What if you don’t like social media?

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It’s everywhere.

Pictures, updates, tweets. From people you know, people you follow, people you like, heck, even people you don’t know.

Social media isn’t going away, so why not just embrace it right? If you can’t beat them, why not join them?

Scars and selfies

I’m not particularly keen on having my pictures taken.

When I was a teenager I had horrendous cystic acne that could have scarred me for life. That whenever I walk to class, I might be ambushed by some well-meaning (yet tactless) folk who would look at me and ask “why is your face like that?” I couldn’t look in a mirror for a year or more because when I look at myself I would cry. Or that when I got up in the morning my pillowcase would be spotted with blood and pus from the night before.

The scars and pimples have mostly gone away. The ones you could see anyway. The ones deep down – those are hard to shake off.

So I cringe when I think about having to take a photo. My mind goes into a bit of a tailspin.

“Dang it, I have an oil slick on my face.”
“I’m not pretty, why am I in this picture?”
“No, I’m not ready!”

It used to be that when pictures were taken, they wouldn’t see the light of day. I’d rest easy because who would go through those pictures anyway? I would nervously laugh and think that it’s okay. I was mostly right. Like old photographs that belong in photo albums, your audience would be your Uncle Marvin or Aunty Yvonne – mostly family, and rarely shown to anyone else.

These days, however, whenever I hear a shutter click (or a phone click), I freeze up. Those photos aren’t just going to sit in a soon-to-be-forgotten album. They’re going out to the whole wide world. Before you know it, that picture with my face on it will be uploaded, tagged and bandied about, dangled in public waiting to get some likes and shares. My thoughts at this point: I feel like an animal who was an unwilling participant in a photo-op at the zoo, trying to claw its way out of the frame.

I’m self-conscious, with a side of self-loathing going on. Throw in some jealousy plus envy, and there’s that: the reason for my lack of updates, photos or selfies on social media. I don’t have a strong reaction to those who do post them, however – my motto is and has always been to do whatever you like.

If you ask me to take a selfie together with you though (effectively making it a wefie), I hesitate a bit before my brain tells me to snap out of it: by golly, smile and make sure you look at the right place so you won’t look like a dork when it’s plastered on Instagram or Facebook. OK? Here we go!

What I do instead

Seeing as I’m not brave enough to have my face on the screen most of the time (these people are brave, in my book!) or that I don’t share a lot of stuff online, you can bet that my social media feed isn’t the best place to hang out. If it were a room, you’d see cobwebs and the occasional visitor saying “is that it?” and then leave to find where the party’s at.

But that’s fine with me. I’ve always been a private person anyway. Even Mr. T still thinks I’m mysterious – and this is after 15 years together. And that’s how I like things. I don’t clutch at memories, going all possessive and hissing “MINE, ALL MINE” – it’s just that I’m not inclined to share them with anyone else, because while they mean a lot to me, I’m acutely aware that they might not mean much to other people.

You still can share them anyway – I can hear you say. True, I can. But I choose not to. Well if you’re a more private person like me, what should you share? For me, it’s not just about what I’m sharing, it also has to do with how much I share. I share the things I’ve seen (sometimes). The places I’ve been (maybe). And some of the things I hope that others might find useful (not often enough).

Should I worry that I’m not keeping up on social media? Maybe.
Would it affect how others look at me? Maybe.
Would I be forgotten? Maybe.
And that’s okay.

You see, if I did force myself to post on social media more than I’d like, it’s akin to feeding an imaginary monster because you’re scared that it might just eat you up. So you throw everything you have at it in the hopes that you’ve fed it enough for the day. Until tomorrow. And the day after. It’s very, very tiring. That’s not what I want, so I chose to opt out of keeping up with the rigorous schedule needed to sustain a social media presence.

Of course, some people actually do like the monster (in which case they’re no longer known as one). They’re real good friends with it and they have a beautiful relationship that’s based on mutual trust and respect. That’s perfectly fine too. I’m envious – jealous even.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to toss the monster a bone.

You know where to find me.

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I’d like for you to share with me – am I the only feeling this? What’s your relationship with social media like?

Illustration by Manjit Thapp

Things money can’t buy

Note: This was a post that I wrote for a local student magazine a few months back which I think would be useful to share here too. Enjoy!

