Simple Self-Care Ideas to Implement Today

It’s time to put yourself first. As a fellow creative (illustrator and professional landscape designer), I grew up with a lot of anxiety. I was also chasing dreams that were not my own and putting my needs last. I finally started confronting my mental health a few years ago and prioritized my time to do the real, deep work in finding myself again and practicing self-care. This has positively changed my life. I’m living so much more fully and happily. I still get anxious, but it’s not crippling anymore and the constant self-doubt and worry is not holding me back from doing things I wanted to do.

I started practicing self-care in baby steps. I needed to do more than just routinely using face masks and keep a good skin care regime – I needed to actually do the deep work. Below are the tiniest steps I took to make it to where I am today:

1.) Meditate for 3 minutes, at least 4 times a week.

I know how woo-woo it sounds and, as a skeptic myself, I didn’t believe sitting still would reap any benefits. But after listening to Tim Ferris saying that at least 80% of successful people meditate over and over again in his podcast, I was convinced to try meditation myself.

I simply started meditating 3 minutes in the morning whenever I can. Then I made a space and time to do it during the work week, which involves sitting in my car and meditating right before I head to the office (if I am not running late). On the weekends, I do it right after I make my bed. I use the Calm app (not sponsored) for it’s simple mobile interface and I also enjoy the positive quote after every meditation session.

From the outside, it looks like meditation does nothing and the person appears to be sleeping. In reality, when you’re the one practicing meditation, you are actually centering yourself, calming your chaotic thoughts, and clearing your mind by taking deep breaths. It can do so much in so little, and it is by far the easiest way to feel more present and at peace with yourself. You will feel more focused and productive after.

Now, the caveat is that meditation only works if you do it consistently and over a sufficient period of time. Everyone has different results, and it took about 8 months for me to finally be able to see and feel the effects of meditation. I still have hard days and go through emotions like a normal human being, but the difference is that I don’t get too overwhelmed or overthink over a prolonged period of time and I am at a healthier state of mind much longer than before. The benefits of meditation has been a game-changer for my life and I believe it can transform your life too.

2.) Take 15 seconds to be brave everyday.

I don’t mean jumping off of a cliff, but scaling it down to something super simple and easy. It can be asking another question besides the typical “How are you?” question whenever you greet someone or have a different response than the normal, “I’m doing well.” Or try having a conversation with a stranger or actually make eye contact with someone when you are talking.

These small moments of bravery can lead to big results. Once you get into the habit of doing things that are uncomfortable and scary, you will do them a lot more. Even if you are afraid of doing it, you will start to gain confidence as you take the initiative to be brave. Part of being brave doesn’t mean you won’t have fear, but you will do it anyway with the fear inside. When you start to do brave things, you will start to do brave things for yourself, such as actually do things you love, learn to say no, and accept the rejection and challenges. You will be brave enough to get back up even when the odds are against you and have the brave mindset to keep moving forward.

3.) The 5 Second Rule

I recently learned about this from another podcast I was listening to. It was created by Mel Robbins, a now successful author and motivational speaker, during a time when she was at her worst, bottom moment of her life – a marriage on the the brink of divorce, a lost job, in debt, and becoming alcoholic. One day, she watched a rocket launch that counted 5-4-3-2-1 and launched live on television. She for some reason decided to apply this one day to help her get out of bed and it worked. So she did this in secret for several years before telling anyone about it. This 5 second rule extended to other moments of her life too.

I’m always interested in learning about simple ideas to practice self-care and time will tell if this 5 second rule will work for me. Still, I wanted to include this idea because it may help you with your own struggles and be something you can apply today or now even. I have heard stories from Mel Robbins about how this 5 second rule prevented someone from committing suicide or helped someone out of life’s most toughest moments. If this is something that can make a difference in someone’s life, then yes I’ll put it here so you know about it too.

These ideas show that self-care doesn’t strictly have to be so serious or hard to implement. It also doesn’t have to be lonely either. Sometimes, it’s even better to do a fun and festive self-care activity in a collaborative environment so it can help spark joy and ideas. A group setting can also help provide clarity in your next steps with many more minds to help you figure out your next thing.

I would like to invite you to a free virtual event that will take place on Sunday December 12th from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM (US Pacific Time, GMT-7). It’s my new Sparking Joy in Self-Care Virtual Event Series and December month is Cocoa and Coloring! Every event will be themed, feature a Creative, have a self-care activity, and an easy homemade recipe. A creative will be featured in the monthly event, which helps support small business owners and creatives out there. Sign up here if you’re interested in attending!

Sparking Joy in Self-Care Virtual Event Series

The event is featuring a self-care calligraphy artist based in Singapore and we will be using her self-care coloring sheet she made exclusively for this event. You can learn more about her here. See you then and have a jolly day!

Boost Your Instagram Strategically

Photo by Cristian Dina on Pexels.com

If you’ve ever spent a chunk of your day creating a post or crafting the perfect caption for the ‘gram, but didn’t get the number of likes or follows you were really hoping for, then you are not alone. We’ve all been there and have felt discouraged about not getting enough likes, reach, or engagement as much as we hoped from having spent more time than we’d like to admit on one post.

