My New Year Resolutions as a Designer.

Me: Leslie, we need to talk…

It’s 2:45am.
It’s eerily quiet in my dark room and while this is my optimal working environment, I’ve been staring at my laptop for almost 4 hours now, alternating between pinterest and youtube in my web browser but I can’t quite get myself to work. Each time I open Sketch to work on some UI or AI to work on some logos, I hear (quite literally) all the gears in my brain screeching to a gut grinding stop. I have been sleeping quite poorly over the past 3–4 months, my mental state is a mess and I’m having panic attacks for no reason.

Me, every other day.

I try to motivate myself but it’s not coming. I’m just a few search queries away from watching cat videos. Even that takes effort and I’m too tired to watch it anyways.

How did I get here?

I always loved challenges. Tight deadlines. Daunting project briefs. I take it all. I always believed in the grind, to do great work as best as I could do them and have them out in people hands for consumption and use. I could pilot 3 projects at the same time with clashing deadlines….and that’s not even counting my 9–5 obligations and demands. It always felt good whenever I saw people get value from the things I created. I also committed to helping younger designers in their respective creative journeys while doing all I could stay relevant in our semi-local creative space. Add that to running Layrz, DesignJobCaster (both of which I have completely abandoned due to time constraints and mostly, exhaustion) and Ovalay Awards. I was doing a lot of things, busy being busy.

I used to enjoy doing all of this. I used to enjoy the rush of it, the drive and desire to not just create the best, but to create something that outclasses all others. But as 2017 winds up in its dying throes, I’ve begun to witness the immediate side effects of the grind.

I am always exhausted.

It seemed to be the recurring theme of my day-to-day. At first, I began to look like it. Then I began to feel like it. Slowly but surely, things I could normally do in very quickly began to take longer to accomplish. Worse off, working began to look like a chore. Somehow, the things I enjoyed doing, the things i enjoyed creating were beginning to look like life had been sucked out of it. 
Then the panic attacks began. 
Sometimes, it felt like drowning. Sometimes, it felt like being crushed under an enormous weight. Every other time, it was simply, flat out, despair. Hopelessness.

Looking back in retrospect, I think that my mistake was believing that I could do it all, instead of focusing my efforts on really important things so that I could pace myself while leaving room for me to explore possibilities. It led me to admit to myself something that I always denied but deep down troubled me:

I had stopped growing.

Surely, I put out good stuff every now and then but because I had filled my days with work and briefs and meetings, I never really had room to fully explore other creative areas or scratch certain itches or do some of the other things that I loved and this was making me miserable without even knowing it.

My Resolutions for 2018

Quit seeking external validation

I tend to second guess myself alot and look to others for approval of what I do. It’s hard to draw the line between seeking approval and asking for advice. I often looked to others to validate what I already knew. However, I think, as a creative, I have long past the point where I have a point to prove. I have resolved to be more confident about the work I do and take ownership for it, for better or worse.

Learning to say “NO” more.

This one is mostly my fault. I often took on a lot of projects, some for the novelty, some because the client was great at communicating their ideas to me and I got stoked, some because of personal favours and the rest, because I was in a pinch and I needed the extra cash. The direct implication was a huge pile of work in varying stages of completion, giving and juggling elastic deadlines and a lot of pissed clients. Worse still, the economics behind it never really added to much in the end. So yeah, in 2018, I’d prefer my sanity intact, turning down a lot of projects and doing my best to commit to one project at a time so I can output work I can be proud of.

Work on projects I love.

Okay, so love is a rather broad definition. There are really exciting projects with huge potentials that, if they came my way, I wouldn’t hesitate to jump on them. There are also really well paying projects. I happen to love both. Sue me.

Chasing down my passions like I mean it.

When 2017 started, I set a number of things that I’d like to learn and try out. I ended up accomplishing a different set of things. Luckily, some were relevant to my original goals but I think in 2018, I intend to chase down the things that I love. Acquiring skills (finally making that career shift from UI to actual UX, learning more about marketing and strategy, dabbling more into motion graphics and getting my feet wet with AR/VR), learning from experiences, reading books and meeting up with really nice people.

Enjoy the breaks as they come

One of my biggest challenges is what to do with myself when I’m not designing or creating something. I tend to take myself too seriously and I burn out easily. In 2018, I will slow down more. I will play more and enjoy life’s little pleasures. I will take some time off and just rest. Or Sleep. Sleep seems nicer.

But, will I do it?

One thing that’s been clear to me over time is that plans disintegrate on first contact. Most of these are easier said, easier in theory but harder to implement. There will be times where I’d have to compromise to get certain desired results. There will be times where certain ideas/plans won’t scale and I’d have to accept that.

Finally, some advice: Focus on mental health. It’s no use trying to get work done with a mind that’s been stretched beyond its elasticity, constantly under pressure to deliver the best and I think this drove me to the ground harder. Depression is a real thing and most people do not know they are depressed and have gotten quite good at masking it.
So when the pressures come, look for an outlet. Do something different. Talk to someone — a friend, a stranger, it doesn’t matter. Get professional help. Surround yourself with people, preferably family & friends who can help. 
Don’t get sucked into the “grind” mentality of work-work-work-work-work-work. The desired results only come with dedicated effort over a timespan, not with meaningless meanderings all in the name of getting work done. 
Your sanity is important. Preserve it.

See you next year.