Think Big With a Happy Mind

Wynwood Wall in Miami, Florida

My design professor one day showed students his fantasy master plan amusement park design if it were ever to be built. He designed this amusement park so it would be bolder and cooler than Disneyland and thought of the rides, attractions, and themes for each. It was a hand-drawn, complete set of construction drawings and plans where he figured out every little detail. At the the time, I naively thought it was silly of him to waste so much time and energy to do all this work for a park that would probably never come to life. Why would a 50 year old guy spend so much work on this crazy pipe dream? 

Maybe I was a little jealous that he was able to do this in the first place. But truthfully, it was because I was used to thinking small. I never did anything that bold, that different, or that big. On top of teaching and having a professional job, this professor did something for himself and was happy to work on his dream side project, regardless of what his 19-year-old students or anyone thought about it. He didn’t need anyone’s permission to go do the thing he wanted to do and just kept pursuing his dream anyway.

I never found out if his amusement park ever got built, but I do know this: if there’s anything I learned from his class, it is to not be afraid to think big. This professor wasn’t even a well-known landscape architect and his expertise was grading engineering, not amusement park design. But he followed his dream that made him happy and whether it comes true or not, all that effort was still worth it to him.

I used to do the right, “small” things that got me somewhere in life, but not where I wanted to be. I did things within my comfort zone and never thought that I was capable of doing more. I felt unfulfilled and unhappy. Though, as I looked deeper into myself and rediscovering who I was and wanted to be, I realized being comfortable and doing possible things wasn’t enough for me. My newfound mental clarity and calmness helped me figure out what made me happy and redefined my purpose. My purpose wasn’t to go to college, get married, and have a 9-to-5 job. I found out my true purpose was to use my creative work to help others heal and rediscover themselves so they can live a fulfilling life. This is what I was meant to do be doing and even if I don’t make a huge profit or reach millions of people, at least I did something that made me smile every day. 

We can pursue big things simply because they make us happy, feel alive, and be ourselves. Doing big things give us a bigger purpose and adds a lot more meaning to our work. It’s okay to do small things, but I encourage you to try to think and do bigger with a happy mindset. This professor didn’t let his academic or professional role define who he was; he defined himself by thinking and doing big in his own time.

When you build something on your own, you are building yourself too. So the more you do this, the more courage you have to do big things. It’s not to say that you won’t still be absolutely terrified every time you put yourself out there; I get the jitters too, every single time. But I keep doing it because I have a little bit more courage each time.
So, don’t be afraid to go wild with your ideas and don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it. That’s what life’s all about: positively disrupt the world and dare greatly!

You Can Be Your Own Inspiration

The next time you hit a creative block, try looking inward for inspiration.

You have a lot more to say and more feelings to express than you realize. We just think they don’t matter or are not important enough to look for inspiration, so we seek out external sources as we’ve learned to do so. There is nothing wrong with Googling ideas or use music, art, books, or other media for inspiration – I refer to these all the time. But I think true inspiration can come from within, based on the unique blend of your personal emotions and experiences.

Pete Docter, the Chief Creative Officer at Pixar, draws from his personal life and experiences for his storytelling in his movies, from Monsters Inc. to Inside Out. The character Riley from Inside Out was actually inspired from his daughter growing up and dealing with conflicting emotions from being an outgoing kid to a shy teenager. There is something deeply raw, personal, and relatable about using your own feelings and experiences that no amount of Googling will ever bring. What makes his movies captivating are not grand schemes and made-up gestures, but his genuine feelings and deep life experiences captured in his movies. It’s no wonder why so many of us, including me, cry in every Pixar movie.

Music artists and rappers draw from their own emotions and experiences all the time too, like Taylor Swift. And they are not shy about them either and are incredibly bold about vulnerable topics such as heartbreak, betrayal, and loneliness. I also think the feelings of distraught and pain are the foundation of a lot of good music out there, so don’t be embarrassed about feeling this way either. Don’t feel bad for feeling. 

We can let our emotions slide or we can look deeper into ourselves and find out what feelings are brewing inside. I used to use Google as a crutch for inspiration, but nothing truly creative came out of it. When I finally started doing self-work and self-discovery, my feelings and the journey of finding myself became the sources of my inspiration for my art, blog, and messages. I slowly peeled the layers of myself and expressed my deep feelings and process into my work. It felt very uncomfortable, vulnerable, and scary to truly see myself and share my experience, but I believe it gave a refreshing and relatable perspective on what I was going through. While my situation was unique to me, other people were able to resonate how I was feeling too. It’s fascinating how the more layers of yourself you expose, the more people would feel the same way too.

