What now? (part 2)

It’s been a while since the last entry, and apparently there are still people who find this blog and read old entries – welcome, people! :)

But I would like to announce that this blog goes on hiatus for now. Not that difficult to figure out given last entry was in March, and both that one and previous one were pretty personal about the hardships I experienced. And I do not want to have this blog as an outlet for my inner thoughts, since it’s more for useful information. So I didn’t want to leave it at that.

Currently I’m still in Umeå, recovering from that last half a year at UID, but it’s a very slow process.

About UID, and IDI vs. IxD

UID is a very competitive environment. Which at first I really appreciated, seeing all those passionate people, as opposed to all the lazy student I studied with in my previous education. The good thing is that it’s competitive externally rather than internally. People work hard and encourage each other to work hard so that they leave the school as competent designers who are ready to make a change in the world. Sounds great, right?

Here comes the butbut it’s still a very high-stress environment. If you find yourself short of that epic motivation to  change the world, you just like designing, but it’s not your only reason to breathe and you don’t sketch every free 5 minutes you have you might eventually end up feeling… unfitting. Everyone will encourage you to do your best, to make an epic portfolio (emphasizing that you shouldn’t stress too much that it has to be epic) to land the best internship you always dreamed of. But if you just casually enjoy designing and thing it would be cool to work with it this hard-working environment and amount of encouragement might be overwhelming.

An ex-IDI student once told us that “IDI is the kindergarten of UID“, and it really stuck to me, because eventually I noticed it too. IDI was supportive, but relaxing, there was A LOT of socializing going on. We would do our work, and do it well, but we invested so much time just chilling on the couch and talking to each other.

IxD involved a decent amount of couch chill time too, but the theme of competitions, awards, doing extra stuff for the projects just to learn thing was prevalent. The constant “we’re here to learn” was very visible.

IDI was the entrance to the design world with “oooooh, so this is how things work here!“, IxD was “I have to do X, Y, Z to change the world through design“.

When I was in IDI I experienced the support of others and the family feeling (lots of social time, like I said), but that feeling was barely visible when I was in IxD. And I’m not the only one noticing it. The place which grew to it’s current fame and reputation started with that honest support and togetherness that motivated people and made them excel, slowly turns into a factory for designers where everyone will blurt out generic words of encouragement passing you on the way to their 15-hours desk-shift. Maybe I’m over-dramatizing here, but that’s how it started feeling to me. We talked about family feeling and support, but it became more of a verbal concept, a principle rather than something that you feel truly exists. But it could be a lot worse. UID is still friendliest and most personal place of education I’ve been to.

Also, the bonus is that you spend your 6-times-a-week 15-hours shift by a desk with regulated height (each student gets one of those!). So you can’t really complain :)


 

With that I would like to part my ways with this blog for the time being. Maybe one day I’ll come back here with an occasional update on my studies when I resume them next year. But for now thank you to whoever read it and found it useful :) You can still contact me on my email or facebook if you have any urgent questions, but I can’t promise quick responses, as this blog and matters around it are no longer my priority.

See you!

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What now?

It’s been a while since the last entry. I’m still here, alive and doing mostly fine. A lot has changed since I have written it. However, I feel like the time experienced back then left me with quite a lot scars and bruises, mentally, and it will take time to get back. I definitely believe in “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, so I plan learn from that experience. I don’t think I can make myself immune to pressure, expectations, disappointment, be it external or internal, but at least I know where the road leads to if I push myself too much.

So what’s going now? Currently I’m at the airport waiting for my flight to San Francisco where I’m going to attend Game Developers Conference. Thanks to being involved in organizing Global Game Jam, I qualified for one of the All-Access passes to the conference. Getting it is like dream coming true. My first possibility to face the gaming industry in person, and not just reading articles and books about it. I can’t be happier! And in San Francisco out of all places! I don’t even know how many years it’s been since I dreamed of going to US, and SF in particular! Even as I’m sitting waiting for my flight I think I still haven’t fully acknowledged this is all true. I’m as calm as never, and I was during all the days before the trip.