Here are some encouraging news about Instagram: the social media platform is meant to keep people using the Instagram app and want people to discover new accounts and content. That’s why the “Feed” and “Suggested Posts” are always presenting fresh content from people you don’t currently follow. While carousels and videos perform really well, photo posts perform equally as well.

I am not here to teach you on how to beat the algorithm – I am here to EMPOWER you to use Instagram efficiently and effectively and to maximize results to help grow you, share your gifts to the world, and reach the right audience with Instagram. 

I have four tips to help boost your Instagram growth strategically:

Tip #1: Build Consistency

Think about the people you like to follow – you also tend to follow people who post on a regular basis. You trust that they will come back consistently and provide more content for you to see or watch. Imagine you doing the same for other people. Providing consistent content for others builds trust and value in you and your brand. The more you show up regularly, the more your audience will too.

There are strategic ways to build consistency without feeling burnt out. One of them is to start scheduling days and times that work for you to post regularly. This means start posting once a week that works around your current schedule, whether it be work or class. You can wake up earlier or use breaks throughout the day to post. While you do need to start building a routine around posting, it doesn’t mean spending hours creating the perfect caption or photo.

Tip #2: Create Valuable Content

Create value in your content by providing new knowledge, advice, or stories your audience will find useful or relate to. The idea is provide valuable information to your audience and the more you do, the more they will come back to you for information. It can be a topic you have a solid understanding of or something you inherently know, such as the best tacos in your local neighborhood or the best programs to use in your professional industry.

Also, you don’t have to create new content every time. You can re-use your previous content and craft a new one or research other similar content and make it your own. You don’t have to create something new and fresh every time, it is okay to re-post old content in new ways. This helps reduce feeling burnt out too quickly and allows you to focus on other parts of building your business.

Tip #3: Engage With Your Audience

You don’t have like or comment on every post out there – there are strategic ways to engage with your audience. There are specific engagement strategies to use for Instagram stories, responding to a comment on your post, and commenting on a post from someone you enjoy following.

Tip #4: Create Smarter, Not Harder

The shelf life of your Instagram post at most is 24 hours and, at best, 48 hours. Instagram is designed so new content will always supersede older posts in order to provide continuously fresh content for people on the app.

While you can’t control this, you can control what you put in your caption. This means including some sort of actionable step that allows your audience to take a step further with you after seeing your content. What does this mean? This means providing a link to your blog or website, a Google form to your newsletter, or directing users to a platform you do own.

Growing your Instagram doesn’t have to be simply to gain new followers or have a ton of views – it can be a gateway to actualizing your dream life by growing your own brand and business with content and messaging you are truly passionate about. I want you to have the freedom to share your gifts to the world and to live your dream life one day. If you would like to figure out how to build your Instagram strategically for your business, I have a free guide for you here to start taking this journey. Good luck!

Easy Tips to Come up With Content Ideas

If you are feeling overwhelmed lately about what you’re creating, here are three easy, doable tips to help you become unstuck and gain momentum.

Tip #1: The Jenna Kutcher 5 Method

Think about 5 categories you are passionate about. It can be self-care, DIY crafts, plants,  digital art, etc. It can be anything you enjoy talking about or have a solid understanding of. It can also be something general or super specific to you. Jenna Kutcher developed the 5 pillar system and this has really worked in overcoming my mental block of developing creative content on my blog and social media posts.

My 5 pillars are:

  1. Anxiety/mental wellness
  2. Paper art crafts
  3. Inspirational art
  4. Plants/landscape design
  5. Business

Once you have figured out your pillars, you can start to cycle your posts to talk about the five every week. These pillars aren’t permanent, and will evolve and change as you move forward.

Tip #2: Stick to ONE Platform

It’s easy to feel stretched thin when you’re trying to do everything on different online platforms all at once. While it’s okay to have your business account on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc., stick to one you enjoy using the most. And to take it a step further, choose one that you love creating on. If you love writing, WordPress would be ideal or if you enjoy making videos, you can try YouTube.

I actually enjoy blogging the most and started blogging on WordPress first before I had an Instagram account. Also, if you stick with one platform, it is a lot easier to stay consistent and show up – this builds trust in you and your brand.

Tip #3: Change Your Mindset

This is a biggie because it affects everything you do. A lot of us believe we aren’t good enough to be a content creator, designer, artist, or an entrepreneur. But you are. You’re doing the thing, showing up consistently, and putting the hard work into this.

It’s probably the biggest mental roadblock that prevents us from creating and doing more. We worry so much about what we’re putting out there that we feel too overwhelmed to create anything at all. Take a deep breath and just keep moving forward. To be honest, nobody really knows what they’re doing either (me included), so don’t feel too stressed about it.

Start by saying, “I am a content creator” or “I am an artist.” Be a little bit more confident in what you do – you got this! The more you do this, it will encourage others do the same.

There you have it! Whenever you’re ready to take the next step to figuring a brand that fits you and your goals, here’s a free, quick-start guide to help.