I now have ideas constantly flowing on what to draw and write about because I am so much more aware of my feelings and my life experiences. Instead of seeking inspiration outside, I have been using what I feel and experience in the moment and express them through my creative work. And the more you do it, the more it keeps coming to you!

You can still use your favorite music, podcast, books, and other external sources for inspiration. But I find looking deep inside yourself and really harnessing your feelings and life experiences can make your work incredibly intriguing, compelling and relatable. In a world where we feel invisible and disconnected, I think this can help you be more visible and connected to other people. It won’t be another blog post about the top 5 self-care tips or a fan art of your favorite anime. It would be something deeper and can resonate with others. 

I know you have a lot of feelings and emotions inside – we all do. But we don’t have to numb our feelings and experiences like we normally do. We can try and use what we’re feeling and experiencing into our creative work. The more you do it, the more confident you become and the more authentic you are to yourself. Dig deep, be inspired by your own self and maybe one day you can be a source of inspiration to others too. Good luck!

A Message to My College Graduate Self (Ten Years Later)

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You did it! You survived four years of studio without noise cancelling headphones and managed to pull all nighters for projects without drinking any coffee. Your road to professional and personal success is only the beginning and you will achieve much more than you realize even when the odds are stacked against you.

I know you will harness your creativity and intellect to visualize beauty and function in the midst of seemingly impossible landscapes and you will produce ideas that not only impress others, but also surprise yourself. Like any professional creative pursuits, this will take time, patience, courage and a lot of hard work to get there, but the rewards will be immense for your career, as well as, for your personal endeavors. It will not be easy and there would be many times when you want to give up and cry in the office bathroom. It is okay to fail, as long as you get back up and continue to move forward. How do I know this? Well, ten years later, I am a forward-thinking landscape designer with a salary I wanted and working on projects I enjoy. And so much more.

I cannot tell you how I got to where I am today, but I can reveal this: continue to be your weird, unapologetic self and just keep going. Be original in your work because there is no one else like you. Also, have some fun when being creative and do not be so serious all the time. You can have a child-like mind when it comes to creativity, without actually being childish in front of people. There will be moments when you have no idea what you are doing, but you will figure it out eventually and be wiser than the day before. Learning new things will be scary, but you will be glad you did.

It will be a year later since the Great Recession ended. Times will initially be tough as jobs are slowly being recovered. Though, the bright side is that many landscape design firms will restructure their workflow and team sizes to become more resilient during economic downturns. Professionals in the field still reminisce about this period six years later during an office tour or eight years later in an interview. People never forget and are very understanding about the times that are bad in the past and will also be incredibly forgiving of any economic hurdles in the future.

You are stronger than you think because you have already accomplished one of the greatest feat in life, which is getting a college degree. That’s more than what Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg can say. Now, these billionaires have also achieved beyond what most of us couldn’t thought was possible and yet they have made it happen. The final lesson here is to not be the next Zuckerberg or Jobs, but to be you and make your ideas happen. If studio classes have taught you anything, it is that you can make it work and pull off a decent, presentable project by the due date. You can do it.

You have come so far when you began this journey four years ago without knowing anything about the program or profession. Now, you have the foundation and tools to help provide creative solutions to real world problems. Your future success awaits and I look forward to seeing you do it.

(Note: I graduated from college in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. The ripple effects of the Great Recession remained in my industry, even many years after it ended. Many professionals in my field remember the tough aftermath and their proactive decisions then that have led them to be here today. While I know this worldwide pandemic has devastated our economy, do keep in mind that we will get through this and know that opportunities will come, just delayed for now. As we slowly recover from this, people will be very understanding about these unusual circumstances and be intrigued about your story on how you overcame it. Carve out your own story, as I have done, because it is the one thing you can still control even during difficult times.)

Life Threw a Big, Fat COVID-19 Lemon, So Make Lemonade!

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The aftertaste is bittersweet. On one hand, we are spending more time at home with family and commuting less. On the other hand, we are spending too much time with family that makes us want reasons to drive out more. Now, where do we go from here?

A lot of people having been thinking that lately. We are living in a period where most of humanity are thinking about what to do next, all at the same time. We are not living our day to day schedules anymore, passing by life like we used to. Up until end of last year, we became very familiar with our normal routines that we had no reason to think beyond the usual, regular actions of eating, working, playing and sleeping. Then the pandemic happened and we abruptly became derailed from normalcy and sidetracked from our life pursuits and goals.