But that calm is also something that arrived after my breakdown. Shortly after the last entry I decided to take a break from studies. I’ve been thinking about it since mid-November, but I didn’t have the courage, I thought I can force my tired mind to push through. In December I learned that I got the pass to GDC, and with the new goal on the horizon trying to focus on the school became even more difficult, juggling all my responsibilities at school, and being afraid of losing “chance of a lifetime” if I don’t prepare right and get rest before GDC.

A few days ago I watched a couple of TED talks, and as usually with TED, they were very inspiring. I can relate very well especially to this one about the the inner “hum”. I got tired, overworked, by my own ambitions, I liked what I was doing, maybe I didn’t love it but I liked it a lot at least. But as the pressure continued and I had barely anything to balance with it, I just burned out. Seeing my motivated classmates and feeling guilty for lack of that motivation made me retreat. What I wanted was not to be as good as the, but have that passion that they have, because I know I used to have it, but I lost it somewhere along the way. However, my passion is different from their passion, mostly in how much I value entertainment (i.a. video games) and amount of non-profit things I like to engage in.

I was a vice president of the student union, chief editor of the school magazine with the unwavering sense of responsibility that that magazine has to come out every week, and no matter how little time I have and how tired I am, I will make that happen. At the same time I was organizing Global Game Jam in the city where I study. Trying to work on my portfolio to have something to show for myself. And of course the regular 6+ hours a day school work. Sounds pretty impressive. But it completely doesn’t feel like it to me. I did most of those things because I wanted to, not because it was expected or to get any direct benefits or recognition. I recently read about an “impostor syndrome” – people who do great things but don’t give themselves credit for it. Can that be? I don’t have any particular one great thing I did, but all of it together makes something, right? I feel uncomfortable when people praise me for those small things, because they don’t feel anything special to me.

I’ve spent 3,5 years in Sweden now. People ask me if I plan to stay here, and I always answer the same: I want to work on cool things with cool people, no matter where it is. And I was working on cool things, maybe they were small, but they had a lot of meaning for me and were enjoyed by people who were just receivers. But then the problem became the “with cool people” part, which was lacking, made me feel very isolated and alone in what I was doing. I don’t like working alone, I’m not looking to take all the credit for myself, I want to enjoy what I do with a reliable team of people with similar values. I didn’t feel that was the case. The social frustrations became so exhausting I had to quit.

Of course I can put all the blame on other people. I can’t change other people. I can change myself though, and be cautious about falling in such situations again. But changing one’s mindset is not easy.

It’s been a month and a bit since I started the break. It was the best decision I could have made and I don’t regret it one bit. But I still haven’t found my lost motivation. Another TED talk I watched was about “finding home”, finding your way back to the passion lost in the face of adversity. I realized that my entire life I wanted to design, graphic design, web design, game design, but always design. Being at UID made me feel that I can call myself a designer, even if I subconsciously knew I am a designer. I never wanted to do any other thing in life. I always wanted to design things for people. And I still do. I just have to find my path back. I know the destination, I just need to find the way.

I’m gonna wrap up this another insanely long entry of my personal reflections on my “luxurious problems” of being too ambitious, and not working with the right people.So what I do now other than waiting for my epic trip to start? I stay at home play games and try to survive the ups and downs delivered my brain, and find my lost motivation.

As a concluding thought I want to share this entry by Marc Merril, the CEO of Riot Games, because I found it very inspiring, and relevant to my case.

 

I’m not a superhuman

I just feel like saying it now publicly. There’s something that has been bothering me for quite a while. Currently I’m stressed and tired and really on the edge of completely burning out, but I keep going, because I don’t really feel like I have other options.

