Set your heart ablaze
I watched Mugen Train and it reminded me of my struggle as a designer: a feeling of not being good enough.
Warning: Movie spoiler ahead. Please proceed with caution.
I’m so frustrated! As soon as I master one thing, I find another thick wall right in front of me… while more people are fighting beyond it. I just can’t make it there yet!
— Tanjiro, Demon Slayer
I remember vividly how I sobbed in the theatre when Tanjiro cried these lines after Rengoku’s death. It’s a familiar feeling after all. It’s a thing I struggled with when I aspired to become a designer five years ago and still continue to struggle today as I meet more designers who are beyond the thick wall. I just can’t make it there yet!
My Filipino colleagues knew me as someone who makes huge strides year after year. I’d spend evenings and weekends working on side projects, writing articles, and preparing for design sprints. I was hungry for growth and I worked towards it as though my life depended on it.
I moved all the way to Canada to work for my dream company and sacrificed comfort for growth. I was determined to be around smart and talented people so I could teach what I learned to young designers even if that meant being away from home. I believed that I could somehow make it.
But here I am, writing this article and listening to a sad anime song as I try to hold back my tears. I needed to write down these feelings and share them with someone who might find comfort in it. I’ll break down Tanjiro’s line into digestible pieces and understand how it relates to my struggle— and hopefully come to a realization.
I’m so frustrated. I’m frustrated with myself. I’m frustrated for feeling not good enough. I’m frustrated for feeling stuck and hopeless. I’m frustrated that things in front of me seem to be out of reach despite fully stretching my arms wide. I’m frustrated I’m still here while everyone else is moving forward.
As soon as I master one thing, I find another thick wall right in front of me. I take my work seriously and compensate for any gaps my team has. For example, when I first joined I had no clue about our company’s tone and style of communication and needed full support from a content designer. A year later, I moved to a new team without a dedicated content designer. It was an opportunity for me to fill the gap and be that person. Fast forward to today, I find myself in content pairing sessions receiving positive feedback with little to no changes. Heck, they even want to use my work as an example to their peers. I’m currently doing the same for UX research and find myself stuck again. It’s as if there are so many things I need to master (and prove) in order to be deemed worthy.
While more people are fighting beyond it. I started succumbing to envy and constant comparison. I started focusing on how I’d get to the level of people above me and stopped appreciating my own progress. I’m 10x better than six months ago was replaced by How can I become more like my peer? Why are they getting more attention? Why am I so slow? There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to become someone you look up to. I always believed it’s a great reference for what your ideal principles and skillsets could be. But, damn it, don’t ever stop assessing and appreciating your progress. We all have different starting points. I didn’t have access to that kind of education, mentorship, and peer feedback prior to joining Shopify. I went from lifting 10 kilos to 30 kilos but you bet I did it.
I just can’t make it there yet! Yes, I admit and I’m okay knowing this. I’ve painted a picture of the level I wanted to operate in and I know I’ll just have to work harder than anyone else because I started differently. Just like how Rengoku skillfully slashed all the bad things off the civilians with great precision and speed, I also need to be more precise and sharper. I just can’t make it there yet but I will continue to struggle to become a better designer and a more reliable teammate.
So where am I getting at? I’ll just leave Inosuke’s response to Tanjiro as he tearfully cried with his friend:
Stop saying dumb-ass things like, “Can I or can’t I be like him?” He said he believes in you, so just think about how you’re going to measure up to that!
No matter how pathetic or humiliated you feel, you still have to go on living! Get over here! We’re gonna train!
I’ve said dumb-ass things. I doubted myself when I should’ve been my own best cheerleader. I felt frustrated and let that frustration consume most of my days. With swollen eyes and a runny nose, I left the theatre feeling empowered, motivated, and ready to continue my training. I will measure up to that expectation and set my heart ablaze.
Ganbare がんばれ) ~