Now, we are all thinking. We are putting our minds at work like never before and it has been interesting to hear about life-changing ideas from high-level, tech CEOs to a bored kid with a computer. We are also thinking about things we never thought about until now, like how to really make ends meet, how to teach your children their grade level math and English, how to adjust to the new work from home environment, and how to support local businesses.

Nobody has all the right answers and that is okay. We are imperfect in our solutions for now, but we will get there. The important thing is to keep thinking and act upon those ideas. Do not let the noise of media, online trolls, and protestors in front of government buildings get in your way. They have infinite time on their hands, but you do not. Your time is precious and more finite than you realize. If you are frustrated about something, then go to the proper channels to actually make a difference in your community, like emailing your local city council members or maybe even be one in the near future. There’s endless possibilities with unlimited, free thought.

A lot of us do not like change and prefer to stick with the status quo. But if people just accepted the norm, then we would not have internet on our phones, original content to watch, or the ability to connect with people from all over the world today. If Henry Ford did not make automobiles affordable and accessible to all Americans about 120 years ago, then we probably would still be traveling over predominantly muddy roads today. Thinking about ideas that can change the world can be both priceless and lucrative (later on). For now, let’s dial it back and figure out the next steps.

Sometimes, to think of better ideas is to ask better questions. Instead of thinking how my small business last six months from now, how can it last for another 20 years? Or more critically, how can I make it last with the least amount of effort that can produce the biggest rewards? With regards to college, how can a college student learn the major more effectively out of the physical classroom for the time being? Remember, we are taught tools and theories in school, but it is our responsibility to think and learn for the rest of our lives.

It is true that life throws us lemons, some bigger and have more rot than others. The silver lining is that you can still make lemonade even with this sour fruit. So, I believe we can think of ways to turn the COVID-19 lemon into lemonade, instead idling by or complaining. “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself,” a quote paraphrased from Alan Kay, a computer scientist who pioneered graphical user interface (UI) design.

We all have the power to think of creative ideas, even in the messiest and scariest period of our lives. We need to continue our thinking and not stop. And when we act on some good ideas, these are what will help get us out of this worldwide doom and gloom. It is time to make some fresh lemonade!🍋

Take a Mental Break Before It Becomes a Mental Breakdown

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At the start of the week, I had not one, but two deadlines due the following day. One was a Photoshop rendering perspective for a project I never worked on and another was to make minor updates to a re-submittal construction document package for a project I loosely worked on. I also did not have a full two days (16 hours) to work on them since both were given on short notice. I was notified about the rendering at 11:00 am with a noon deadline the next day and the other with a similar notification time that was due later in the afternoon the following day. So, in reality, I only had about 11 hours to complete both – 1 hour lunch not included. Mondays are a buzzkill, amiright?

On the same Monday, I also had planned on doing a quick run to the office during lunchtime to grab a couple of drafting supplies I have been running low on, as we were on the 9th week of quarantine. For me, I personally see driving – not commuting – as a therapeutic way of relieving stress and anxiety. There’s something about driving at my own speed and pace that is mentally soothing and relaxing. I also enjoy driving on my own from time to time and, plus, the freeing ability to unashamedly blast selected K-pop songs on repeat in my old SUV.

Others may view this little errand run an as an interruption to workflow and productivity, but I believe this was a good “mental break” for my mind. Not working on those deadlines and doing something mentally calming was more productive than me sitting anxiously in front of the computer and most likely wasting half an hour mulling on the fact that I had two deadlines with no game plan in sight. While driving, I unconsciously came up with a bunch of ideas on how to plan the rendering quickly from scratch during the 40-minute drive to and from the office. If anything, the scheduled office run worked in my favor and quite possibly prevented me from having a mental breakdown by hour four of the deadlines.

Deadlines happen all the time and never at the moments you ever expect. But lately, I have been seeing the glass half full than empty when it comes to such realities. Nothing I do will change this reality, so I find it helpful to accept it, move on, and focus. Like really concentrate on the task at hand for a couple of hours with a few breaks in between. I also choose not to worry about those two deadlines outside of working on them. Instead, I find something completely opposite to occupy my mind with for the latter part of the day. Even knowing fully well I had two deadlines the next day, I slept well and not a single thought about either projects entered my mind that night. It was tomorrow’s problem, not tonight’s nightmare.

