1. Dealing with Ambiguity
I never know when my next project will come, or if I will have enough income to make rent next month. Even if those things align, there’s always the uncertainty of how well I can execute on a project from concept to product. I’m surrounded by unknowns, and unless I can get a grip on reality, I’m sent chasing down parallel rabbit holes until I’ve completely lost sight of what I’m supposed to be doing in the first place.
I’ve learned how to place these uncertainties in context, and deal with ambiguity with grace. The challenge is to identify what is the most important problem at hand. When I start chasing down rabbit holes, I ask myself, “Can I do anything about it now?” If the answer is yes, then I know to turn off the other doubts and focus on this one particular problem. If the answer is “not now,” then I assess at what point in the production line I can make a difference, and table the problem for later. If the answer is simply a “no,” then I tell myself to get over it and move on to the next thing.
Try this tactic for any ambiguous situation you’re in. Take your questions and doubts and pass it through the, “Can I do anything about it now” filter. Your answers to this question will create a timeline for your problems and whittle down the most intangible, monstrous challenges into bite-size, easier-to-deal-with pieces.
2. Listening with Intent
My clients sometimes apologize for not knowing the proper “design lingo” to explain what they want in a visual. To that, I always assure them, “don’t worry, that’s my job.”
It’s my job to listen to what they want, and not depend solely on the words used in communication. This is a challenge for anyone, in any situation in life— how to listen beyond words.
I like to “listen for” their energy by observing their body language when we talk about the project. I notice points in the conversation when they are enthusiastic, and when their energy is contagious. Is it calm and soothing, urgent, or hip? From there, I can visualize what color palettes and shapes their energies translate into.
This exercise also works in reverse. How many times in life do we find ourselves at a stalemate in a dialogue? When you’re at a loss of words for what to say, or when you’re frustrated beyond belief. You’ve said everything you can, and your point is still misunderstood. Try communicating with your energy. Visualize the colors and shapes of your energy, and now do the same for the other person. We often don’t realize how aggressive we’ve become in the conversation, or if we’ve retreated from our original passion. This allows us to stand back and visualize the environment we’re working with. From there, we can project what needs to be done in order for our energies to harmonize.
3. Killing Your Ego While Protecting Your Self Worth
It’s a challenge for me to stand up for design elements I believe truly create a better experience, versus giving my clients exactly what they want. My ego wants to shout, “Trust me, I’m the designer!” But no one wants to work with an asshole and no one wants to be told they’re wrong for wanting what they want. So, I kill the ego, and sometimes that throws me to the opposite end of the spectrum. I find myself apologizing for what I was standing for, or cutting hours from my invoice because I ‘felt bad’ about making a design choice that they disagreed with.
A trick I’ve learned on how to kill the ego while protecting my self worth is having a ‘compliments log.’ (Advice pulled from reading habits of highly successful people.) I literally have a file on my laptop named, “For When The World Decides To Shit On You One Day.” It documents the compliments and advice I receive throughout my life experiences, and is reserved for reading on days when I find myself completely shot down and doubting what I do and why I do it.
No matter what profession you’re in, keep a compliments log. You don’t want to go seeking for validation when you’re caught in a rut. Your friends and family can tell you, “Don’t worry. You’re great at what you do.” While that’s true, it was only vocalized because you were seeking. A compliments log, on the other hand, are things people said to you because they felt like it. You moved, touched, inspired them so much that they couldn’t help but tell you how you made them feel. In that context, you were doing your best work. You were, unapologetically, you. That’s the self you want to be reminded of in times like these.
I stumbled into the tech industry after taking a course in Data Science. I was lured in by the buzz of “big data” and “natural language processing,” and stayed because I discovered something I really loved to do—programming. And despite all the rumors about men in tech, I found a solid group of people invested in my growth as a programmer and who were beyond willing to share books, code, and advice with me.
But when I explore outside my niche of friends & mentors, I am often met with the ugly side of tech. You’ve heard the stories. I’m ignored. My gender is the subject of ridicule, and my looks are more important than what I do.
So when I attended the Codeathon on Women’s Health, hosted by the Clinton Foundation last week, I was excited for a change. The first night of the hackathon was bliss. The room was filled with 80-90% women, and there were more people of color than I’ve ever seen at such an event. We were pushed to think about the social determinants of health, and how we could find a solution to these issues with technology. I left that night feeling like I found a secret utopia that I wanted to share with the world.
The next day, each team was scheduled for a photo shoot and a couple interviews. Media coverage of the event was officially sponsored by Self Magazine, with additional footage from Rookie Magazine. At first, I was excited about this. I thought it spoke volumes of these companies that they valued this industry & culture to feature it in their magazines.
But then it got really weird, really fast (for me at least). I got a lot of attention from the cameras and interviewers during our work time. And when I voiced that “I’m really awkward,” and “I feel uncomfortable,” I was told that I look really cool and I should stand up for the camera to get my whole outfit in the frame.
I get it, I look different.
I’m not what you expect when you think of a “woman in tech.” To be honest, I thought everyone in the room looked different. We all had our own flare, and maybe we found each other at this event because we refused to play into the norms of this tech culture.
And while I appreciated that none of the participants cared about how I looked or what I wore, it was constantly brought to my attention by the media teams. It frustrated me that they weren’t interested in what I do (I participated in this event as a designer), and I was only asked once by an interviewer if I program and how I got into it.
On the last day, as I was getting dressed, I felt incredibly defeated. I questioned if I “asked for it” by wearing what I wore the day before. I questioned if I should leave my hair down, if I should wear a T-shirt and sneakers to avoid attention.
And that’s when I realized.. that the more I become a “woman in tech,” the more of a raging feminist I’ve become.
