Max Out Minimalism

When the Montreal-based clothing brand Frank and Oak rebranded to replace it’s serifs with sans-serifs logo last year, their creative director writes, “it’s a design approach that confidently stays out of the way when it needs to.” Oh boy, has the world been too burdensome?

You’ve probably seen them all over Instagram or online retail shops. The minimalist branding filled with an abundance of white space, sans-serif and and the friendly soothing doodles in brands like Glossier, Outdoor Voices and allbirds. Being a millennial myself that recently just moved in Austin, TX yesterday, I see this everywhere and even more so now. The grocer shopping at Whole foods with a canvas reusable bag, doing exactly what athleisure means; the small coffee shop near the chaotic boulevard filled with white walls, wood finishing, the absence of any geometric corners and sources single-origins beans from small farms in Burundi; the embodiment of succulents and cacti for self-expression; fast food giants like Cousin Subs and Panera rebranding to reduce any bold, serif fonts and loud colors for sobering clean lines, geometric shapes and primary colors. More brands are rising with minimalist marketing approaches and straightforward customer service, trying to counter any noise that has been established by large corporate identities in decades prior.

After all, we are a fidget spinning, woke feministing, anxious internetting generation trying to find some any pockets of calm and playful humor away from the bullshit of our lives and the clutter of our busy schedules. And I think there’s an opportunity that we can take from all this minimalist branding: it makes me want to scream!

We are drawn to these brands that have taken extra measures to strip away the layers and are good for the environment and the soul. But in end of the day, we are inherent consumers who need to constantly feed our egos. We are human, after all. Sometimes, we need a reminder that other people, cultures and causes exist, we can’t be too sensitized and avoid our problems. That’s why I love the grunge of New York City. When all this minimalist trends, like most trends, begin to die down, it is because of our impulses to express ourselves: to be bold and be loud and be human. 

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What’s your cabin in the woods?

Today is the first day of what I am calling “gainful unemployment” until I find a better name to call it. I brewed a bigger batch of coffee, finished packing for my move to Austin in 3 days, and consumed 5 episodes of a new podcast about modern art called “A Piece of Work”. It was a Monday unlike any other Mondays.

I am taking some time to unwind. Giving myself the space and time that I had been clawing for. No more building anxiety from having to fit in learning how to code after work hours, no longer committing myself to a suffocating work that I couldn’t find motivation in. I am learning to do the things that I want to do. I can be ideal in this little cushion that I have given myself.

“I can be creative again,” I told myself. I can take my time. Learning how to feel feelings, take on projects, explore the newness of a new city, feel its energy, be inspired by exciting people, sit in silence, just read all day, create, learn, sweat, sleep and repeat.

Reading: “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance

(Disclaimer: This is an introspection, not a book review.)

Being an immigrant, and a minority citizen to my own country, understanding where I came from is always important in discovering who I am. JD Vance’s exploration of his childhood and life so far in Hillbilly Elegy just does that.

Yup, I’m guilty. I loved this book because I can relate to it. That’s what I found surprising about it. From Vance’s journey migrating north from Kentucky to Ohio to multiple households, to finding his grind as a Marine and going to Law School, He refers to himself as a “cultural emigrant” who yearned for a successful and peaceful home.

One of the tips he learns from his grandma, Mamaw, who he attributes as the person who raised him, is that “having good role models around you will remind you that there is another life out there. And that exposure gives you something to dream for.” This took me back to high school when I always spent time at my friends’ houses for dinner, especially on Monday nights when my mother threw karaoke parties. But these families I lived vicariously through reminded me that I don’t have to be on guard all the time, that I can have a conversation without shouting, that there are people who listen, and that I can be deserving of people’s love.

Vance also finds himself as a minority to his own hillbilly people, “a stranger in this strange land”, due to his upward mobility as a Marine and with his college degree. He liked the feeling of self-sufficiency and providing for those in need, for the kind of people who he once was. One thing I would say is that towards the end, as his chronological storytelling becomes more relevant, the greater understanding of his past draws him further from it, nor can he really come back to it anymore. He will always be an outsider now, even to his past, family and hillbilly culture. (He lives in Silicon Valley now, might I add.) But the price he paid is the understanding of the things he can control, who he is, and that he isn’t that doomed after all the demons he fought in his youth. An acceptance of who he is.

I’m not holding him as a hillbilly spokesperson nor am I praising this to give me hope during this presidency, but I admire how this book allowed for sympathy and understanding with the storytelling of his past. Vance motivates me to tell my own story. It’s not that I find my own life boring, but maybe I am looking too much into the past to really see what’s in front of me and how far I’ve come.