Thomas Bayrle

Whenever I step into a classroom, the first question that I get asked is this: which profession in the design world makes more money: animators, graphic designers, or illustrators? Or how about multimedia artists or videographers? My reply was that there’s plenty of ways to make money – lots and lots of money perhaps. Not all of them are in the design industry. But all of it comes with a price. Heck, sometimes jobs that make the most money aren’t even legal, and you can bet that they’re dangerous. So again. There are plenty of ways to make money – not all of them are good. So herewith the question beckons: why all this talk about money first?

I can understand – I was once a student myself.

I was once so poor that I had to split a plate of economy rice with my friend. For those who don’t know what economy rice is, it’s a shop where they have 20-30 different kinds of side dishes that go with rice, ranging from meat dishes to vegetables, to other condiments. It’s popular with students because it’s fast and cheap – just grab a plate of rice and scoop up whatever you want and go to the counter to pay for what you’ve scooped. Back to the story: we had RM2.00 between us left for food. We went up to the lady in the restaurant and showed her the coins we had left and asked her what we could have from her array of dishes. I wasn’t sure if it was pity, or understanding – but she scooped what ever was left over from a few dishes and gave us each an egg to top it all off. We were thankful for the meal and conveyed our thanks to the lovely shopkeeper – whom we fondly patronised for as long as we studied there.

We weren’t flush with cash. We didn’t have shopping malls. And we didn’t even have McDonalds around each corner (this was in the year 2000). Money was tight – purchasing art supplies, books and endless trips to the printing house made sure of that. Whatever was left we scrimped on food. Bread was a staple at the time too – when we’re running out of time and cash, nothing fills you up faster than a roll of chocolate bun with a sticky black pseudo-chocolate filling with a side of lukewarm water.

It’s all very different now, of course. You have malls, left, right and centre. Fast food kiosks as far as the eye can see. Gourmet restaurants abound; and you’re spoilt for choice. Temptation in its many forms that clue you in on what money represents. And that’s just food. Let’s not even wander into the fashion industry, or the giant virtual malls that reside within the internet – one that offers a gateway to everything and anything your heart desires; open and available 24/7 with a mere click of a button and a working credit card.

I don’t blame you at all for thinking that cash is king. Money buys you lots of things. It buys you good food. Rad clothing. Fun toys. The best equipment and art supplies. And all these things make you happy. It’s a rather straight forward equation. Or is it?

The thing about money though, is that it doesn’t buy you freedom. When you’re doing things purely for money, you’re a slave to it. And it becomes your master. You’ll find yourself slaving away for him, in exchange for something that won’t be able to buy the things that truly matter. Things like love, friendship and time.

We’re living in a time where we constantly consume. We don’t create as much as we should, and this is a shame; because if we’re not creating, we are most likely consuming instead. Our eyes are fixated on screens while our wallets are empty. Our hearts grow heavy with greed; an endless, bottomless pit that desires more, more, more. The indescribable emptiness that spreads across our chest even as we move from one novelty to the next. One day we’ll find ourselves wondering what happened along the way that made us lose more of ourselves, little by little, piece by piece.

We’re all essentially broken – in fragments and bits, scattered around us in the people we love, the places we live in and the experiences we’ve yet to discover. Gathering those pieces and putting them together is what makes us human, and it’s what makes us special. We’re made up of everything, and yet we’re nothing. Money is merely an enabler and not the destination.

Do the things you’re good at, and the things that you love. Pick up the fragments and pieces of yourself through the work you do, so that you may put yourself back together. Figuring out how to do it is the best part about growing wiser. In the beginning you will be poor. You might have to share a plate of economy rice with a friend to get by (I hope not). But you’ll do better. The trick is to get better at the things you love, and to be nourished by the things you learn and the experiences you pick up along the way. Always endeavour to leave a mark. So much so that other people start to notice and respect you for what you do, and why you do it.

And you’ll realise along the way that the “why” isn’t always about the money.

It rarely ever is.

[Illustration: Thomas Bayrle]

Changing careers: Why it’s not just about following your passion

Ana Yael

It starts with being very scared of what’s coming next.

That you don’t know what you’re doing. That you’re unsure whether things will work out the way you hope it would. The doubts that creep up around the edges, just when you think you have everything planned and under control. The butterflies in your stomach do double duty, and teeth grinding becomes a nightly affair. How your jaw clenches and your fist curls up into a ball when you think about what you’re going to do. It’s not fear – it’s enthusiasm. Or so you think.