The remaining four to six hours left of the deadlines consisted of intense focus. And yes, I did finish the rendering in the nick of time (ok it was really only 10 minutes over). I also did monitor the clock a few times that morning, but I did not panic or dwell into worry. I was already in my work groove, so I just worked a bit faster and kept going. I also made my second deadline by 2 pm.

The familiar saying “Whether you can or can’t, you are right” rings true here. If we were really being honest, I actually did not think I would make the deadlines. Turning a blank page into a manager approved, client-worthy product in a small time frame felt very nerve-wrecking. Though, in actuality, it was the fear of not getting it done in time that caused me more anxiety than actually doing it. When I was in full concentration mode, my willpower to finish and rendering skills somehow combined to work magically and produced magical results. It is astonishing what your mind can do in just little time.

It always helps to take a mental break, even when the odds are stacked against you. Luckily for me, driving was the mental break I needed, even though it was probably the last thing I would have done in such a time-sensitive period. This fortunate incident reminded me that it is okay to take a step away from the screen and to calm the mind before diving in too deep into the work. A refreshed mind can really turn seemingly impossible tasks into very real, tangible possibilities.

Your “Tick” to Creativity

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(Photo taken from an art gallery in The Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, 2017)

When you hit a creative block, it sometimes helps to follow your anger. Criticism rather that polite praise can work more wonders than you think. Throughout my personal and professional life, I have received a fair share of hurtful comments, outlandish critiques, and harsh judgements. Of the many, those from a very strict manager I used to work with were the most critical, toughest words I have ever received for my concept designs. Deep down, I knew he was coming from a place of heart and did this in my best interest to succeed professionally. He wanted to push my potential to the limit, even to a 25-year-old entry-level employee with barely any experience in the industry.

Whenever I showed my manager my crappy concepts, he would sarcastically ask, “What would the client think?” I would go back to the drawing board, huffing and puffing inside, knowing fully well that I had failed in his eyes. Rightly so, I did suck at developing residential design concepts in the beginning. I also naively thought they were good and, looking back, they were terrible and my manager was right. While his critiques were big blows to my self-esteem, I channeled my frustration to developing better and more creative designs, to prove my worth and to show him I can get to his level one day. I eventually did get much better and faster at developing concepts, after many hours of practice and many rolls of trace paper.

So that this impressed my new manager at my new job recently. When I showed him three concepts for a neighborhood park, the manager was actually taken aback and was torn between choosing one of the three. That was the biggest compliment to date in my professional career. Not positive words like a “good job”, but the reaction of surprise and indecisiveness of several great designs was the long-awaited approval I have worked so hard for.

If it weren’t for my previous manager’s criticism early on in my career, I probably would have foolishly still been producing unaspiring work today. His critiques were my main motivation to do better and propelled me to become a full-fledged professional who can come up with really cool, interesting concepts for many different types of design projects now.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. One outlet of inspiration is from constructive criticism, as this is actually my biggest driver to keep improving and keep going. Try to use criticisms to your advantage and not only do better, but also overcome and overachieve in front of others who have placed doubt in you. Take actions to prove them wrong and be “so good they can’t ignore you” (a quote by Cal Newport). Find what make you “tick” and funnel all that energy to become somebody others never thought possible. You would surprise even yourself at how far you can go.

Another person’s doubt could be the path to your greatest victory yet.

30 New Things I Learned During a Month in Quarantine

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No, it did not involve a skill or language. With more time alone and isolated, I have been learning new, little bits of information every day since the shelter-in-place has started. The lack of social obligations has really freed up my time to focus on doing things I want to do and being more observant of my surroundings. None of these things were hard to learn and sometimes a quick Google search can do the trick. Some things were learned from an embarrassing scenario or by random too. If anything, being imperfect has probably taught me more than actively trying to be perfect.

  1. From hearing wild turkeys gobbling loudly outside my house for the past few days, I learned it is now mating season for turkeys this time of year.
  2. The quote, “I am not a businessman, I am a business, man,” by Jay-z.
  3. Bananas can be artificially ripen in the oven and then used to make banana bread.
  4. There were a lot of SATs words that I looked up (but now have forgotten) in Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book City of Girls.
  5. Investing is a fancy word for reallocating savings.
  6. A couple of passionate 450-word emails to my city and local park district to close a park entrance in the middle of my neighborhood during the stay at home order worked.
  7. A digital cleanse of unwanted email subscriptions can be mentally refreshing.
  8. Homemade cheesecake and apple cinnamon coffee cake taste way better after a day in the fridge.
  9. Washing my hair every other day and not blow drying it has made my hair appear healthier and stronger.
  10. There is a keyboard shortcut to toggle WIFI on and off on a Windows laptop. (I accidentally pressed the keys in an effort to take a screenshot and I embarrassingly spent 15 minutes on the phone with our office IT guy trying to resolve my remote desktop connection. He was not amused.)
  11. A new high yield savings account can be opened a lot easier than I originally thought through an online application.
  12. A male barista at my local bakery shop is always chirpy and enthusiastic towards customers every time I grab coffee to go once a week.
  13. Weeding is much easier to do in the cool, cloudy mornings than in late afternoon.
  14. The unconscious fact that I have been touching my face a lot before the pandemic and now have roughly reduced the number of times by about half.
  15. The podcast “What You Will Learn” is literally the audible version of spark notes on books in topics ranging from investments, lifestyle, non-fiction, and self-help.
  16. Placing hot brown butter too quickly into the cookie mix can make the texture of the baked cookies flat and runny.
  17. Social “dieting” and social distancing can go hand-in-hand and nobody is the wiser about your unknown whereabouts.
  18. There is usually some technical difficulty when doing a virtual hangout session, but this can be resolved pretty quickly.
  19. Reusable mesh produce bags can be washed in the washing machine on delicate mode and air dried after.
  20. The quote, “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies,” by Walt Disney.
  21. Wear sunblock even when going outside on a cloudy day.
  22. Salt and pepper are not the only seasonings that can make soups and curries tasty.
  23. Installing a new TV wall mount requires locating existing wall stud locations and figuring out where to anchor wood screws to ensure a secure and stable wall mount installation.
  24. The time to cook or bake takes longer than you think.
  25. Washing my face in the shower with regular bar soap has helped cleared my skin (on top of washing my face in the morning and at night with a facial cleanser).
  26. People appreciate receiving a direct phone call or voicemail message when I was attempting to contact a sales representative of a paving company for work.
  27. Frozen kimchi pancakes are actually very flavorful and delicious when I stir fried them.
  28. Correcting my posture with three pillows in my home office chair has done wonders.
  29. Re-watching episodes of The Office on Netflix is a good default entertainment during lunch breaks. (It feels like I am in an office setting when I am working from home.)
  30. Little joys like passing by spring blooms or not burning steaming vegetables can brighten up my day.

You can learn something new every day. It does not need to be a difficult mathematical equation or trying to solve world peace. Dial it back down and learn something easy and simple that you didn’t know or notice before. Learning something new does not have to be boring or tiresome either and should be something that excites you and lets you pause for a moment. My greatest motivation is knowing I am not perfect and that I don’t know everything, even with a masters degree and several years of industry experience. There is always something you can learn, you just need to go look for it.

Happy Monday and carpe diem!

Rethinking Parks as a Landscape Designer For Post COVID-19

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Public parks are closed, but my ideas about public parks are not.

I was wondering how my work as a professional landscape designer can make a difference during times of a full blown global crisis. In actuality, COVID-19 has made me rethink about what public parks can actually mean for people. The mental aspect of public parks has never mattered more until the pandemic happened. Sure, healing and “zen” gardens have been designed in many spaces, but typically in healthcare campuses and hospital environments. But why does it stop there? Can’t these types of spaces be weaved into public parks with other programs such as children playgrounds and open courts?

These are the questions I have been asking myself when developing public park concepts and being cooped up at home for the past six weeks. The ability to work from home and continue working on projects as a landscape designer with a financially healthy company has been a grateful blessing and I am now more diligent than ever before to use my experience and understanding to create concepts for public parks that is not only functional and aesthetic in form, but also mentally calming when being inside the park. Adults need sanctuary and healing spaces too and have the chance to go to parks not only for recreational purposes or watch their children play in the playground.

The pandemic has actually sparked a fire-breathing dragon of creativity inside me to create spaces that are relaxing and tranquil within public parks. There is never a better opportunity to start now. I have been given the opportunity to design multiple parks for a neighborhood development project and certainly did not let this go to waste even while being isolated and working remotely. It did take some adjustment to sketch ideas on an 8 ½ x 11″ paper with a 100’ scaled base, but this did not stop me from developing really cool and interesting ideas about how to incorporate such spaces in 5-acre public parks.

