(Warning: Long post ahead.)
I’m sneaking in a few minutes to write this entry as a busy week comes along. It’s Tuesday, 1:41PM, and I just finished running a few errands, shooting photos for a client project, and currently internalizing as I write the first few drafts for a talk I’m giving early next year. The last set of tasks I have to finish this year are quite intimidating; but I’m convinced that I can follow through.
The fourth quarter of the year (October-December) is always the most stressful and daunting part of my year as a freelance artist, author, and content creator. For someone like me who is Type A (aka goal-getter) and is very conscious of her work output on a regular basis, it’s not easy. It’s not easy that every other day, I get anxiety attacks worrying about work, stuff I have yet to sort out, deadlines that are due, etc. It’s also not easy to constantly be on the go because every work day is different. My creative energy reaches its highs and lows and usually, after a wild wave of work, that’s when it hits — and it’s not a pretty sight at all. It took me a lot of self-convincing to acknowledge the fact that after 3 years of freelancing, I should just take a step back and stop worrying too much.
I’m 24 years old, but I always tell my friends I act older than my age (which is partly true). My mind is pretty far off and it’s probably because I’ve learned to handle the ropes of independence at a young age. So, they say when you reach 25, you’ll encounter this “quarter life crisis” aka a point in your life where you start to question where you are and what else you should be doing. Guess what? I think I have had it for quite some time now. I’m here today to share about my (almost) quarter life crisis (started on my 23rd year, actually, and still ongoing), and a few reminders for you to keep in mind as you work towards achieving your own life goals, and making sure you’re still mentally okay in the process.
Contrary to what most people think, being an artist does not only mean you sit on your desk all day to draw, draw, and draw. Okay, to be fair, those days do happen — but not every day. There’s also the backend work which no one really sees: countless episodes of self-doubt, days and nights of practice, and all the process-based parts of making art as a living. As much as it is physically exhausting, it is hard to take in emotionally. I’ve had my fair share of breakdowns that made me question whether continuing on this job is keeping me from being the best version of myself. How can something so amazing ruin you in that way, right? I guess it’s really more of taking in enough, but not too much. Which also means: working, but not too hard to the point of immense exhaustion.
On October 2016, there was a particular day where I woke up crying. I just got off the phone with a client, I was listing down tasks for an upcoming pitch, and a few hours later I was about to give a talk at a digital conference. A few days later, some art director from my dream publication (I won’t drop names) rejected my cover art without even paying me (I worked on three submissions. THREE!). And then, I was having back-to-back events without taking proper breaks and days off in between. It was this time also that I literally stopped doing lettering, except only when it was needed for work. (Who am I?!?)
Don’t get me wrong — none of the things that happened in those days made me cry. It was slowly discovering how crazy of a machine I was for working like my life depended on it (okay, pun intended — technically yes, but also, I am not my job). How the past two years have taken its toll on me without even realizing it. Yes, I’m #blessedt (with a t!), but I lost important parts of me in the process. I became tougher than usual (because I have serious trust issues and I like to shield myself that way), and my outlook in life became focused on succeeding (without realizing that success isn’t the end goal in my “life plan”, by any means — it’s fulfillment). It was horrible. I was so fixated on my idea of “making it” without even taking a step back and noticing the little things that made my work life a fun and fulfilling one.
This year really changed a lot of things for me (in a good way). Apart from my work life starting off slow (I took a two-month hiatus-ish…okay fine one month!), I started to dive into completely new work (such as doing a magazine). Suddenly, I found myself doing more of the things that inspired me to create in the first place — reading, writing, shooting. Telling stories and sharing them. I also found more solace in working with people, and letting down my guard for a change. Trusting people is not such a bad thing to do, after all.
In other news, I also reclaimed a lot of my time doing things that nurtured my physical and mental health: I can now workout in the morning without worrying about deadlines or client calls; I sleep for 8 hours now and my skin has improved (I have had bad acne ever since I was 13); I travel extensively and take time out to catch up with important people in my personal life. I worked on a book (my 4th!) earlier this year (around May to September) and luckily, I was well-rested and managed my expectations (in other words, I was more at ease beating through the deadlines than most of the projects I’ve done). I’ve also learned how to immediately say NO if I knew at once that it was an impossible task for me to do (given my schedule).
