Photo Credit: raichinger, sxc.hu

It's 3:30 in the afternoon, I’m pounding the keyboard, writing HTML and CSS snippets in order to finish the last requirement of the exam I’m taking. My mouth was dry, my head was fuzzy, and some occasional glitches in my computer makes me squint and utter whispers, “Don’t let me down, old machine”, because well, I happened to sit with a PC with a generous 1GB of RAM! (RAM is the working table of a computer, the bigger the better, but 1GB is the ideal ten years ago!) As if the computer heard me, it managed to run Photoshop and Illustrator and let me finish the other requirements.

After a few hours, I asked the assessor what's the result of my examination, he nodded and made a thumbs up! Thanks God, I’m now competent in Visual Graphics Design under TESDA, one of our government institution that certifies individuals in various fields. I’m currently teaching Graphics Design to my students, so no matter what, I simply cannot fail or they would throw me out of the boat!

I’m the kind of person who likes to have excess - in preparation. I save for financial rainy days, put buffers on my schedule and learn as much about a topic I’m interested in. I read a number of design-related books (logo design, typography, grid systems, color theory, creative process) and watched numerous video tutorials about Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign so I can have the right stuff in my mind. I practiced on most of my free time to be proficient. I want to pass the test, and I want it bad enough. Practically, I over-prepared (Abraham Lincoln said, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” This principle never betrayed me.). And with the help of prayers, I managed to pass.

I’m not writing this to smugly declare my accomplishment and fill my ego bank. I’m indebted to countless teachers, both offline and online, in learning the skills necessary. I'm also thankful for my students, whom by their questions, pushed me to seek better answers and learn more.

Since July, I’m actively preparing for the examination. I have a vague idea of what would be required on the examination, so instead of wishing it was easier, I wished I was better. I looked for a higher bar to jump over, a more challenging target than design standards here in the Philippines. And after considering some options like 99designs.com, and crowdspring.com, I decided to test the waters of GraphicRiver.net.

What is that site? Pay it a visit and you’ll understand it more. GraphicRiver is a site where designers can pass design templates like logo, flyers, or magazine mock-ups, be reviewed by a team of professional designers, and once approved, be sold through the site. I’m convinced that the aesthetic sensibility and market potential required on every item submitted on the site is one of the highest. Customers worldwide are expecting nothing but the best, and anything less than “wow” would be rejected.

Well, up to this point, I’ve received 23 rejections and 3 approvals. A perfect stats for an inspirational movie? Though it never feels good to be rejected, I’m grateful for the rejections because they forced me to see my designs with an objective eye. And I’m telling you, it’s hard to have objectivity when you’re judging your own work! It might be a blog post, an app, a business card, or a music - whatever, creative work is hard work because you need to be brutally honest with what you’re making so you can improve creatively and purposely.

After receiving about 8 rejections, my inner tantrum started to get quiet and let me reflect with a clear mind. I’ve stopped thinking that my designs are infallible and the reviewers are just deluded, boy, I really need to improve! I’m challenged. I’m learning. And that’s good, progress is good.

In every facet of our life, I believe that seeking for progress is good. But sayings about contentment can erroneously squish the drive to get better if we don’t understand what it means to be contented on a deeper level. Before focusing our life eyes on the things ahead of us, we all need to look in the past and especially in the present and take account of the things that we have: relationships, lessons, grace, and countless gifts that makes our life beautiful. We need to be grateful first, even to the simplest ones before we’re qualified to look for greater or strive for betterment. If you’re not noticing the flowers on your runway right now and you’re hoping to witness beautiful flowers to your destination, I’m afraid that you won’t see them when you arrive, even it have the most beautiful flowers you desired. Why? A closed eye never sees; an ungrateful life never thrives.

If you just observe, it’s easy to see a lot of people looking for better things while failing to appreciate the good things they already have. It’s disheartening to see “successful” men in their middle age, men that have all the stuff that our consumerist society extols as the signs of success: money, fame and power, but living with a void that no accolades can fill.

But people with another erroneous view are also out there, they’re not on TV or trending on Twitter, they’re just hidden in a veil of belief that they don’t need to move in order to thrive. They stagnate and falsely claim that they’re contented, while expecting their God or their destiny to spoon-feed them of the things they want or need. Not seeing the dangers of parting faith and action, they defaulted to being spoiled. And when you’re spoiled, you can’t smell your own foul odor.

I’m subscribing to the principles of minimalism - eliminating the unessential stuff in our lives so we can focus on what’s more important. It’s not having less joy, but having the joy of less. As Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus has written in their book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, gratefulness is not a stopping point, it’s not a line where you stop growing, gratefulness is a starting point - a new beginning with joy because of the blessings we received and hope of betterment so we can add more value to others.

You might think that I’ve strayed too far from graphic design to life philosophy, but the direction of the thoughts you’ve just read is intentional. We people, no matter how smart we think we are, can constantly fall into two traps: one is movement without thankfulness and the other is thankfulness without movement. Both have numerous participants, but I dare you to participate in the best ideology - thankfulness with movement. Be grateful and moving.

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