leave something up to the imagination! I want people to dig deeper and find the double meaning.

The thing about getting dressed for work is that it puts you in the right frame of mind. Even though I work from home, I don’t have to look like it. Why wear drab clothes and not bother getting out of bed? It makes me feel lazy; therefore, I present myself lazily and my work comes off very sloppy. But, if I take the time to get dressed and accessorize, it helps me practice my design skills well before I begin putting pen to paper or mouse to screen.

Today it took me about five seconds to decide to snazzy up my outfit. Why? I’m under deadline today! I have to get a website deployed later this afternoon and get my client’s book out to the publisher. Now that I’m in the right frame of mind, I can think creatively and get the job done with some…wait for it…flair!

Office Space Flair

I Hate Networking!

A young up and coming star in the start-up world recently confessed to me that he hated networking. I sighed (with great relief on the inside) told him to join the club.

I’ve been to mixers, networking events, tweetups, meetups, etc — all in the name of being more social. When you’re tethered to your computer for most of the sunshiny day, you tend to gravitate towards being as social as you possibly can in the small bursts of availability that you have. Getting yourself “out there” is pretty nebulous for most people. “How do I meet new people?” “What do I say?” “Where do I meet these people?” Oh, the anxiety!

Well, I would not say that I am some sort of networking rock star but I happen to do perfectly fine at events. At first I hated going to them, but after a few events I realized why I disliked them so much. It was my fault. See, I was going into it with some sort of crazy notion that I would meet some fabulous people that I would be able to plug in to whatever my project was at that time. That was the wrong attitude to have!

Stop networking to gain business contacts or collect cards, and just get yourself out there to meet new people. Honestly, the best way to network is to do so with no intentions outside of just making friends. Some people are meant for “working a room,” and all the power to them. However, if that’s not your thing, I am sure that this rather innocuous five step plan can help you!

  1. Walk up to someone who is alone
  2. Acknowledge something about the event you’re at
  3. Introduce yourself
  4. Ask an open ended question
  5. LISTEN!

Are you familiar with the adage, “Only boring people are boring”? Well, if not you should burn that into the insides of your retinas because I find it to be very true. Learn to keep the conversation going and learn to be your true self, and soon, these events will be a piece of cake!