At this point, I’m still battling with work/life things. I’ve long accepted that there is no such thing as work/life balance for me, but what’s great about it is I get to combine what I love doing into my life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still harder than most things I’ve had to deal with regularly (imposter syndrome all day every day tbh), but I always tell myself it gets better, eventually. For now, knowing that “everything will be okay” is something I’m quite happy to live with.
Here are some things I’m going to leave you with that I’ve learned from dealing with my (almost) quarter life crisis (from 2015 up to this day). I tweeted some of my thoughts the other day and was surprised that most of my teen / young adult readers (hi y’all!) have replied and said they felt the same way. I wish I had someone to remind me when I was younger to watch over myself. So this is my way of reminding you to take care of yourself. 🙂
1) Living (and dealing) with #adulting
#Adulting is basically a struggle. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it looks. Every year it feels like getting thrown into a deep ocean and you have to swim all the way up by yourself (with a few life savers here and there, of course — that’s your friends and family). It’s not helping that I am the eldest in our family, I’m a Filipino-Chinese (y’all pressure is 1000x more than usual ok), and that I have set up such a high standard for myself (I hate myself sometimes). Not cool. Also, working on adjusting the standards part, I swear.
I’ve learned to live with these things and deal with them accordingly. Only because if I always felt like I have to battle with them regularly, all my energy will go down the drain. Some of these include: uncertainty (ugh my Capricorn self is shook tbh), rejection, fear, and of course, anxiety (Am I good enough? Did I disappoint person X? Is it okay that I submitted this? Am I really done with work today? Are you sure?).
2) Self-care, meditation, and sleeping early
I will always say this: treat yo self! Spend a few hours offline. Nowadays, I turn off the WiFi on my phone and curl up to read or write. It’s my way of unplugging from my “other” life for a while. It’s good to meet with friends and colleagues, but it’s also important that you set aside time for self-care. Make a list of things that you do to unwind — mine include: putting on a face mask, doing yoga, reading, catching up on series etc.
Also, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but try to meditate at least 3 minutes a day. I do this when I wake up (before getting out of bed). It’s a reminder to breathe, let go, and address all the thoughts in your head (fair warning: they are just thoughts and not all of them are real). In conjunction to this, trust me when I say sleeping for 6-8 hours will keep you a functioning human being the next day (and you will become less mad). Thank me later.
*For those asking: I use the Headspace app on my phone.
I’ve also found that whenever I get a work update or feedback at any time of the day (or anything that will freak me out in the next few minutes), I breathe in deeply. Inhale, exhale. It has worked wonders. Sometimes we get too caught up in the moment and forget to breathe, which is of course, life’s most essential thing to do. (Also applies if you’re very mad and you want to flip a table: take a deep breath ok. Lol.)
3) Have fixed work hours (or partly fixed ones)
My “work” schedule is usually a range of 8-10 hours in a day. Would you believe I worked for 15 hours in my early years of freelancing? I was horrible to myself. That was also when I 1) had a 9-5 day job and 2) worked after 10PM until midnight for freelance. A month after taking the big leap (April 2015), I started to work extra long (even on weekends) with the worry of having to “do so many things now that I have control of my time”. This was wrong. I ended up living through my waking hours with deep eyebags and a very dysfunctional brain (on the first few weeks of working on The ABCs of Hand Lettering). The freedom of having no fixed schedule should not mean you should fill up every vacant time slot with work. You can always stare at the ceiling for a couple of minutes and it’s totally fine. (Haha, half kidding!)
There are parts of my week that are considered “work” too — events, signings, workshops. When I have those plotted in my week, I make sure to take a day (or half day) off the next day to “recharge”. As an introvert, my “recharge” means working out, writing, watching a film—before gathering enough energy to resume my work for the remaining week. So I guess that sums up the “partly fixed” hours I put into myself.