Because isn’t this the type of backwards thinking that society wants me to do? Isn’t this the same argument we make for blaming victims of rape? That they “asked for it” because of what they wore, and similarly I “asked for” the media attention by wearing a dress and heels (which, might I add, was conversvative enough to wear to a junior high school dance). The sad reality is, no one was using that argument against me, but I was using it on myself. That’s where the rage in raging feminist comes from—that I was turning on myself.
I know that when I wake up in the morning, it’s my choice to curl my hair, put on heels, and line my eyes. I’ve branded my looks into my business cards, so I guess in a way, I invite people to judge me based on my looks. For the first time in my life, people take me seriously as a designer because I look and act the part.
But it’s not my fault that our society perpetuates a culture in which women are constantly forced to think about our looks and our bodies. I don’t blame the photographers, or their companies, for the circumstances either. I blame the lack of conversation that follows after exchanges like this occur. By doing so, the responsibility lies on both sides to carry through a conversation in order to reach understanding. Because maybe if they asked more what I was doing, or maybe if I asked, “Can I show you my work instead of my dress?” this all could have been avoided.
After the Codeathon, I exchanged experiences with one of my best (male) friends, Niels, who also attended the event. He told me how his experience was the complete opposite of mine. For the first time at a hackathon ever, he was left alone and didn’t really have to interact with the media. To that I giggled, “Welcome to my world when I’m at regular hackathons.”
We each got an interesting perspective into the other person’s world for a weekend. In a way, we got to “walk in each other’s shoes,” because the circumstances around us changed. So I applaud the Clinton Foundation, Ace Hotel, and Jawbone for coming together to bring a complete new experience to hackathons.
I believe it’s a stepping stone towards finding a solution to the boys club in tech. I don’t want a girls club in which men are excluded, but I do think the fact that events like this exist, shows that we are not on an even playing field. Specialized attention is needed to bring awareness to these issues at this time and place. But please remember, to invite the men. Because the more men we get to attend women-centric events, the better equipped we are to disrupt this industry and converge towards a new type of cultural norm. One that we can set together—as equal men and women in the industry.
Years of competitive hip hop dancing have weathered me to “take a punch” when it comes to creative criticism. But writing and sharing my life through my blog is a whole new beast of its own. I invited the eyes, and criticism, of strangers. And by doing so, one particular critique really got to me. It cut deep, straight to my core, and made sure I only shared work that avoided her judgment. In this way, she managed to reside in my mind as the megaphone to all my existing insecurities.
The trail to her original post has been deleted, but it’s true what they say that words on the Internet live forever. When an attack on your personality is written so eloquently, so meticulously, that you cannot help but read and re-read it until it is permanently etched in your brain, you invite the environment that makes those words keep on keeping on.
Up until I read Austin Kleon’s, Show Your Work, I could not free myself from this troll in my mind. In his book, he quotes his wife saying, “If someone took a dump in your living room, you wouldn’t let it sit there, would you?” Such a simple and profound imagery of scooping up and throwing away the shit pushed the troll in my mind into non-existence.
So here I am today, reclaiming the space in my mind and in my blog, to exist troll-free.
Because yours no longer exists here on Earth. Before it was taken down, I used to grieve when someone tagged you in a status update. I thought it was a cruel joke — how alive you could be in my social media feed, and be the complete opposite of that in reality. Now that your Facebook page is gone, I grieve in a whole different way. I’m sad I spent all that time cringing at your name in my newsfeed, instead of saving all those pictures of us, the conversations, and the jokes we shared.
There’s something that only Facebook can capture that other social media outlets do not — the blueprint of our friendship via the click of that “See Friendship” button. It got all the important things, but even more significantly, all the unimportant things as well. Like those check-in statuses to restaurants, or all those times we …
Fuck. I can’t even remember them, because I knew Facebook would remember for me. Maybe those small moments were insignificant then, but now they are everything I want to hold on to.
It’s stupid to give Facebook so much significance. I know your existence lives beyond this medium. But I guess I want something tangible to revisit when I can’t conjure the memories myself. I’m mad at myself for relying on it more than I could imagine.
It’s silly that I write these words so openly to the public. I often write these things, my internal conversations with you, and scrap it at the end. But by pushing one of these dialogues through to the Internet, I guess I’m hoping that when someone reads it and thinks of you, that the grouped effort in remembering you will reach through to you. And the thought of you smiling because of it, reassures the uneasiness in my heart.
BRIPOSITIVE | Some fan art for Bri
Because you know, I’m (one of your) biggest fans <3
P E N G | this perfectly captures my relationship with dad
Vivian Peng and I recently submitted an infographic for a competition, and while we did not place in any of the winning categories, we feel like this issue deserves more exposure.
Mental health and the criminal justice system are deeply intertwined. The way that society at large dehumanizes inmates is reflected by the prison system’s failure to address mental health. This is further complicated by the fact that mental health is a controversial topic even in the general public. Through this visualization, we aim to raise awareness about the complexity of this issue.
The factors that drive criminal behavior do not simply relate to individual agency. A complex machinery of socioeconomic disparity, incarceration, and dehumanization drives a vicious cycle of mental illness that we can only barely imagine with these statistics.
It is worrying that more than half of inmates in 2005 had a mental health problem. More worrying is the fact that 73% of female state inmates, compared to 55% of males, had a mental health problem.
On top of that, higher prevalence of drug use, parent’s abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and homelessness among inmates with mental health problems paint a broader picture beyond the criminal act.
We do not claim to show causality through our visualization. We simply suggest that the prison population is not homogenous and that incarceration is a result of factors that transcend generational and institutional boundaries.
Ultimately, we believe that a mature dialogue about deservedness, blame, forgiveness, justice, and personal evolution is necessary for us to break away from this simplistic sentiment: ‘once a criminal, always a criminal’.