What if you reclaimed your time?

Paul X. Johnson

Paul X. Johnson

I made a decision about a month ago to not renew my contract as a creative lead for a PR firm. I had been in the position for only 3 months, but it wasn’t working out for me as well as I had hoped (remember this equation?)

I took it on to help out a friend, who needed someone to help out with the team on fleshing out the creative side of client briefs and campaigns. I was the go-to person when it comes to working out imagery that would work; the piecing together of visuals, style and form to form an effective campaign. That I did.

I went in without knowing if it would work; whether I was up for the job, or if I would fail terribly and end up embarrassing myself and the firm. So I took it on as a challenge. I told myself that it was something I hadn’t tried before (not in a formal capacity anyway) and so ahead I went. It soon dawned on me – it wasn’t whether I was up for the job or not; but in the end it really boiled down to me asking myself, “is this really what I want?”

It came in small whispers – it doesn’t feel right. You’re not happy. I had a knot in my neck that didn’t seem to go away. I felt as though time was slipping away like sand between my fingers as I tried to hold on as tightly as I could. Where did the time go?

Although I loved working with great colleagues, it wasn’t for me; it ate away at the time which I’d rather spend on other things – like Pikaland. Having the amount of hours you could spend on something you love cut short by other commitments really helped me refocus and find clarity. For example, I had been faffing around with the redesign of the blog for a few months, but when I left my position, I instantly got to work and got everything out there within a week. I started with just an inkling of an idea and turned it around into a full-blown working website design within a few days. I felt incredibly happy.

Maybe it was a burst of timely inspiration. And maybe it was. But more importantly, it was me realizing and thanking the universe for the gift of time that has been given back to me. And I didn’t want to waste time in getting back to the work I felt I was meant to do.

When I was working at the PR firm, I asked myself constantly – what could I be doing with my time instead? Don’t get me wrong – having built up a creative direction for a campaign really convinced me of what I was capable of. But I didn’t just want to do work that I was capable of. I wanted to do more. I wanted to do work that thrills me to no end (well, maybe for the most part!) I want sleepless nights not because of clients and their imminent deadlines breathing down my neck – but because I was excited that I couldn’t wait till morning came so I could get right to it.

It was a great opportunity, many people said. “You’re crazy – I would relish the opportunity,” said one. I thought so too – if it were 5 years ago. But the beauty of it was that if it were indeed 5 years ago, I wouldn’t be given the same opportunity. I could only laugh at the irony of it all.

What I gave up might be an wondrous opportunity for others, but I knew it wasn’t for me. So instead of hanging on to a title that would eventually kill me, I’d rather part ways to focus on things that wake me up with purpose. Plus, on the flipside, I like to tell others that it isn’t very nice to hang on to positions/jobs that doesn’t quite fit you – what if someone who really loves it comes along, only to have it occupied by someone else?

I didn’t regret the experience one bit – if anything, I know better what I am capable of. Learning through stretching myself has always surprised me in good ways, and I am grateful for the amazing experience that was offered to me. Rory Cochrane once said: “I do not regret the things I’ve done, but those I did not do.” – and it certainly rang true in my case.

The good thing about having your time given back to you? You’ll appreciate it that much more. I know I do.


I’d like to know – if you could reclaim your time, what would you do with it?


My Work/Art/Play online class will be happening this September! To make sure you’re not missing out on details and to be the first to know when registration opens, click here to sign up! (psst, you can also read up on what our past students thought of it too!)

[Illustration by Paul X. Johnson]

How to stretch yourself

Surrender by Penelope Dullaghan

Surrender by Penelope Dullaghan

Here’s a secret about me: I love to exercise. Having been exposed to different sports training while I was in high school it only made me love my body more when it’s in movement.

I’ve been on various teams: rhythmic gymnastics, volleyball, hockey, running, mountain climbing, and taekwondo – all at the same time. And when I’m not at school picking up a ball, I’m at home skipping rope and doing mat pilates. Early morning swim runs with my childhood friends remain in my memory as one of the fondest activity we get together for. Being in the water makes me feel as though I’m fully immersed in the moment – as though my body is one with all that is around me. This was why I mentioned that drawing for me, is like swimming.

But age catched up. I found that I could no longer run without feeling it in my knees afterwards. I took cautionary steps to alleviate the pain, but after many years of following Mr. T along with his run, I’ve decided that it wasn’t for me. So now I concentrate on doing yoga flows and pilates stretches instead because it helps me open up my shoulders – hunching over my keyboard or Wacom tablet for long periods on end makes me feel as though a curled up ball of wrangled nerves at the end of the day.

With any yoga pose (or anything at all, really), practice makes perfect. But one particular pose has eluded me for many years – the yoga push up (also known as the four-limbed staff pose). For those who don’t know what a yoga push up is, it’s basically a push up but instead of your arms being the same position as your shoulder when you bring your body down, it’s instead at a 90-degree angle, with your upper arms running parallel to your torso, so that your body weight rests on the middle of your body instead of the top of your body (and your wrists are holding your body weight up at the middle!) I just read that last sentence and oh man, here’s a case when a picture tells a better story.

So I have lousy upper body strength it seems, and no matter how much I try, I fall flat on my face every time – never mind that just getting to that bit was a torture in itself. Imagine this: You’re ready to do a push up. You square your hands, resting your hands firmly on the mat. You take a deep breath, and hope that this time will be it – it’s the time you won’t fall flat on your face because your arms betrayed you. So on to the beginning of the descent – a few inches down – and oh boy! It’s looking pretty good so far. A couple more inches, and your upper hand begins to quiver no matter how tightly they’re tucked away at your sides. Your thigh begins to feel nervous, trembling at intensity of keeping the body parallel to the floor. And during that last pivotal moment when you’ve almost hit that 90-degree angle, your body gives way, and everything – your hands, thighs, torso and all – come crashing down in a tangle of limbs.

