Hang on tight to the first agreement

Very often I have to remind myself that every success is dependent on numerous acts of sustainment, commitment, and continuous strategy — and in summary, patience.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post on a list of things one needs to have in order to become a UX designer. These were the days when the UX practices were still in its fledgeling stage, and if there were companies at the time could afford the time and money to spend on research, it would be the likes of IDEO. There were a number of similar posts where it listed down ