Live Lightly to Live Fully

I have felt the heaviness too. The pressure to meet my Asian parents’ escalating expectations, the societal weight to be a strong yet never an inconvenient female, and the mental load to be normal and sane throughout it all and everything in between.


It’s lot to carry, I know. But for a long time, I kept carrying this weight. I didn’t actually realize how much of this weight was holding me back from being myself. And gradually, the weight was getting heavier to hold and after years of accumulated weight, I couldn’t hold it anymore.


At first, I was scared my biggest fears and worries would all come to fruition when I started to let go, but they never happened. When they didn’t, I simply stopped trying to live up to what my parent’s and society wanted and started to live life for myself. As I slowly started to mentally take the weight off, I instantly felt lighter and feeling the mental “weight” off my shoulders. I felt the freedom to do whatever I wanted. After 30 years, I finally felt the permission to be myself and live life on my terms. 


What I have learned is that a lot of this weight was mostly in my head. Sure, my parents would constantly remind me to get good grades and succeed, but they would still love me even if I messed up. Maybe part of it was also the constant drilling (and even borderline brainwashing) from school learning and society’s image on what it means to be a female, but I have chosen to un-learn this and, instead, learn to be more outspoken, to take up space, and to be brave about being unapologetically myself.


This is what I think it means to live fully: to be able to live truthfully and authentically as your truest self. I believe you can do the same by living lightly and slowly taking the mental load off of your mind. It’s okay to have a bit of pressure, as long as it comes from you and nobody else. Have the courage and willpower to live on your own terms, so you can achieve more, do better, and dream bigger. 


I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. I would have been stuck at a dead-end job with a toxic manager, my crippling anxiety would take a greater control over my life, and I would continue to live life on other people’s terms. I wouldn’t have started sharing about my journey on this blog or created art for healing and positivity.  


So I encourage you to live, like really live. You can start by taking the mental weight and pressures off in your mind. In reality, nobody is really pushing you to do something. There’s always going to be external voices and opinions, but you should quiet those down and listen to your own internal voice instead. Your internal voice is the one that matters anyway. And I totally get that your inside voice may consist of self-doubt and worries, but I believe that just being aware of those feelings can really help you start the process of building confidence and uncovering who you are truly meant to be.


Living lightly has given me the opportunity to live fully. I am in a much better headspace than ever before and I live life everyday doing things I love. Even when things go wrong during the day, I don’t sulk too long and I do my best to move forward, as this is all part of the human experience anyway. 


There is no real need to carry all this heavy weight anymore. Slowly let it go and you’ll find yourself so much lighter and feel so much fuller than ever before. Good luck!

Make Your Mess Your Message

You are the author of your own story, regardless of the heartbreaks, rejections, and hardships you’ve gone through or you’re currently going through. Think of them as plot twists and help make your story more interesting.

I totally get not seeing the bright side when things don’t go your way, especially when the bad stuff keep piling up one after another. I applied to both undergraduate and graduate programs at my dream school and I didn’t get in either times. I was called pathetic by an ex-boyfriend after three weeks of dating and I went out with another guy a few times who just really wanted a one-night stand. I was never good enough for job positions I really wanted and simply accepted ones that paid the bills. As you can see, I have had my share of the soggy pie too, just like you and so many other people in this world.

What makes these setbacks interesting is what happens after. I didn’t give up and saw these failures as life experiences and part of my journey. That dream school I didn’t get into? I am working on a project with them right now. That ex-boyfriend who called me pathetic? He apologized for his immaturity back in college and we’re still friends today. The job positions I never got? I still didn’t get, but I now work in a job I chose to be in with a salary I negotiated for.

We can choose to stay down or rise up against the harsh realities of life. To be honest, I am just an ordinary woman who worked really hard on my achievements and extra hard on doing the self work to be the me I am today. I do not have any special skills to overcome my hardships, just my persistent willpower to keep moving forward and grow from these experiences. It helps to have a little bit of curiosity and some fun too. So don’t let the difficulties be the final ending to your story. All of us had gone through some sort of a hardship in life, the only difference is what we do after.

People who were nobodies became somebodies because they didn’t give up, were authentic to themselves, and chased their dreams. Steve Job’s story could have ended when he was kicked out of Apple in 1985, but he kept doing more and created Pixar a year later and developed the first Iphone 20 years after. He didn’t let any setbacks stop him and even had the courage to go on a spiritual journey which heavily influenced the design aesthetic of his future innovations. If he gave up at any moment in time, then a lot of the world we see today might have been very different.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg also fought hard in life and became an even bigger fighter for women’s rights and gender equality. In light of the sexism she faced in early childhood, the passing of her older sister and her mom before her high school graduation, and surviving cancer five times, she kept going and remained incredibly strong even in her final days. Her resiliency and perseverance made her who she was and she didn’t need anyone’s permission to be the woman she wanted to be in order for so many of us enjoy the freedoms we have today.

There are many other stories of people who have endured and overcame their struggles too, from Stacey Abrams to Steph Curry to Chadwick Boseman. Before their successes, they were just ordinary people who did something and didn’t give up, no matter what hardships they went through. They didn’t let a lost election, their height, or their cancer stop them from doing more. They did the really hard work and hustled, and was able to craft their own stories out of it. 

You are not alone when it comes to the struggles and hardships in life. We all deal with something but, unfortunately, not all of us believe we can overcome it. I am telling my story because I believe hitting rock bottom doesn’t mean you need to stay down. Getting out of something hard can be messy, scary, and a lot of the times very uncomfortable, but it is the best feeling to be free and to continue to write and tell my story. 

You can’t control what happens, but you can control what you do next. I hope you are able to find the strength to keep going and make your mess your message. Maybe you can also find joy in both your pursuits and failures. Whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself or your dreams. Who knows, you can be the next ordinary person who can be extraordinary and live to tell your own story. 

The Side Effects of Vulnerability

Be honest, when was the last time you had a real, deep conversation with someone about what’s really going on with your life?

On a regular basis, we prefer to talk about positive things in our life with our loved ones instead of the actual issues going on with our lives. We are also afraid to talk about taboo topics such as divorce, depression, and mental illness because it would not only make us lose cultural face, but it would also make us become losers in life. It’s even scarier to have this talk with ourselves, so we keep turning our heads the other way and just live life without ever living fully. 

You would think being vulnerable in front of others would make you look weak, annoying, or trying to seek attention. But it’s mind-blowing to see what happens when you open up. Becoming vulnerable and sharing my vulnerable experiences online with others did not result in negative reactions or social exclusion that I have so feared. Instead, the complete opposite happened. Strangers would relate to my experiences and comment on my posts about how overwhelmed, stressed or anxious they were feeling too. As I shared more of my mental wellness journey, my own friends began to open up and talk about their own mental health issues with me. These were friends who I knew a long time and I never knew about their mental health struggles until now. 

Being comfortable about sharing your own struggles and vulnerability helps other people to be more comfortable to do the same. They relate to you more and your relationships with them also become deeper and at a level you probably have never thought it could reach. You would also be surprised about what they are going through, even if everything looks picture perfect on the outside.

Now that I have shared, I can’t seem to stop talking about it! It’s freeing to let go and to be a small part of a cycle that positively changes how mental health has been traditionally viewed. As you share your vulnerability more often, you also gain confidence and courage to do other things, be authentically yourself, and live a fuller life. Eventually you can find joy in doing this work, as I have by creating cute positive affirmations on a regular basis.

Good luck on whatever journey you are on and I hope you continue to build courage. As Brené Brown always says, “Stay awkward, brave, and kind.”

A Small Act of Kindness Goes a Big Way

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Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

The Bay Area has been hit hard lately. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the on and off county restrictions, has already devastated our economy, our social life, and our mental health. We still have ongoing earthquakes and power outages too. And the sweet cherry on top of all this, is the 400-plus wildfires blazing through the precious natural areas of the Golden State. Yes, it has been a very difficult time for Californians in 2020 and none of really know when we can get back to normal again

Even in the midst of all this, I have encountered a small act of kindness that I am so happy to have experienced a few days ago. I currently live in a home located in an active evacuation warning zone for the 2nd largest wildfire in the state. Fortunately, I have extended family and good friends who have generously offered their own home in case my family and I needed a temporary place to stay. What I did not expect was the same offer from an owner of a local shipping and mailing store in my city, who I have only met recently and twice to date.

For the past few weeks, I have been using this local mailing service, as opposed to USPS or FedEx due to terrible Google reviews, to mail out free greeting cards to my local community. When I first met her, we instantly clicked and shared our admiration of plants and details about our careers. She found out I was a full-time landscape designer with a new greeting card side business. She was genuinely interested in getting to know about my side business and also getting landscape consultation advice for her back yard. I told her I was happy to help give her advice, pro bono.

A few days ago, she sent me a text of her back yard and photo examples of what she wanted. I told her I will come up a few ideas for her, but not right away because my family and I are currently located in an evacuation warning area and we could evacuate at any time. She responded to not worry about her yard and that if I needed a place to stay, I would be welcomed in her home and use an extra futon at her place.

I was kind of blown away from this generosity, from a woman who I barely know and just met only two times in the past few weeks. Maybe she did this out of a niceness, or the fact that we are both Asian American women, or a bit of both. Whatever the reason is, I am so glad to have experienced such a kind gesture from someone like her. It re-instills my faith in humanity that there are good people in my local community, no matter what’s going on in the outside world. Even with all the terrible things going on in my state, our nation, and the world, there are still good people out there willing to do good things for people.

Just a small act of kindness can be huge for others. I know that the times we live in aren’t great and we often hear about the bad news more than the good ones. When I ended up receiving more gratitude than I was giving away, it made me feel emotions of excitement, fulfillment, and joy all around. So, I hope this story inspires you to do something good for another stranger and it doesn’t have to be of any monetary value. Practicing just a tiniest inch of gratitude can go a long way. And, you might receive something back when you least expect it.

I started a side business for $800

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Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Starting a new side business during the pandemic and while many businesses are closing at astronomical rates is crazy, I know.

But I also know there is never a perfect time to start doing what you love, no matter what is going on in the outside world. If anything, it is probably the best time to see if your interesting ideas or hobbies can potentially be turned into something more. We have already witnessed that in a matter of six months, many company jobs are disappearing left and right and are not as stable and secure as we once thought before. Also, we now have more time to be at home and much fewer obligations to go to social events. So, I truly believe with a little bit of perseverance, confidence, and patience, it is very possible to start something new of your own, even during very difficult and challenging times we are now living in.

You do need some capital, but not a lot. In the olden days, a new business needed many investors and heavy duty funding to get started. Now, businesses can start for under $1,000 or even less than $100, depending on the type of product or service you are creating. My initial startup costs amount to about $815 and I have listed the cost breakdown below:

Startup Items Cost
Annual personal domain cost (from Namecheap) $9.08
Annual personal website cost (Business tier from Squarespace) $216.00
Apple pencil (1st gen) – discounted* $91.77
Apple 10.5 inch iPad Air 64 MB – discounted* $467.22
Procreate App* $10.00
Cardstock paper $20.00

Total

$814.06

*These are essential items for my side business.

I created an online greeting card store for my side business, with all cards available for digital download so I did not have to worry about prints or shipping at the moment. The mission for this business is to empower and celebrate people for who they are and the moments that really matter to them. The cards provided are beyond standard birthday and anniversary cards. They include cards that congratulate loved ones coming out, starting a new business venture, and hitting a sobriety milestone.

My side business requires a good digital pen, a tablet, and a design app for me to make high-quality designs for my greeting cards. I hate to admit, but the Apple products I bought are the best tools in the market now for creating digital artwork. They work seamlessly with my 2018 MacBook Pro and Pixelmator Pro to do final edits for both the card designs and social media photography. The investment for these tools are quite high, but are necessary for what I need to make my card designs. Also, I knew a good friend who worked at Apple to help get me a discount. And if the business doesn’t work out, I can still use the iPad to watch Netflix and look at recipes while cooking, so it is a win win.

The second main expense was purchasing the business subscription plan on Squarespace for my business website. I researched their platform before purchasing to ensure they are able to sell digital products and they do. I also played with their limited features using the 30-day free trial and thought the platform was easy to use, after some time figuring out how to navigate their tools, including changing theme colors and categorizing commerce products. I really like how the user interface is set up so you can manipulate as much as you want and, if I had any questions, I was able to read through a detailed, step by step guide with photos from their support page. For a non-tech person like me, it is the right decision to use Squarespace for my business website.

It took me about six months to launch my side business. I worked tirelessly around my full-time professional job, which I thankfully still have and currently working remotely. I was drawing, sketching, and making edits during my lunch break and late evenings after an 8-hour workday. It was definitely hard, but I was doing something I enjoyed, so it did not feel like work. I recommend keeping a day job if possible, so income is still being generated and you can be a little bit more creative about what you want to do for your side business.

When I first started, I was overwhelmed with self-doubt, fear, and a lot of anxiety. I thought too much of what I had left to do and if the work I was doing was going to make a difference at all. So, in order to keep focus, I just concentrated on the next, small steps and just kept going. Instead of thinking about the big picture of a beautiful, finished website of my brand that showcased my greeting card designs, I focused on the little tasks that will take me further to it. It really worked, because now I am here and I recently launched my side business a few days ago.

Also, only mention your side business to a few people when you are first starting out. This helps keep the outside noise down and lets you focus on what you truly want to make and show the world. The first lucky few will be the ones who are likely to support you throughout the whole process anyway.

Right now, I am slowly building an online presence using social media. And using the same mindset as before, instead of trying to make a seemingly far reaching goal of a thousand sales, I figured I will try to make just one sale. I will continue documenting my side business journey and see where it takes me. Even if this takes me nowhere, I am uber happy to have put something out there that I can call my own. The feeling of joy from producing your own creative work and having purpose beyond my professional job is one of the best feelings you can have. Anyone can achieve the same fulfillment, including you.

Check out my side business here! Thank you in advance for your support! 🙂

ChubCatArt Website

FYI, none of the products or services mentioned are sponsored. This blog post is based solely on my own personal opinions.

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.)

Make Work Interesting For You

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This can apply to any job that is inherently interesting or one that is dreadfully mediocre. If you have some flexibility to make work more interesting for you, then why not add some joy and enthusiasm to your work? This should not be reserved for a fresh grad from college and it is something I still continue to do in my professional job even after 10 years of graduating from college. It helps pass the time quicker and your supervisor may actually reward you for your newfound work ethic. As long as this is not offensive, unprofessional, or risk client confidentiality, then it may be something worth doing at your job.

I first did this when I volunteered as a gardener for a local cemetery while in college. My responsibilities were to help maintain the cemetery grounds by weeding, planting, pruning, and other light laborious tasks. I was tasked to help devise a planting plan for their annual bed mound. Although I could easily just come up with a bubbles of plant labels on a planting plan and call it a day, I decided to make it more fun for myself and, also, for the visitors. I came up with the idea to make a “volcano” concept: a metaphoric explosion of annual Iceland poppies with yellow and orange flowers snaking down like lava towards the bottom.

DESIGN CONCEPT

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PLANTING SCHEME

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The concept sounded absurd, but it was bold, different, and completely surprised my supervisor (in a good way). He loved the idea and believed it could really brighten up the space, providing a little bit of peace and calmness for visitors to the cemetery. It did, based on the feedback from visitors in the next couple of weeks after we planted the annuals. It was a great success in a way that it really did lighten up the area and helped create an inviting space for all, from a visitor to a passersby. It was a space not only for those who passed, but for those who are still living too.

FINAL GARDEN DESIGN

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If a 12 feet diameter planting bed can make such a big difference, then I believe you can too. Try and test if you can make the work you do more interesting for you, whether professionally or something so menial like a house chore. It does not need to be over the top and just needs a little bit of effort to go the extra mile. People, not just our bosses, can tell if we put effort in our work or not. For example, we can already tell whenever a chef puts love into the meal based on his or her presentation and taste, so any signs of apathy will be noticed. But if we go above and beyond our responsibilities, the rewards can be immeasurable.

Doing something fun, unique, and exciting in your work can produce big results. And big results can lead to bigger opportunities. Whether you are just starting an entry-level position or in a job for over ten years, you can make your work interesting and still maintain professionalism. I learned personally over the years that the more creative, original and bolder the design is, the more WOW factor and reaction I get from my supervisors and clients. And the feeling never gets old.

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.