And guess what? The project manager loved my ideas and told me so with five exclamation marks. He’s also the type that barely shows much emotion through a Zoom message or let alone, leave any punctuation marks at the end of a sentence. While I can contribute financially to the pandemic – and I do have the sufficient means to do so – I wanted to help in a different way and something that has a lasting impact to locals and even visitors from afar. I have the power to make spaces good, but I also have the power to create something truly unique and better for everyone. These times of uncertainty is not a time to be lazy or uncreative; it is a time to start thinking, be creative, and do things fearlessly (not recklessly).

It is ok to be afraid, but not to live in fear. This period of instability is making many people anxious, including myself. But I choose not to dwell in the rabbit hole of worry and have opted to instead figure out ways to contribute professionally (through concept ideas) and personally (virtual hangouts with friends and constant updates with immediate family members). Just remember you do not have to be the best or the brightest to think of big ideas, you just need to start and keep going.

Minimal Ways to Maximize Ideas

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Ideas can sprout anywhere. It does not always come in the perfect environment, the best timing, or an ideal location. If anything, they come at the oddest and most inconvenient moments. Knowing this, there are ways to help foster ideas and spark creativity by sticking to using basic tools in a not-so-perfect setting. Being minimalistic and even messy can spark big ideas. As a landscape designer by profession and a general creator in my free time, I have found ways to maximize creativity by using minimalistic tactics. This is not always pretty or organized, but, truthfully, the root of creative ideas never are anyways. They are usually the rawest and roughest form of bigger ideas, which is how ideas are naturally generated.

1. Use basic tools to sketch ideas.

A clean, new sheet of scratch paper makes me nervous and could actually hinder me from developing new ideas. I agonize too much over ruining the new sheet and beat myself over about whether or not the first line is worth drawing on. I also get too stressed over the possibility that if the idea sucks, then the new sheet is wasted. So instead, I became more flexible to drawing my ideas on a random paper or something accessible at the time, like the back of a scratch printed paper, on a lined journal page, or on a paper napkin. I became accustomed to sketching on things not exactly designed for ideas, but they are still economical, resourceful, and practical. Most ideas are produced by chance too and not at the dedicated times when I sit and stare over a blank piece of paper, so it is okay to grab whatever piece of paper is handy.

A basic working pen or pencil can be more appropriate to use for ideas than a fancier one. As long as the pencil or pen produces enough ink or marking without too much effort, then it remains an effective tool in drafting ideas. I prefer to use a black ink pen because this forces me to commit to the sketch without the ability to erase or retreat from my initial thoughts. Inked sketches also help keep a permanent track record of the ideas that were thought out, so I can go back and revisit earlier versions if the one I developed does not work out. I can use fancier pens or pencils later on once I finalize my ideas and want to draw a final design.

 2. Sketch small first then bigger later.

 I tend to draw in small, quick bursts rather than in larger and slower movements, especially when ideas start to flow all at once. I draw multiple sketches of a singular idea and if I do not see it working out, I move on to a completely different idea and keep repeating this cycle until I reach a satisfactory point where the idea can be truly finessed. This helps maintain idea flow and avoids wasting too much pen or paper during the brainstorming process. Drawing small can be messy and disorganized, but the whole point of the sketching exercise is to develop ideas, not constrain them. The messier the paper is, the better.

3. Maximize comfort and limit distractions when brainstorming ideas.

When deliberately trying to brainstorm ideas, it does not really matter where you are, as long as you are able to concentrate and are in a comfortable environment when doing so. The place can be at a local coffee shop, a computer desk, or even on your bed. There is no right place for generating ideas, just one where your ideas can flow freely and with little to no distractions. The space should match your comfort level and be spacious and tidied enough to draw. Your ideas can be messy, but the space around your sketch should be cleared and free of obstructions.

It also helps to turn off your computer or phone, so you will not be disturbed by an impromptu text message or swayed to procrastinate on your computer. You can listen to music or have something playing in the background if this helps you with your creative juices going. Try to concentrate for twenty minutes  – or longer if you can – and then take breaks in between by grabbing a snack or taking a walk outside. Taking breaks can be just as important when developing ideas. Sometimes when we are not actively thinking about ideas or productively procrastinating, the ideas come out in full force. Do have a paper and pen handy when they do come out of nowhere because they usually do half of the time.

