Monthly Archives: March 2015



Always Keep Learning

Good Advice

By my senior year of college, I was beginning to keep up with the graphic design industry through blogs and podcasts. Occasionally, I would come across interviews of well-known designers talking about their design philosophies, including advice for new designers coming out of college. One advice that kept coming up from different designers was to always keep learning, even after school.

In their experience, sometimes newly graduated designers have the tendency to assume they know everything just because they completed their training at school and thought that they could take on any project and immediately excel at it. Even with just a few years of real-world experience myself, I would agree with the general sentiment as well. There is already so much I had discovered and experienced between graduation and now that I look at new grads the same way, sort of like how most adults feel about teenagers: foolish and naive. At the same time, I’m still relatively young (fortunately), so I’m sure more experienced professionals would probably feel similar about me (and rightly so).

So Many Things to Learn

Regardless of what stage you are in life, the important thing is to always have the appetite to learn. The subject matter could be an extension of what you studied or what your job needs, like new software and tools, or it could be a side passion of yours that you now have more time to explore, like cooking or new sports. It could even be as simple as consuming information, like following certain blogs, podcasts, or talks. Whatever it is, I believe that learning new things helps one become a more well-rounded member of society.

For me, since the last time I had been in school, I continued to teach myself programming languages, partly to set up my website for my career and partly for fun; I continued to work on improving my health by finding the right exercises and diet for my goals; I started learning new sports like surfing and snowboarding; I tried out different language learning programs in an attempt to be fluent in more foreign languages; and I explored my dancing abilities by joining local flash mob groups and performing in public spaces and planned events, including a wedding.

New Opportunities

The benefits of learning something new goes beyond just that thing you’re learning. It opens you up to opportunities to learn more things. Earlier in my college career, the teacher from one of my design classes shared with us a student discount for the subscription to the graphic design magazine Communication Arts. Subscribing to it led me to an article about the online personality Ze Frank. I became a fan of his creative, multimedia work, particularly his year-long vlog The Show. One of his episodes mentioned attending South by Southwest (SXSW), so I subscribed to the SXSW podcast and discovered a session covering the productivity methodology Getting Things Done (GTD). It revolutionized the way I work, and I now approach life with a better sense of purpose.

Also through Communication Arts, I encountered the article about Stefan Sagmeister’s class that focused on emotional connection through design. This helped shape the idea for the “thesis” project “Why Don’t We Care?” for one of my senior design classes. In the project, I also referenced Ze Frank and The Show.

At a higher level, I probably would have learned about some of these things in other ways, but it’s the progression of discoveries and the potential for serendipity that make this experience special and exciting. It also probably would have taken longer to discover.

Learning is Ongoing

It is worth noting that learning is always ongoing. New content may surface, existing information may become less important, and longstanding opinion may change. This is overall a good thing, because it usually means whatever you’re learning is improving itself, and by keeping up with it, you are improving as well.

This is important to me because 1) I often feel like I know the least out of everyone in most situation, and 2) I’m naturally curious and want to learn as much as I can about things that have the most of my attention. The fact that learning is ongoing sort of levels the playing field so those who are behind can try to catch up, and it helps satisfy my curiosity and feed my mind with more and newer content.


2, 3, 7, 11.



Complaining is Silly. Either Act or Forget.

Stefan Sagmeister

Near the end of my college career, I learned about the designer Stefan Sagmeister. He quickly became one of my favorite designers, as his work was bold, thoughtful, emotionally rich, and perfectly radical. It was practically the opposite to my approach and sensibilities in design, which is why he has since been my inspiration and motivation to experiment and to think outside my own little box. In 2008, he published a book (or a volume of booklets) called Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, creatively illustrating and writing about his life learnings. One of the learnings that really caught my attention was “Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.” It made a significant impact in how I react to external events. Paired with the goal to be positive (both in my post-college job search and just in life), I managed to take back the energy and time I wasted passive-aggressively tweeting and Facebook-posting rants and cynical notes, and used it proactively to resolve problems in my life.

When to Forget

Whenever I feel the urge to complain or vent to someone or via social media, I pause and ask if 1) it’s worth telling someone, as in whether telling that person or the public would realistically change the situation, and 2) the thing I want to complain about really matters to me or if it’s just a momentary frustration that would pass in a few hours or days. First of all, I rarely post anything negative on social media anymore because I believe that when a person is being negative, it affects the mood of the people around them. So I try to avoid doing that unless it’s absolutely necessary or urgent. And since social media is rarely a medium to express absolutely necessary or urgent information, I’ve made it a rule to only post neutral or positive things.

If I determine that complaining about something leads to very little change in the situation, I would drop the topic and “forget” it. For example, on my commute to and from work, unpleasant things occasionally occur, whether it’s a conflict between two people or it’s the way certain passengers behave differently from the social norm. In the moment, I would come up with scenarios for how I would respond if I was in the conflict. Then I would want to share that with my friends and coworkers at the next possible opportunity (ex. “Good morning! Oh my god, these two people were fighting on the bus on my way to work. One was being really rude, and the other person was trying to reason with him. If it was me, I would’ve told that person off…”) That’s when I would pause and realize how sharing this piece of information results in very little benefit for my friends or coworkers, for me, and for the public transportation system. Ultimately, what we would get is another story about negative experience of riding the bus. Unless I plan to lead a reform or awareness campaign in social etiquette on public transit or something, I believe it’s better to just drop the subject and move on to talking about things I care more about.

