A Letter to My Younger Self About Designing A Better Life

Ervan M Wirawan
Jun 11, 2017 · 7 min read

Dear Myself, My Younger Self.

I’ve spent many hours sitting on this chair, staring at my laptop screen, and pointing cursor endlessly on my tabs browser. I am a morning person, but often stay up late putting people mind into design, turning their dream into visible pixel, and crafting a better online journey for my clients. Yeah you guess it right, I really love what I am doing right now. I am very happy working as a (UX) designer.

I remember the first day I jumped into my designer career, I was sophomore and I didn’t really like attending classes. Instead, I declared myself as a freelance graphic designer. Now it’s been 10 years since I dedicating myself into design.

People say it right, as you get older you’ll become wiser. I’ve actually learned a few things in my first two decades of life. However as I began to evaluate my 20's I realized how many mistakes I’ve made. Then I started to reminisce my career journey and asked to myself “If I could go back and talk to my younger self, what advice would I give?

Don’t Trade Away Your Happiness

Thousands of dollars flying into PayPal account by manipulating shapes and colors for just a few days. Bring in the latest gadgets that adorn my collection cabinets. Living a dream life like in a fairy tale. Like every designer dream, you could afford the latest Macbook and iPhone.

But then I realized, only busy piling up money created a big hole in life and all of it was just temporary and perishable. You can not only live with your Macbook, iPhone, and virtual friends on social media. You need to get together and interact directly with other people, in real life.

It kinda sounds corny, as I say that, Money isn’t everything, I know it, we know it all. And it sounds cliche, if I say that there are so many things you can’t afford with money. Let me tell you this, maybe you can buy a luxury bed, but money will take away your sleep. You can buy medicine, but not health. You can buy Rolex, but not time. And If you think that money can buy a position, you’re absolutely right, but remember, you can’t buy respect.

Feel Free to Fail, Fail a Lot, Fail Often!

Designer loves to create something out of nothing, but sometimes you’ll feel embarrassed by your own design, or maybe other people said that your design is not sublime enough to enter dribbble community.

Just ignore the haters. Do everything you want to do, whether it sucks or mediocre. Idea don’t come out fully formed, they only become clear as you work on them. So whatever it is, just start. Don’t worry too much. Be bold.

I was a failure, and I still fail at certain things. Sometimes people said that my design was mediocre and amateur, or people might underestimated my profession as digital product designer. But rather than gave up, I tried to embrace every critics and keep moving forward.

Believe me, for every first shot you take, you’ll miss it, you’ll fail. But all you need is learn to fail, fail faster, do it quick and take a lesson. But if you don’t learn something every time you fail then all you’ve done is failed. If you learn something, then you’ve grown. Every time you grow and learn and fail, you get better at figuring out how the hell to be succeed.

Don’t let failure hold you back.

Approve Praises, Avoid Flattery

After hundreds of sleepless nights and caffeine intakes, finally you got some attention and exposure about your work, many designers start to recognize you. Maybe you already got thousands of likes and hundreds of comments, right? Me too. They often said something like “Oh you are so talented, it͛’s so cool, yada yada yada” in your social account. It looks great. But be careful, it͛’s not gonna help you on business. Ignore them all and be assured that your design is really ugly. That͛’s fine because you are still young. You have lots of time to improve your skill. The truth is nobody gonna help you but yourself, business is more like a jungle.

Expand Beyond Yourself and Limitation

Do not get stuck with only design things, learn other things as well. Read every day. Read everything. Don’t just read about things you know about. Learn from movies. Learn from everything.

Find one or two fellow friends that have similar ambitions and eager to be better, find friends who dream big, start a discussion / critic group and get some feedback about your works, be open for critics whether it’s delightful or painful. Friends who make big plans for themselves will push you to make big plans for yourself. And you’ll learn new things and be a better person day by day.

Trust me, it’s very important if you want to stay afloat. This world is full of competitiveness, anyone who has weak mentality will left behind. It is not right when some people said that they are done studying after graduating from college. The reality is, real education start after college. Life is a never ending journey.

Choose Your Boss, Not Your Company

It’s not always about landing a job at company like Google or Facebook. Finding right mentor is also important for your career whether in design or wherever it is. You’ll gain so much experience and life-lesson just by being around successful people in your field, and then try to get into their inner circle, to prove that you’re legit. Then you’ll have more career opportunities than ever before. Whether it is for your next employment or starting your own business.

As my dream to start my own design consulting firm, here are something I learn from my boss and mentor as first time entrepreneur.

  • Adopt smart financial lifestyle. Spend money wisely because all the money you’re invested in will be paid back in a long time, remember it.
  • Your product or service is useless and no one willing to pay for it, so you’ll always eager to improve it and make it better.
  • The market is not ready and your product is too sophisticated, then you’ll make something simple yet functional for your customer/client.
  • You do not have enough resources to compete with the incumbent, so you’ll never stop learning.

These kind of mentalities will help you to survive and turn you to be a better person when building your own firm.

You are Nothing Without Your Friend

Your skill does not mean anything if you do not have any friends who believe in you. You don’t have to be arrogant and showing off to people that you’re a talented independent designer. The biggest question is, How long can you survive? There is always a newcomer, a new designer, a better designer who come up with few more bucks cheaper than your rate.

Then you’ll realize that reputation and a set of positive feedback in your account become useless. Networking will help you to find new clients, directly or indirectly. Start with people around you. No one ever knows what the future holds. Right now, I have a lot of friends that can help me building my own startup. I know to whom should I ask money for investment. When I need a legal to work on the term sheet? I know a good lawyer to help me with. and so on. So, all things get easier right?

I leave you with this in closing. The world is so cruel. Euphoria only occurs in the first few years. Regret always comes last. When I was young, I thought that I am so good in design. People really love my works, my design of their products. But designing my own life, I still far away to go. My last advice for you; find your inner peace, don’t chase money, and make a deal with yourself.

Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, Your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two.

Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

— J.K Rowling

Sincerely me,

The Older You

Editor: Angga Pradikta


uxmarker was founded with one mission mind: creating the best and most reliable user-centered design for our clients. Here in our HQ, we deal with a wide range of design avenues on every product platform. To ensure a satisfying product experience, our dedicated team generate data from curated user research methods and analyze them to find and fix various design obstacles. With our ingenious ideas and tested skill, we believe we can help make your products a pleasure to work with.

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Notes dé Voyage

Ervan M Wirawan

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UX Director & Co-Founder of uxmarker : a Digital Product Design Advisory - uxmarker.com

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Notes dé Voyage