#3: Lessons from a Leap-Year

2016. Outlook.

When I started this blog, probably my biggest dilemma was whether I should write more about my spiritual journey, or my journey as a designer. Well, I named it My Journey of a 1000 Designs after all. But I got to realize that I didn’t have to pick between the two to start with – over time it has gotten more lucid to me that my story isn’t only about a journey of either (i.e. spiritual or design); but rather about a Journey of Purpose.

As we come to the end of 2016, we’re most probably reflecting on the year, and setting our plans, aims and targets for the year ahead. We commonly refer to them as resolutions, and indeed they seem to be a big deal and a precursor to a focused year to come… well, so it seems – ’til sometimes we realize after we’re overtaken by the year and its events that we didn’t get to tick all (if not most) of the things off the resolutions list. We ask ourselves “What went wrong?” “Where did I go wrong?” “Was I that lazy?”. Well, I feel the answer to these question depends on what our motive, focus and understanding of oneself and life purpose was when we made these resolutions in the first place.

To help explain what I have just said, I have made this post to be about lessons I have learnt from my experiences during the leap-year. 2016 was quite a year for me: I have grown, have been challenged, have fought back, have lost some and conquered some; I have been beat, down and out… and I have emerged. But most importantly, I have lived. Let me point out a disclaimer: that the opinions expressed in this post by no means represent or suggest the ideal means for coming up with “resolutions”, plans, targets, etc. (And no, Wiley & Sons haven’t published “New Year’s Resolutions for Dummies” either!).

Lesson 1: Purpose before everything. Before we start setting those life goals, ambitions and yearly resolutions, it is essential to understand why we are planning/setting those goals in the first place. More essentially, it is important to understand our life purpose and how our plans and goals fit in towards fulfilling that purpose. I have learnt that purpose guides good intentions; it “aligns” us and saves us from making shallow plans and setting shallow targets, or doing something for not-the-right reasons – like “wanting to get a car because everyone around you has bought one already.”

Lesson 2: Leave the Theory of Relativity to Science. Do not define your story relative to the next person’s… or your friend’s… or anyone for that matter. They have their own story, most of which you’ll probably never understand – and so do you. No one will know how far you have come and what you have been through better than you and your God. I’ve gotten to realize that the source of our dissatisfactions come from our comparison to others. Think about it: Most of the time we are dissatisfied with the very things that someone out there would wish for (part of the morale behind the “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone” cliché). Nomatter how bad your situation is; your story (and testimony-in-the-making) is unique to you – God has unique plans for each of us, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Lesson 3: Use your gift. It’s probably not the first time I’m mentioning this in my posts, but I believe each of our lives lies on a path towards the fulfillment of a purpose; and along that path we find ourselves and understand more of who we are and the unique gift(s) that God placed in our hands – to lead us towards realizing our respective purpose. I have learnt that we cannot be good at something for nothing; and every gift (physical or spiritual) is given to us raw, and needs cultivation and nurturing… constant nurturing. So, identify your skill, develop it such that each time you retire for the day, you leave your talent better than what it was when you woke up that morning. Remember, nomatter what happens to you, nothing can ever take away that which God has placed in your hands – so use that gift, for God’s glory and the devil’s shame.

Lesson 4: Know yourself. Real good. This is essential in order for one to apply Lesson 3: Use your gift. Are you a team-player? Can you work under pressure? What makes you excel the most? What makes you fail the most? Do you stick to your targets? The list of such questions is endless, but we need to be able to answer these questions so we know our strong and weak areas, and to be able to guard our respective vision, purpose, gifts, etc. – think of it as a personal SWOT analysis. One thing I have come to understand with myself is that I draw my energy and motivation from what I surround myself with, and I have been learning to use that for my design work, photography, art, coding, etc. I use my blog writing sessions as an opportunity organize the constant thoughts of my hyper-active mind and paint a picture of how I perceive, understand and conceive. I guess “Cogito ergo sum” isn’t much a Latin cliché after all.

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Lesson 5: Declare and do. Five words: Actions speak louder than words. Mean what you say, and act to show what you mean.

Lesson 6: Stand firm. And fight back. Do not be scared to be bold and confront your fears and challenges. At some point in our lives, we will hit that all-time low – probably so badly that we stop seeing the point of life and its meaning. But have ever asked ourselves what we can/could do about it? They never said it would be easy, but one (and probably the best) way we can start moving away from that state of being overwhelmed, defeated, remorseful, beat, down and out is by doing something about it. What won’t kill you will make you stronger – let yourself get the better of the problem, not the other way around.

Lesson 7: One thing at a time (a.k.a. Serial Processing). Whether it’s starting on that huge project that seems to be overwhelming, or it’s picking up from Lesson 6: Stand firm. And fight back – try taking it one step at a time; take each day as it comes. For Rome wasn’t built in a day. Whilst our daily efforts seem insignificant to our expectations, you may be amazed at the cumulative sum of these daily efforts when put together. Let’s put it this way: try saving a dollar a day from January 1st, and tell me how much you’ll have by December 31st.

Lesson 8: Don’t just push yourself. Challenge your mind. The saying “Don’t work harder; work smarter” best explains this lesson. My high school science teacher used to tell us in energy class that “Nomatter how much force you exert against a wall or a rock, if you don’t move it there’s no work done there.” It’s possible to move the wall/rock; we just need to figure out how. Use what you know about yourself (Lesson 4) to expand your gift/skill, body of knowledge and to be able to work more efficiently. That’s how we grow as creatives, and that’s what brings us closer to full-potential.