When to Act

When things actually do matter, like at work, it’s harder to “forget” them when they bother us. Working in a fast-pace environment, I encounter a lot of changes in plans, much to my preference instead to set a simple goal and work straight towards it. So when a project direction shifts or a deadline is shortened, my immediate thoughts would generally be negative, and I would want to vent to my peers. But instead of complaining or ignoring the problem (“forgetting”), my inherent drive to do well, especially in my career, suddenly leads me to be very pragmatic (“act”) and run through the list of potential questions to solutions in my head (“Are we sure we need to do this?” “What have I already done that I can salvage for this?” “Can I even take this on?” “How should we reprioritize to make it work?”) This helps me stay ahead of the situation and gives me as much control as possible.

Now and Plans for the Near Future

Of course, this is all work in progress. I am still learning and trying to become better with this approach every day. It may actually be nice to bond with friends and coworkers over a trivial story about a bus ride. And it may literally be a life-changing move when someone begins a conversation with a friend after seeing their cryptic tweet. Would complaining be considered silly in these situations? There are still fine lines I need to discover and learn about.

But for the most part, so far, it’s made a positive impact on my life; I find that I have more pleasant and stress-free moments, simply by reducing the number of times I let myself get angry and worked up over something I should have forgotten instead. As a result, I have more time and energy to act and focus on things that I enjoy.

This philosophy has worked out so well for me that I would love for others to adopt it. But another philosophy of mine is preventing it: I believe that how I live is my business and mine alone, and the same goes for other people. So as annoying as I find other people’s complaints to be, telling them to stop complaining disrespects their personalities. Until I figure out a way to act respectfully, all I can do now is to distance myself from them as much as I need, hide their posts from social media, and make my philosophy available in my space (here) and hope they stumble upon it.

Practically speaking, it can be more tough to actively tell people about “my approach”, especially when I have yet to fully prove that it works in normal social environments. For example, there are many complicated and controversial issues in American culture. It is sometimes said that silence to a social issue equals agreement with the status quo, while any action from sympathizers and supporters may mean detracting from the goals of the movement and worsen the situation. What’s left is the dissent, loudly and angrily pointing out the issue. But since acting and forgetting are out of the question, who am I then to advocate for suppressing the dissent?


18, 25, 26



What I Do Reflects My Priorities

In my final quarter of college, I took a general exercise biology class taught by two professors. A lot of the material went over my head, but one of the things that I actually retained was the advice to make time to exercise. This simple tip actually shifted my thinking about exercise and goals in general that I eventually adapted it to apply to other areas of my life.

An A-ha Moment

The professors explained: we often tell ourselves or say in conversations that we should or want to exercise but we have yet to do it because we “don’t have time.” They argued, however, that instead of “having” time to do something, the problem is in “making” time; we don’t make time for it. We make time to watch TV or go out with friends, but we fail to make time to exercise, and yet we say or know that it’s important to us. If it’s really important to us, instead of just talking about it, we would find a way to make it happen. How we spend our time shows what’s important to us; what we do reflects our priorities.

Once I realized that, I became very conscious every time I started thinking and using the phrase, “I don’t have time.” Soon after, I stopped thinking that way altogether and shifted my energy to examine why I have yet to exercise and what’s holding me back. Even though it still took me a series of mental and physical hurdles to get back to the gym on a regular basis, knowing that my priorities control my behavior allowed me to start being more responsible for my life and make changes.

Applying the Mindset

When I first started regularly going to the gym, I would only go if I completed that workday’s tasks. On days when things at work ran a little long, I would still try to go to the gym a little later, but it would either delay the rest of my evening’s routine or shorten my workout session to stay on schedule. Either way, I would be bummed. And if I kept my regular gym schedule and put off work until after the gym or the next day, I would feel guilty for putting my personal goals before my work.

What I realized over time is that there will always be work to do, and most of it can wait until the following day, therefore I should head to the gym at my “mentally scheduled” time. Sticking to that schedule, I found, is important to me.

I also realized that exercise actually benefits my work. First, exercise is a great stress reliever. Second, I often come up with solutions to work problems at the gym, when I am away from the desk and my mind has a chance to take a break and get unstuck. Realizing this made it easier to justify sticking to my personal schedule at work and take time out of the day to work on myself. While work is important, I must place more value on my mental, physical, and spiritual health. “I don’t have time for exercise.” just says the opposite. The only acceptable solution in my mind is to make time.

Beyond Exercise

Using the same strategy, I have since been reevaluating everything I do in life. I removed habits that contribute little to my goals, and I added ones that are vital to them. For example, even though I’m a bit of a night owl and I get a surge of energy after I get home from work, I set a goal to go to bed earlier so I can get a full night’s sleep and help improve my body, mind, and spirit. Socially, I learned to be more selective with attending events and gatherings to achieve a better balance between developing valuable relationships and getting enough personal time for myself. At work, I customized my environment using software to help minimize distractions by receiving only notifications that I need and to work on my health at work with reminders to take regular breaks from the computer.

These habits will change and adapt in the future. They may be small adjustments or major overhauls, but the fundamental philosophy driving them will be the same: I will make time for things that are important to me.


5, 6, 17, 22, 23.