Tomorrow starts this year’s edition of Global Game Jam, which I’m organizing again. So there’s that. We’ve been talking about it for months, doing small preparations and such, but still there’s a lot of those last minute things to figure out and just get done. This year we also signed up to have a program on the GGJ radio, because it would be fun to do something more and it’s good to try to promote myself that way as well. We still have to plan and record the show, within the next 24-30 hours.

Then there’s Wozzop, the school magazine that I took on at the beginning of the year as an editor. I got 2 editors to help out, and when things got too hectic for me in December I asked them to handle it without me, and they did, which was great. But it was still just letting go of a very small part of my responsibilities. Now I’m back to working on it, and currently I have to handle editing the upcoming issue as well as organizing Global Game Jam. This is not optimal, but, well, I signed up for that, right? I guess I can do it…?

This year I also took on a role of a vice president of the school union, because my friend who was the president last year did such a great job that I wanted to make sure this year everything will be handled correctly. It does not really feel now like I have to do all that much, but all the communications, and just trying to remember about everything, and consider everything really weights down on me a lot. I knew it won’t be easy, and it’s not, I’m still trying to figure out how to handle things and people correctly.

Last year I started going to the gym pretty regularly, and I loved it, I had a great routine, and I followed it. I had energy and somewhat structured days. But that was the first thing I had to let go among all the other responsibilities. And that was the most important thing to me actually, because it made me feel so much better overall. But since my bike got broken in the end of November I don’t really have time to spend 30-60 hour on getting to the gym on foot to make it for my favorite classes. And I don’t even have time to get my bike fixed, because that takes another 30-40 min to go to a repair shop and pay some ridiculous price for a fairly simple job. Oh, have I mentioned that as I student I don’t have any income and I’m just sucking all the money from my family and can’t really do anything about it, because school and everything takes 100% of my time?

Really, without a bike I just feel so impaired, I can’t get anywhere, getting to school takes me 30 min instead of 10, that’s 1 hour instead of 20 min each day, same with groceries, days when I decide I can find time for the gym. But most of all, I just feel I have so many thing to do, I don’t have time for anything and I don’t know what to start with. I would so prefer to get a new bike rather than waste I have no idea how much time on fixing the old one… But I can’t do that obviously.

And then, last, there’s school. Yes, something that’s supposed to be my main focus, but somehow it never can be because of other things that take my time, attention, and arguably – which I believe give me more experience, energy and I enjoy them enjoy so much more. Everyone is working so hard, and I feel left behind. I need to divide my attention among all the other things, and all I feel instead of being somewhat appreciated for all I do is just the pressure of what I don’t do. Of course the easy solution would be – let go of the things that take your attention, and focus on school, but I really can’t just focus on one thing. I thrive in situations when I can switch between my options, except in this case expectations are too high.

All in all, I think I’m doing pretty well, surviving it all by now, but just week by week everything gets more difficult. Sometime I get a boost of energy from something and that keeps me going for a couple of days. I’m really on the edge of burning out, and I don’t want that. I don’t know how to handle it. Too much expectations, too little appreciations, frustrations piling left and right, and I feel I should be able to handle all that, but I can’t. Wait, that’s another expectation, right? Sometimes I do feel like a superhuman managing it all, but I’m not superhuman, and I can’t control everything, and I feel like soon I won’t be able to control anything.

There, honest story of an probably-ambitious UID student, who loves UID and being at UID, but not really being a student… Why do I always have to go the opposite way from everyone else?

I just needed to get it out, sorry if it’s too boring and personal.

Post-IDI Reflections

Since we have concluded our year as IDI, I thought it would be nice to write some final reflections about the whole year, what I gained from it and how was it in correlation to my expectations. I should have written it earlier, as that was my plan, but oh well, summer.

At the beginning of the year our course responsible made us write our expectations down, and we gave it back on one of the last days. (I’ll post a picture of it once I find the paper….) Writing this list I kind of had an idea of what we will be doing, from briefly talking to previous year IDI students and having one course at the school before. In the end most points got realized, not all, but also a few ones that I haven’t expected.