When I left my full-time job eight years ago, that was me.

The decision didn’t come about after reading books that told me to go and find my passion. I don’t remember such books existed back then – the closest I got to was “What Colour is my Parachute?My journey was never one in pursuit of passion. It was one born out of curiosity. Finding my passion was merely a result of being extremely curious and doggedly persistent. Was I scared? Yes. Did I care? Not really – I was young, and I didn’t have much to lose. I was lucky. Looking back, I’m not sure if I have the courage to do it all over again.

I graduated with a landscape architecture degree – which took me four years to complete. I pushed that piece of paper right to the back of my bookshelves after I left university and entered the field of publishing. After climbing to the top of the proverbial ladder, I made the big leap and became a freelancer as I worked on Pikaland. Along the way, I tried out and learned a few things too – visual merchandising, copywriting, PR. I even learned how to sew when I couldn’t get a job, because I wanted to do something useful with my time. I didn’t know what I’d do with the skills and knowledge I’d amassed, but learning them meant that I could identify patterns through information that I’ve absorbed, and process it in a way that was unique to me.

If an older person saw how my real, actual CV looked like they would have choked on their coffee and have a heart attack right in front of the desk where they would have worked for 20 over years. They’d think I was scatterbrained, lacked focus, with no ambition or drive. They’d think I was crazy for jumping from one job to another while I had a professional degree stashed away in the corner, collecting dust.

But throughout it all, I knew what I was doing even though I didn’t know where I was going.

I wasn’t job hopping. I was meticulous – my moves were calculated and strategic. My intention was to absorb as much experience as I could, in careers that interested me in the very slightest. When I was an undergraduate, I would spend my time browsing books on art, physiology, and even cooking (besides spending a lot of time in the architecture section). I turned every job interview I had into a fact-finding mission. I made an appointment with a Pilates teacher in Singapore to talk to her about what it would be like to be one. I spoke to a florist and asked her what her job entailed. What their day would look like. What they wish they knew before they went headlong into it. I didn’t know them beforehand – I was just curious. I asked so many questions.

I belonged to an awkward time – when the internet was in its infancy and I still had my Nokia phone (anybody remembers how awesome the 3310 was?). Google was unheard of, and IRC and ICQ was the hottest thing online. Any information I had to go on came from books, newspapers, and magazines; and I knew it wasn’t enough. So I improvised. I looked for more. For information that didn’t come packaged up into nice, glossy pages. I was hungry for the truth. The bad. The good. I needed to hear them all. So I talked to whoever I could find, who didn’t mind answering the many questions I had.

It’s now 12 years since I’ve graduated from university and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have spent 8 of those years on Pikaland – a blog that I started because I was curious about illustration. It led me to many years of self-study into the process and ideation behind illustration and creative entrepreneurship, where I got to know many wonderful, talented people along the way. I started fun projects and ended some. I began to teach and it unearthed another passion that I didn’t realize I had. Life is funny that way.

I still need a reminder every now and then about pushing through the scary bits, even though it’s been many years since that first major one. Reliving how I emerge whole (not unscathed though) through the other side is a fun reminder of how far I’ve come and how much more growing I still need to do. Which is why when Communication Arts contacted me for an interview about my career trajectory, I was a little surprised. But as it turned out, I did have some great stories to tell, which you can read here.

If you’re thinking of changing careers, the best advice I can give you is to keep an open mind. Pikaland was possible only because I went out and tried to find myself. I was curious about everything, and especially where I fit in with the world. I made mistakes. I had breakthroughs. I made my own opportunities. I lost out on a few. It was hard. And while the fear remained, it was also very easy to say no when I felt that things weren’t right. I’ve said no to major job opportunities that would have meant going back to publishing (and beating myself about it when things were rough). I had a path to clear, and I couldn’t stop – I had to go forward. I pushed on until I could see that clearing, beckoning. To everyone else, it may seem as though I finally found what I was looking for all those years. But it wasn’t something that I found – it was an idea that grew wings of its own. Remember how I said I knew what I was doing even though I didn’t know where I was going? Well, I still don’t know where I’m going – but I’m still here, and I’m curious to find out.

In turn, I’d like to ask youhave you ever thought about changing careers? What does a perfect career look like to you? What’s stopping you from making the leap and what are your concerns when it comes to forging your own career path? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Illustration by Ana Yael
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