Coronavirus: America’s Wake Up Call

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

The past couple of weeks have been nasty and disruptive. Who knew a virus could single-handedly wreck the stock market, day to day life, and our access to basic necessities? It sounds like a crazy dream, but we are all living this nightmare in real life. And we never saw it coming.

Everyone’s situation is different. I see employees adjusting to the new work of home life on LinkedIn, I read stories about people losing their jobs on Reddit, and I hear those still partying on the beach as if nothing is happening on the national news. I am beyond lucky to have a job that allows me to work from home – starting this week in fact – in a profession that I love. I work with a landscape architecture team that focuses on large-scale projects (park design, residential development, and commercial landscapes) and we are able to continue working on projects remotely because our client contracts were secured months prior. And luckily, most of our work is done using the AutoCAD program and on the computer about 85% of the time. I have never worked from home before in my line of work of 5 years, but this abrupt change has been both interesting and enlightening in a couple of ways.

The new quarantine and work from home life has been a blessing in disguise for me. I admit I am a homebody and I love being in the comfort of my childhood home. So far, I have been enjoying working in my pajamas and eating non-microwavable food for lunch. I do not need to put on make-up or eye contacts. I can go to the bathroom as loudly as I please without needing to be as discreet as possible in the women’s public restroom. From having to commute round-trip to work for 3 hours to 1 and half hour to 40 minutes to no commute at all, it has been nice and stress-free to just walk to my own desk and get to work. I also get to see my neighbors (and their furry companions) from a safe distance when I got out for my daily lunch walks.

I seem to be more focused, without being disturbed or leered into random conversations, and I do not feel a sense of loneliness as I have been building up my independence for a long time. I am also incredibly grateful that the home I live in is built for working remotely (my other family members do this regularly), has a working heating and cooling unit, and enough private space for three adults to work remotely at the same time. It is Day 4 and I have definitely adjusted to the new work from home life. I can’t imagine going back to working full time now. The only first-world problem is that I do not have enough pajamas to go through and will have to wash my only three pairs often and regularly.

Also, the timing has never been more perfect to invest in stocks or funds (index or mutual, depending on whichever butters your bread) in a down stock market. For a gal who loves a good discount, this is the silver lining I have been waiting for the past 12 years. I have slowly been building a small nest of funds, emergency and otherwise, and have been watching the bear market like a hungry wolf. The moment to strike is now, oddly caused by something that was totally abnormal and outside from the typical world of economics. Even with the many lessons learned from previous downturns, new techniques set in place, and a seemingly strong economy, the stock market is not immune to volatility and disturbances. And us humans will always feel the effects of it, in both the good and bad times.

I know it is luxury to still have a job, to have the resources to work remotely, and to even have toilet paper (one bulk set of 16, nothing more or less). I know others are not so lucky and living in a much tougher and difficult reality. But the truth is that you can be in my shoes one day – probably sooner than you think – and be able to have the ability to ride this massive wave the next time an unexpected high tide comes. The stock market will be a never-ending roller coaster and life will keep throwing lemons at you, but you can learn to be self-sufficient and find ways to overcome worst-case scenarios. You can survive this and come out stronger if you keep calm and focused. Know that you have options and others have succeeded with far less and in worse situations than yours.

If you are still in panic mode and still don’t believe me, I highly recommend reading the book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. He talks about people from leading businessmen to prominent leaders to ordinary people who suffered from constant worry and overcame this by changing their mindset and finally saw life through a different lens. He tells stories of people in the worst of situations. One such story is an American manager for a life insurance company who happened to be in China when the Japanese army invaded Shanghai in 1942. He had no choice but to work under a Japanese admiral and liquidate the company’s assets for him. He did not tell the admiral about one of their securities, but this was soon discovered by the Japanese army. He was told he would be sent to a torture chamber for being a traitor. Nobody ever came out alive from there. How did this same life insurance manager and guy with an incoming death sentence later become one of the most successful American businessman in the Far East? I will reveal this later as you continue reading.

Carnegie also talks strategies and mentions a ton of inspirational quotes throughout the book. Though, I find reading the stories of people who overcame worries and eventually became rich – either financially or in life or both – has made the book relatable and gives me hope that I can achieve the same feat. He writes in a way as if he was talking to you in person, where it feels like you are having a coffee chat with a very supportive, restorative friend. It is also eerie and impressive at how he easily predicts your skepticism too. For a worrywart like me, this book is probably the best $10 I have spent to date and a way cheaper alternative than going to see an expensive therapist. By the way, the book is not sponsored and I am merely echoing similar praises from over 2,500 5-star reviews on Amazon.