First, my big big expectation was to learn to sketch. I still remember the first week which I think was probably one of the hardest weeks of the entire year. And that was the sketching week. We weren’t given any clear rules about how things work, just told to practice. As a person with no prior experience with sketching/drawing or any sort of experience with art I was completely lost. I wanted guidelines with would help me kickstart what otherwise I knew would be weeks or months of practice, because there must be some of those, right? I was very frustrated and lost, and it seemed like I was the only one, and that thought for sure didn’t help. Most people had some sort of art/design background or liked to draw or paint as a hobby, so for them being told to practice wasn’t as horrible of a task. I did try to practice, but it never really become a pleasant thing, and I wasn’t seeing any results, which of course didn’t motivate me further. So in the end I did not learn to sketch. I know the blame is on me, but the amount of time and effort I would have to put in that discouraged me too much.

Then came some training projects, we spent A LOT of time in the workshop making, sanding, drilling our models. Two months later I hated that. We barely had weekends at that point. I was usually taking a Saturday off and back in school on Sunday, with most of the classmates actually. Working with foam models was pretty fun in the beginning, it was a bit frustrating, but not as frustrating as sketching, because the progress there was so much more visible and overall it was much more satisfying. Still, not having weekends and working with the same thing all the time became tiring, and eventually I got to dislike it.

However, what I learned from that is those initial weeks was that I can make things with my own hands. It sounds obvious, but I never really did much of that. And right now, even though I still can’t sketch, I became MUCH more confident in just doodling some idea rather than trying to describe it with words. That absolutely wasn’t a thing I expected to learn that year.

During the year we went through a number of various software and creativity methods. We learned some 3D modelling with Rhino, but a little bit late in the year and at that point it couldn’t be used that much for our upcoming projects. It was fun and definitely great to learn that, but I never got enough motivation to develop the skills.

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At this point I also started realizing that what I know is somewhat enough, my knowledge from before I started IDI would allow me to finish most project at a quite good level, without overworking myself and ending up too frustrated at things I don’t know. When the previous year IDI students told me you’re allowed to choose how you work I didn’t really understand that very well. But in the end it was exactly that. I came to IDI with quite big knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, webdesign, and some Illustrator. And that’s what I mostly relied on. I “cheated” my way through sketching projects by correcting the bad sketches in Photoshop, tracing photographs instead of drawing by hand or modelling in 3D software. Photoshop was my main tool, because I knew it, I was comfortable with it, and it was going fast. And what’s important – no one told me it’s wrong. Teachers just emphasized working in the most effective ways for oneself.

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But not to say I haven’t learned anything. I learned a lot of InDesign through making the school magazine Wozzop at least once a month. I never knew InDesign before, I wanted to learn it but there was never enough opportunity. I always liked editorial graphic design, so I invested a lot of effort in that, even though it wasn’t part of the curriculum. I got a glimpse of 3D software and movie-making so that next time at least I won’t be afraid of having to learn a completely new thing.

I was also invested in the student union. I organized a game jam and a library lecture on web design. And like I said I was working regularly on the school magazine. I was doing a lot of additional things, and that not necessarily taught me to organize my time better, but it showed me that I really can cope with managing several things at the same time, having quite hectic, but also satisfying life. I never had my priorities on commonly-expected so-called more-important-things. It’s like in games, I prefer the side quests rather than the main quest, but those side quests turned out to be so much more fun, surprisingly rewarding, and definitely keeping me in better mental health, despite the work load. In the end it is really about having the freedom of  doing what you’re most comfortable with.

My plan, apart from learning to sketch and make stuff was definitely about getting the credits to classify for Interaction Design Masters Program. Which in the end happened. I was quite confident in my previous educational background, so I knew I don’t have to work all that much, and I really did focus more on the developing skills and projects which were more profiled towards interaction design, while disregarding others. Not fully right approach, but I was never punished for it. In the end I did get into Interact Design Masters, I didn’t overwork myself in IDI, I still did learn some things, and overall my grand masterplan worked out pretty well.