Lesson 9: Keep reminding yourself. As William Shakespeare put it, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” It is important to constantly remind ourselves who we are, where we have come from, where we are going, and the battles we have endured. Sometimes our brains tend to act as RAM as we lay prone to a fast-paced world where we have to keep on keeping up appearances and catching up with the rapidly unfolding events in our lives and around our spheres. It’s become quite easy to get lost to the world and digress from our life purpose and goals. I believe the key to our humility and consistency in character is remembering our identity, history and endurance.

 “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” ― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Lesson 10: Oh… and one more thing; a secret to one’s successful personal plans and goals, is to be honest… and sincere… with oneself, and God.

Otherwise happy retrospection, and best wishes for a prosperous year ahead!

‘Til the next post…

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#2: I will not fail

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A journey…

So… You’re starting a new something – you’re excited, and you can’t wait to sink all your teeth into it. It’s your new quest, and what’s probably most exciting about it is that… it’s yours! You’re confident that you got everything under control, and that nothing can go wrong… at least at this point. Well, the truth of the matter is that we all have the expectation of that smooth sailing journey whenever we start a new project or work towards a target – but unfortunately, it’s not always the case, if any at all. I mean; for as long as you’re starting your own path, it means you can’t expect to tread on an already made one – you have to make it: clear the grass, thorns, and thistles first!

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What I’m trying to explain is a critical and essential path we go through with our life quest, personal targets, and every big or small project we execute. From my experience at my startup, DesignWorks Studios (will talk more about Designworks in a future post), I realize how I have embarked on a quest to push my limits and “do what has not been done before”. And My Journey of a 1000 Designs thus far has let me in on a little secret: that the real secret behind getting something done is starting it and finishing it. Simply that.

This blog post seeks to enlighten you on what you’re in for if you’re on your roller coaster ride to change the world, or speak to you if you’ve been through the frenzy of quest-chasing and the dilemma of whether to give up or step up. If we look around, we can notice that all the great natural wonders, precious minerals and big accomplishments and feats of our making didn’t just come easy. For starters, all these things did not come to be overnight – it was all through a process. I’m still learning from my Journey, but I have come to understand this process through what I call the Four Phases of a Quest Pursuit.

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Phase 1: The excitement phase – I still remember my first (graphic) designing days: the fun of making friends with Photoshop and all the related software and tools that came with her. The experience is similar to that feeling you get when you fall in love, except that in this case you’re excited that you’re either starting something new or you have stumbled upon your newfound passion. Referred to some as the Phase of Naïve Enthusiasm, this phase carries with it a lot of enthusiasm and energy, and it can get you going for hours and days on end during the early phases of your quest. At times (if not most times), it may be difficult to really find your focus and vision at this stage as you will be “head over heels in love” (pun intended), but you will realize that by the time phase two kicks in you would wish you had used all that excitement energy to gain reasonable mileage – I guess this is what they meant when they named it naïve enthusiasm.

Phase 2: The reality realization phase – I can’t really find the perfect choice of words to describe this one, but I can explain it as one of the feelings I had when I was composing this post and was quizzing myself whether it was really exciting enough to write and share as I initially thought it was. Let me say, this is that point when the excitement begins to wane and you’re not too sure anymore if that Eureka moment you had earlier was really Eureka. It’s like a trip back to earth from Cloud 9: disillusionment, criticism, perceived lack of viability, stumbling blocks, etc, etc… *sigh* We all wish we didn’t have to feel this way. But if we didn’t have to feel this way, would we get to learn the valuable lesson of standing the test of time? At this point we do either of the following: proceed to phase three, or park your quest for later… or dump it altogether.

Phase 3: The endurance phase – Okay, so this is where we separate the passion from the enthusiasm. Not disregarding several other factors (such as realizing the value of your quest and other external motivations); unless you have a passion for your quest, your enthusiasm will only take you only as far as you feed it. This is the point where how you react to the challenges you face in your pursuit make all the difference. This is the Go big or go home phase – it’s like the fire that gold has to go through in order to be refined and purified. The endurance phase teaches you to keep running with or without your enthusiasm or excitement energy; so If you’re going through your deal of endurance as you read this, remember that it is not every day that an unfinished work of art makes it to the Hall of Fame. The world awaits your move to change the world – give it all you got; it will be worth it. Go back to the drawing board, plan, pray, strategize, re-plan, endure… till you see that light at the end of the tunnel.

Phase 4: The triumph/emergence phase – So, after weeks, months or years of perseverance and toiling, you finally see the light and emerge from the tunnel of endurance. You’ve made it to the promised land without going extinct! It’s time to tell your story and inspire – no victory, big or small, isn’t worth it; actually, the completion of this post is in itself an example of my little accomplishment. 🙂 Serve your purpose and glorify God with your testimony (for from a Test comes a Test-imony). But it doesn’t end there – the same caveat exists: complacency remains the enemy. Who said you can’t change the world more than once? 😉download.jpeg

So, what do you think of the sentiments shared in this post? What’s been your experience in pursuing your quest or life goals? Feel free to share and discuss.

‘Til the next post…

I will not fail.