I thought to myself there’s no way that I could do it. Some muscles obviously did not get the memo that this is the one thing that is still on my list.

My poor yoga mat almost has an imprint of my face from the many times I’ve landed face first into it. But I still kept at it. Lately, I mixed up my routine a little and instead of letting myself fall, I allowed myself to go as far as I could without diving head-first into the mat. And then, right before I felt that familiar jelly-like feeling creep up my hands, I come up for a cobra pose (here’s what that looks like).

It felt really good. I did a couple more each time.

And today, I tried the yoga push up again on its own, and I was surprised at not landing on my face. In fact, my face was an inch away from the mat as my body balanced itself parallel to the floor. I blinked in surprise. I held myself that way for a few seconds – in disbelief. It was surreal. I did it. And then I did it again. It wasn’t a fluke!

My shoulders were hurting afterwards – as though I had worked out muscles I never knew were there in the first place. It was throbbing with a dull ache, warm to the touch and tight. I felt proud.

I believe that we never stop growing or stretching ourselves. The biggest takeaway for me from this whole exercise (pun intended!) is that it takes time to practice anything at all. Whether it’s yoga, drawing, or doing your own business. You might think that you don’t have it in you, but it’s all there. Every bit of it. You just need to find your way, and maybe you’ll fall down like I did (and I don’t just mean on the mat!) but you’ll soon find the strength you never had.

When that happens, it’ll just take you completely by surprise.

And then you’ll be proud.


Is there a hurdle in your life that you just wish you can get over? Whether it’s something physical, or even if it’s a mental block – what have you been doing to move past it? Share your thoughts right here with me in the comments below!

[Illustration: Surrender; by fellow yoga-loving illustrator Penelope Dullaghan, via Scott Hull]

We’re made up of tangled strings

Amy Ng, Ball of String

 Amy Ng, Ball of String

There were bags and bags of potato chips around. A container full of soda and a seemingly never-ending supply of ice around each corner of the room. The floor was littered with bean bags of all different shapes, sizes and colours, like oversized candy pillows.

As I step into the room, friends greeted me left and right. “Hey Pikaland!” they’d shout as they gave me a fist bump. It’s a place where your Twitter handle’s your first name and other things immaterial slide to the wayside. Race, gender and language dissipates: leaving behind only the love of ideas and the technology that can bring them to life. It was a place where fingers worked hard to keep up with the stream of code that pours from one’s mind.

It was 2011 and a hackathon (a hacking marathon) was in full swing. But I wasn’t a hacker.

I came to the event, knowing full well that my coding skills were amateurish at best, and riddled with problems at worst. But that didn’t deter me at all. I knew these amazing bunch of people from monthly meetups that brought together people from the tech industry. This included everyone from big corporations to small start-ups; from entrepreneurs to family businesses – all looking for a way to leverage technology to help them navigate this new era we all live in. The hackathon was one of the many events that brought them all together to work on ideas that could change the community, or the world for the better.

I saw a friend sitting in a booth with 3 other guys, and scored an invitation to come join them. I’m an illustrator, I said – and they all remarked that it was incredibly cool that I get to work with my hands. I told them that they’re doing exactly the same thing – the only difference was the output; everything else was generated through good old-fashioned brain power.

We talked a lot during my time at the hackathon – we talked about business, competition and how developers find freelance jobs (oDesk was a good place to find talent, and elance.com can sometimes come up short). I got myself a Dribbble invite and learned that one of the guys at the table worked for Envato. We talked tech, but we also talked a lot about business, and life as an entrepreneur. The room was 98% guys and I was just one of the few girls who participated – but I wasn’t made to feel any less competent. Instead, I was celebrated as a wild card, a secret weapon that the group had over the rest. It was tremendous fun.

Though our group worked through the night, we didn’t win. It was a dating app called Icebreaker that offers introverted, shy tech guys topics that they could talk to girls about. At first I was a little perplexed by the idea, but then I came to understand why they might need such a thing to kick start a conversation (remember, this was back in the day when the term introvert hasn’t blown up yet!) I contributed quite a bit to the cause: I came up with most of the topics and lines for the app and vetoed the ones that didn’t fit (or would most likely scare girls away), and an illustration for it as well (boy, were they tapping into my strengths!)

All in all – I had a great time. Why?

  • I didn’t let the fear of not belonging stop me from being there.  (remember, I could count the number of girls on my hand, in a room full of guys)
  • I didn’t feel bothered that I wasn’t adequately skilled in programming – I had other skills to offer
  • I genuinely had an interest in tech and I wanted to learn more by immersing myself head on in this intense event! plus;
  • I’m a geek at heart

Why am I telling you this?

I wanted to remind you that you’re more than just an illustrator or an artist.

Your skill set isn’t just limited to what you can physically and technically achieve. Drawing, painting, and illustrating may be your output – but what matters very much is the input too: the things you read, the people you meet and talk to; and the experiences you collect along the way. The combination of all these inputs manifests in an incredible process that makes you truly unique, along with the output you produce.

We’re all more than just a label we put on ourselves – we’re complicated and unpredictable – a giant tangle of strings that come from many different sources. Each string mingles, crisscrosses and even blends into others to form new strands – of personalities, knowledge and beliefs – that further defines who we are. We’re not just one ball made up of one homogenous string.

So let’s do a bit of an exercise: let’s put the term artist aside for a while – what else do you consume? What else do you do? What else do you know? What topics do you love? What defines you as a person? Share them with me in the comments below!


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