Small steps

Hi! So I’ll just go ahead and get this out of the way: I’m not Luki. Luki is a smart and successful businessman who helps many people. I am a first-year computer science student who spends too much time watching The Office. However, what I do have in common with Luki is the belief that the future is something to be thought about in the present, and we should constantly strive for self-improvement in preparation for that. So hi, my name is Youyee; I’m not as smart as Luki (yet), but I hope you’ll find something of use in the reflections that I’ll occasionally share here.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, let me tell you about how I came to spend the entirety of last Saturday on Adobe Illustrator.

A few months ago I joined the design team of a club because their IT team was full. Something I feel I should mention here is that I have no graphic design experience. My experience with art primarily comprises some dodgy-looking mindmaps that teachers always seemed to want for homework in high school.

“But why would you agree to be on the design team if you’re bad at art?” you might ask. Well the truth is I’ve always kind of liked design. Even though I was bad at it, those dodgy mindmaps were actually the assignments I enjoyed the most, and I had a lot of fun doing them. So when the opportunity presented itself to do something in design for real, I said: why not?

Last week, I got my first assignment as a designer, a promotional banner. Fairly straightforward. And also terrifying now that my “Why not?” was starting to have real implications I had to deliver on. I spent a good few days trying to figure out what it should look like, doing lots of sketches on pieces of paper and labeling them like I had seen my artist friends do. Then I opened up Illustrator (which I also had little experience with) and recreated the best of the sketches, relying mostly on my new best friend the rectangle tool. After two or three hours, I took a step back to look at the finished product.

And… it looked terrible. The information was all there but the colours looked bad and the design looked boring. For a brief period I felt legitimate panic because I knew it looked bad, but I didn’t know how to fix it. I began to question if maybe agreeing to this had been a bad idea after all.

But I had agreed to it, so now I needed to fix this terrible banner. Step one? Search “nice banners” on Google Images. (Not even joking, that’s literally what I searched.) Step two: Look at the designs other people had made to see if I could gain any inspiration.

I finally figured out that all I really needed was a nice pattern to go in the background. Great! Cue another four hours spent googling how to do that. Then finally, ten hours after I first sat down to work on the banner, I gleefully submitted my final design at 2 am and felt immense pride when my supervisor deemed it “fine”.

I think sometimes we have the tendency to hold ourselves back because we think, “Oh that’s not for me. I could never do that.” I know I do this. And you know people always say that it’s OK, you shouldn’t be afraid of failure and you should just try. I never really got that because I just felt like it was so much easier said than done.

I’m not going to pretend that just because I learned how to use the fill tool that suddenly everything is going to be okay and I’ll be an amazing designer. But this experience was one of the first times that I really realized that it can be okay to step outside my comfort zone. I’ve always thought I was a math and science person who could never do art, but here I was, doing art, and the world hadn’t exploded. I ran into problems, sure, but nothing that I couldn’t at least attempt to fix.

The scariest part was taking the first step. Something I didn’t mention is that when I was offered a position on the design team, I freaked out. What if I did poorly? Could I even do design? Should I? I’m a computer science student; would it make more sense to apply to do IT for another club instead? But I decided to go for it anyway because I realized that all other concerns aside, I did want to take this position. The only reason I hadn’t accepted already was because I was afraid of what would happen. And isn’t that such a silly reason not to do something you really want to do?

An author I’m a fan of, Maureen Johnson, once said: “Fear is a snake with no venom.” Fear by itself is not something that can hurt you. It’s just an emotion. Of course, sometimes there’s good reason to listen to our fears, like maybe you’re out with some friends and you pull out your phone and you have eight missed calls from your mom. But sometimes fear is just nonsense. It’s an instinct, a reflexive reaction to the unknown, but you are the one in control and you are the one who knows which you should really be listening to, your heart or your mind.

So I guess this is an encouragement to any of you who want to get out there and do something new or something big. Go do it!! I know it’s terrifying. It’s OK, so is everyone else! We can all be terrified together, and then when it’s all done we’ll come out the other side stronger and better, and we can laugh about how we were once so afraid to take that first step.