Top 5 Business Podcasts to Help Kick-Start Your Business and Maximize Results

Photo by Faith Stocksey on Pexels.com

If you’re feeling stuck about what to do with your business and need some quick inspiration, I recommend listening to podcasts, which is a fast and easy way that gives you extra ideas, knowledge, and expertise, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to take the next step in your business.

WHAT IS A PODCAST?

A podcast is an audio recording of a host or a group of hosts who share insight, stories, life experience, and expert knowledge on a broad spectrum of topics, including crime, comedy, business, and lifestyle.

The best thing about a podcast is you can listen to and pause on your own time. You can listen to a podcast while driving, on a slow day at the office, or when you’re cooking. You can easily pick back where you left off from the episode or you can stop and simply move on to the next one.

A couple of years ago, I didn’t believe in podcasts and simply thought the idea of listening to people talk about their expertise was invaluable to reading a good, old-fashioned book. But at the time, I was too busy to even pick up a 300-page book to learn about business tips and tricks, so I decided to give podcasts a try.

Now, here I am (I was once a hard skeptic) who has listened to 65,000 minutes of podcasts last year. Yes, you can see that I’m pretty obsessed with all things podcasts, especially business related ones. I find so many business tips, tricks, and easy wins from purely listening to podcasts without ever picking up a book and, best of all, I can listen to them while doing something else! For those who love to multi-task, listening to a podcast will be perfect for you.

THE ULTIMATE FIVE

I have listened to many hours of a wide variety of business podcasts (from the Dave Ramsey Show to NPR) and have found five podcasts that stand out from the rest because of the impactful, insightful, and applicable tips they share that you can start implementing today. I am not sponsored to share these podcasts – I just truly believe these podcasts would help you with building your business. Here are the top five inspirational, business podcasts to get your idea juices flowing

1.) The Tim Ferris Show

I’ve heard so many podcasters name drop Tim Ferris’s name when I first started listening to podcasts. And there’s no doubt why: Tim Ferris successfully build his own brand and even created a new lifestyle category as an industry.

In his podcast episodes, he goes deep into his conversations with many different people, from CEOs (Howard Schultz) to famous celebrities (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in order to learn about their backstory and how they become successful. His podcasts are more than just the business and technical numbers – it’s learning about the personal struggles and life experiences that are behind the success stories.

2.) Don’t Keep Your Day Job

Cathy Heller brings her positive energy and inspiration into every podcast episode. Her motivational words and wisdom are always so insightful and encouraging that would make you feel uplifted and excited to do your thing.

She was a former musician who now turned into a successful Business Coach to teach other people to build their own businesses around helping others. Her purpose is to help people who wants to live a more fulfilling life than a 9 to 5 job. She has honest conversations with successful, creative entrepreneurs and, more importantly, she gives motivational talks in the beginning and end of every episode to you, the listener, so you leave the podcast leaving so inspired and optimistic.

3.) The Goal Digger Podcast

Jenna Kutcher is a successful entrepreneur who shares inspirational stories and provides free, tangible tips that creates real results – all to help build your dream career. Jenna talks like she’s a good friend in her episodes, which makes her episodes incredibly relatable and down-to-earth. She provides simple, strategic tools covering every part of a business, like social media, email lists, website, and branding.

Her Secret Sauce Quiz is one of her most popular freebie to help identify what makes you unique. From her quiz, I found out that I am a “Dreamer” and this was honestly the most subtle but blunt way to tell me that I needed to finally take the right, actionable steps to building my own business. You will learn a lot of valuable business techniques that are specific and you can implement right away. A huge plus is that most of them are free!

4.) The Lavendaire Lifestyle

For the creative entrepreneurs who want to learn how to craft your dream life, this podcast is for you. While the podcast focuses on personal development and lifestyle design, the host Aileen Xu interviews many creatives, including entrepreneurs, and talks to them on their process of building successful brands and businesses. She has a soothing, calm voice that just makes you feel relaxed and cozy when listening to her podcast. She covers a broad range of topics, from astrology to mental health to productivity. As a creative myself, I binged many of her podcast episodes when I first discovered her and I believe you will too.

5.) E-Ficionado Podcast

Delanie Fischer is a comedian turned Simplicity Coach who helps people use a minimalist approach to their business that will increase their revenue, impact and freedom. She shares different strategies to help simplify side hustle businesses and provides tips to handle decision fatigue, criticism, and other challenges you go through when you are starting a business. Her laughter and warm personality is also infectious – I always have a smile on my face whenever I finish listening to her episode.

There you have it! Podcasts can be incredibly valuable when you’re short on time and you need quick tips and guidance to kick-starting your business. Every podcast host teach unique business strategies, so I recommend listening to more than one to learn as many tips and tricks and apply the relevant ones you can use for building your own brand and business. Keep it up, you are on your way there!

Looking from some guidance on how to build your brand?

Grab the free Quick-Start Guide to Building Your Brand right here.

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!

I started a side business for $800

stationery for sketching and drawing on wooden table
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!🍋