The thing I expected the least from that year though was the amount of social interaction I had. Never in my life, in previous schools have I had such great classmates. We were from 15 different countries, but that never really mattered to me. We were just a group of friends, I got to meet some great great people, which definitely helped to survive that otherwise very tiring year full of hard work. Our WhatsApp group is still bustling with new messages, even though we finished the studies 3 months ago. Some people retreated to their life, I think me included, but I think everyone still has the feeling they are part of the group and they contact any of the classmates if they want to.

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So in the end it was a really good year, I think I learned more about myself, my ways of working, weaknesses and strengths, got cool friends, and definitely became more socially open due to the great classmates, while the actual learning from educational point of view wasn’t really the center point, what I expected. But it’s good, I definitely don’t regret studying IDI. And everything really depends on your own priorities and goals you want to achieve, since you have the freedom to work in whatever way you prefer.

Forestry project and groupwork issues

Currently we’re working on a project on service design for forestry. The project started in the beginning of April, but it really feels like it started just 2 weeks ago. We went on a field trip to the forest when we brooded in a deep snow/ice listening to a relatively boring (in my opinion) lecture. Then we were fed a ton of information, and told to read through boring scientific reports which were supposed to give us an overview of the industry and environment. In the way they did, but with the time given we only scratched the surface and which to me makes almost no difference whether or not I went through all the information. In fact, I just got the impression that everyone got confused from the amount of it and broadness, there was no clear target or problem. Sure, there are problems, quite a few, but we can’t solve all of them, and many are outside of our possibilities, e.g. influence on law and regulations and politics about forestry.

This project if a fully group project, and therefore it’s doomed for having various issues within the groups, and so it happened, and in this case the available information was our enemy. Difficulty in finding direction, agreeing on direction, people denying to read documents (I’m guilty of that too). But mostly about finding a direction and specifying ideas. From the beginning I knew I’d have to lead my group, but eventually the lack of ability to make decisions, and, in fact, lack of commitment to the group started to be a big obstacle. One day I came home really pissed off after an unproductive day of “maybes” and “perhapses” and illustrated our groupwork. At least I finally got a chance for “learning” some infographics/illustrations.

groupwork-cycle

The next day we tried to sort out our problems and also asked our program director to help us with that, which was a good thing. What I found funny at that conversation was that my remaining group members said we lack a leader, and then I wondered what was I doing all that time then. People generally don’t like groupwork and they have certain images of what leaders and leadership is about – making orders, decisions and delegating  tasks. And even though we got a brilliant and short book about working in teams, but who cares to read that? And that’s how we get those common misconceptions. I know I’m not the best leader, but I’m trying and learning, I can order, but I don’t want to, I want to make sure works get done, people stay on the right track, work is systematic, and I try facilitate to make decisions together, but nope, apparently that’s not leadership according to my group mates.

Either way, eventually we got passed that. Got a concept, which was the most obvious and simple idea, in my opinion, that I suggested not thinking anyone would approve of it, since it’s so boringly obvious, but in a way it still works. We continued working on it, with my idea and my quality standards I had the most amount of work. Oh well, if you want to get something done, do it yourself, right?

Presentation + idea + graphic design of materials all mine

Presentation + idea + graphic design of materials all mine

Anyway, that was the start. Now we’re nearing the end of the project. We had an internal presentation for our tutors on Friday that was in a way concluding main part of our project. Now we have to make a movie that would give some background to our project, without being a direct advertisement. And here is our group again, different ideas, constantly diverging instead of converging on ideas and making decisions, almost avoiding making decisions. I’m the only one writing stuff down to at least have some reference point to hold on to. In the end, it just feels like I’m forcing my vision onto others, but I really don’t know how else to encourage people to think of concrete ideas and watch out for “plot holes”. This project is quite exceptionally nerve-wrecking and testing my patience. In fact, I like the project itself, it just everything around it…