If you are not in panic mode, it is time to wake-up and make lemonade. Stop reading the news, stop listening to your friends about the news, and stop talking about the news. Knowing and spreading this sort of information will not change your situation. You could be doing something more productive with your time, especially with all this extra time being stuck at home. This crisis has shown us the true nature of people. We find out things like American senators selling stock before the market slowdown, people exploiting consumer goods, and corporations laying off thousands to save their own companies. Whether these are true or not, there will always be people one step ahead of you and trying to get ahead of everyone else. Be one of those people – legally and logically of course.

We cannot rely on the current system because it remains unfair, unreliable, and unstable for those struggling to build wealth. The system has been working for those who have already made it to the top and have catered to their best interests all along, not yours, no matter how much it appears like it. So, it is time to stop beating around the bush and beat the system. To do so, you need to figure out your finances and this all just comes down to basic math. It does not take a mathematician to figure out how much debt you have, how much income you have, and how much you spend on a regular basis. Write this down on a piece of paper or an excel sheet. Once everything is laid out, find out expenses you can cut for the time being, perhaps Netflix or even the 401k contribution if you still have a job and need the extra money now. Maybe also start thinking about selling things you do not need and get a cheaper alternative, like a $500 car baby seat for a baby that is still due in months. Do not spend things you cannot afford.

If you have debt, figure out a game plan on how to tackle this first. And not just tackle it, but tackle it aggressively, so interests won’t continue to pile up. Perhaps in our current state of emergency, interest rates will not budge for now, but it will start again in the future. Do not think your debts will go away because they will not and you will need to address them sooner or later. If you do not have income anymore to pay your debts, figure out a way on how to generate more income. For the time being, you can be a Lyft driver, an Amazon delivery person, or even an online freelance gig – anything that could give you income. Take all three jobs if you have to. Remember, all this is only temporary until you get back on your feet and while you may have friends and family who laugh at you now, you can laugh back at them once you have no debt, no financial worry, and more than six zeros in your bank account.

It will not be easy at first. It will be excruciating, tiring, and sometimes you will feel like giving up. Though, hard work, perseverance, and discipline will get you farther than anything else. There is a helpful quote of Military origin (based on a quick Google search) that states, “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” A good analogy of this is the children’s story about the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise still won by making gradual steps forwards instead of the hare being lazy and taking a nap. You can still win by being slow and steady. Little changes could make a big difference over time. And this doesn’t have to be a children’s story, it could be yours. Once you become debt-free, then you can start building wealth from then on, including your emergency fund. You will have a better peace of mind and can live a lifestyle you have always dreamed of. And when life throws lemons again, you will still be ok and not be financially affected because you will then be one step forward than half of the U.S. population.

Remember the American manager who was on the brink of death by the Japanese admiral? He had one day to think of a game plan, so he thought about his options for hours before writing the top four down and their consequences. His first three options were to either give the admiral an explanation, try to escape, or not go into the office the next morning, but all might lead to inevitable death. So, he decided to go with his fourth option, which was to pretend nothing had happened and the admiral would be too busy to remember the exposed discovery. The next morning, he went to the office as usual and, fortunately, nothing more came from this. The admiral returned to Tokyo six weeks after. The time spent to figure out all options and writing down the “what ifs” literally saved his life. So yes, I am a strong proponent in spending time to think and writing about the top possible options (and their outcomes) to really figure out your strategy for any of your worries. This will really prepare you in the long run.

The coronavirus should be a wake-up call to all Americans. If a virus can financially affect you this badly, then what you have been doing so far has not been working and probably has not been working for a while. Don’t feel bad, feel good that you are acknowledging this. Because once you do, you can either figure out how to build an emergency fund or a strategy to pay your debts or a second or third income to keep a roof over your head. Remember there are options, you just need some time to figure them out. Start today, not tomorrow or the day after. Time is non-renewable and the longer you wait this out without a course of action, the harder it will be to overcome your problems. Your future self will thank you for it.

Final Note: It has been a devastating pandemic and the world has seen the both the ugly and good sides of humanity during these uncertain times. My hearts go out to everyone to be safe, healthy, and responsible because we are all in this together. Remain calm and buy necessities in the amount you absolutely need. We have never faced a crisis like this before in modern day history, so I believe most of us are learning as we go. Sometimes protocols are unexpected and may continue to be for a little longer, but know that you are not alone in this. You can get through this and the rest of the world will too.