On days where I go out with friends (usually for lunch or dinner), I make sure to start work early so I won’t feel guilty while I’m out. Of course, that’s not subtracting the fact that deadlines have to be met. I also discovered that (for me) starting work early helps keep the flow of my day in constant motion (like I don’t stop and say “I’m tired na!” lol). Usually, that’s 8 or 9AM until 5 ot 6PM. Time management really makes a difference. (Please take note that breaks in between a work day are valid.)
4) Making time for my personal life
I’ve never really told a lot of people that my main mantra is friends & family > work, but it is (so is Always Be Creating, lol). Sometimes, if my schedule permits, I get to combine both. But most of the time, I feel like making an effort to catch up with my “support system” has made all the difference.
My job is mostly a one woman team, and getting out of my “hermit place” (aka HQ lol) to see people is such a treat. At times, I also drive around the city to take my mind off things. The job I have can be quite consuming in a bad way (if you let yourself stay in one place for too long). I’ve also found traveling quite handy because it has helped me stay in tune with other parts of myself that I usually don’t take notice of when I’m here in Manila, working 24/7.
5) Don’t over-hype your life goals too much
I’ve learned the hard way with this. You know how we all have a list of what we want to achieve in life? I’m lucky that most of them have been ticked off. Give a TEDx talk? Check. Write a book? Check. Go to New York? Check. I still have more, but I’ve promised myself one thing: whether or not the remaining items on my list get ticks off will not determine my success as an artist — or a person, for that matter. I’m still me.
Right now as I’m typing this, my mind is wandering off to a few months from now, where I’ll be taking the stage alongside the people I highly look up to in this industry. Pinch me, I must be dreaming — but I am not. I’m terrified, excited, nervous, but most of all, challenged in a good way. Here’s another thing in my long list of things I want to do that will finally get ticked off. *cries, but also, goes back to work* But as much as I want to over-hype the thought, it’s just better to condition myself that it’s a good challenge to look forward to. Not the “I want to cry it’s finally happening huhu” because I’m really bad at acknowledging my emotions, let’s be real. (I’m excited though! There’s that!)
It’s taken me a good 5 years or so to tell myself that I’m credible to be in the position I am in. I always feel that I don’t deserve the things that come my way. So if there’s anything I’ve learned from my pessimistic attitude, it’s that it takes longer than most for your hard work to pay off. And let’s face it — timing is everything. The right time will come for the right reasons. (In cheesier terms, *fate*)
6) Cutting out toxic relationships
I’m always going to put this point through because growing up, I don’t really have a lot of friends (until now, I can only count them with my fingers). I used to think having less friends made me less of a person (blaming society for the concept of having to be always sociable; I am just not that person ok). It’s just that I find myself connecting on a deeper level with a selected number of people who make my life extra amazing and that in itself is enough.
2017 was a page-turner. I had to end some friendships and (unexpectedly) welcomed some new ones. Sometimes you don’t realize how toxic something is unless it just comes down crashing on you (using the wave metaphor here again; you get the drill). The universe is playing with me right now, and I’m not going to get mad. But it has been a series of closed and open doors. People come and go, but the best ones (and real ones) will stay, nonetheless. Keep them in your life.
Funny how it was through meeting people that I’ve learned one important thing: that I am still human at the end of the day. It’s nice to work and work and work (“the grind” as we call it) but earlier this year, I had a reminder that it’s still important to “chill” and “unwind” every day. And it has helped me believe in the concept that taking care of yourself is an actual thing. People really do it! (Omg I am such a bad self-caretaker lol)
Also, it takes a lot of tough love (from yourself and other people) to be reminded of an important thing: you have a choice to cut out people from your life. It’s your life, and it is determined by the choices you make. I’ve learned that being civil and generally at ease with people who were (surprisingly) interfering with my growth has helped me accept the casualties of this type of situation. It’s hard, I know. But it’s for the best.
Was that too much to take in? Yes or yes? Haha. I never really share these kinds of things online but I realized that I have to put this out in one way or another. Hope you find it useful, or at least something you can keep in mind as you go through your own journey in life.
Leaving you with one last thing to generalize what I’ve written here in this post: please take care of yourself. You deserve to be taken care of.