Continue reading “Reading: “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance”

Climb that mountain, but keep going!

There’s a lot of be learned from Alex Honnold’s successful free-soloing attempt of Yosemite’s El Capitan in 4 hours. This guy really sees the world differently and certainly has no fear.

In his interview with Nat Geo, he described most of the things during his climb as “ultra-chill”, “super chill” or just overall chill. “I didn’t feel that stressed because in a way I had already committed to autopilot and just put everything aside,” he noted on the base of El Cap. His strategy was to treat it like “a super normal day”. He was not phased by how much of a big deal it was. He didn’t even tell his mom (because “She’s really bad at differentiating between free climbing and free soloing.”)

The biggest thing I took away from following his journey was his humility.He had been working on this dream for 4 years, training and familiarizing himself with every pitch and every hold. Although knowing him, everything he’s done so far probably contributed to his accomplishment.  Summiting El Cap was not the end and certainly was not a reason to retire for rock climbing. 

During his climb, he was already thinking about his next goal (sport climbing 9a) and the importance of the US staying in the Paris Accord. He focused on things that was beyond his current limits, as though his current goal is a stepping stone to the next. And it is. You’ve got to keep going. Remind yourself of the bigger issues out there. Focus on achieving the best version of yourself. One day at a time, you can work to anything you set your mind to. See where life takes you on the other side of fear. And maybe, try not to die along the way.

For now, I’m just happy his next project involves ropes. Thanks for being a true inspiration, Alex Honnold. 

“The whole pursuit of this dream has allowed me to live my best life, that makes me hopefully the best version of me. Just because I’ve achieved a dream doesn’t mean that I just give up on the best version of me. I want to be the guy that trains and stays fit and motivated. Just because you finish a big route doesn’t mean that you just quit.”

Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It?

$14K. That’s the price of the coding bootcamp that I was accepted to. That’s the price of quitting my current job as a consultant, applying for more loans to add to the current student loans I have in order to successfully pivot away from my career in healthcare finance and finally follow my creative passion in web development.  I never typically prescribe myself into traditional pathways to success. I was always limited by my means and learned how to thrive within my restrictions. However, I was able to reason to myself that $14K was the price of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As the dust of decision making starts to settle in, I am submitted by how far I’ve come (I got accepted to a coding bootcamp) and how many times I have been declined of loan application and payment programs. These are not news to me. I’m used to this by now, I tell myself.

I’ve never doubted the decision to go to a coding bootcamp, but the financial realities of paying for it has set me back to reality. Is it really all worth it?

“I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people any more that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people who dream, and support, and do things.” —Amy Poehler

Reading: “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us All” by IDEO

“At its core, creative confidence is about believing in your ability to create change in the world around you.”

When I first picked Creative Confidence, I thought it was going to be just another design/ creative self-help book filled with adages proclaiming to “be creative” and to “turn Ideas into action”. Turns out, it was better than that! I feel like I have a duty to just buy the book from the library or get my own copy from how much I’ve dog-eared.

Fortuitously, this book came in handy when I was assigned to lead weekly meetings for my team for the month of May to guide discussions on anything the team, or I, would find helpful for career development, or expanding our skill sets and knowledge base.

I finished reading chapters and and went straight to my meetings, utilizing all the exercises and examples I just absorbed. At first, I was greeted with a lot of skepticism, “Our boss would not like this” or “I’m wasting my billable hours”. Good thing I was in charge of the meetings.

Image result for creative confidence

The first discussion I lead was about Brainstorming. This meant identifying (and redefining) the problem and the solution. Using my own creative spin, I utilized the Bugs List to get the team thinking more critically about the world and identify “bugs”, which are problems or pockets as frustrations, as opportunities to improve something. Great discussion was had and the team was energized by their collective frustration. After identifying problems, I gave some tips on how to Reframe the Solution. Using the tips of asking a better question to answer, that addresses the human need and sparks more inspiration. The next week, I asked the team to express their emotions using only triangles, squares and circles. It was different, but I felt like it was my duty to break the analytic and logical mindset hardwired to my team.

“The first step toward a great answer is to reframe the question.”

Throughout the next weeks, I was constantly using it as a point of resource, my creative bible. I admit, it gave me my own confidence. But there’s something about practicing what you preach that helped me embrace this book. It wasn’t a book about IDEO’s success story, filled with ego and pride. . Nor was it filled with metaphorical adages about design (Cough, Rework). They gave exact steps and exercises to help build our own creative muscles. And lastly, the examples the Kelley brothers used were not stories of extraordinary people, they were ordinary people who found their own creative confidence.

“Like a muscle, your creative abilities will grow and strengthen with practice.”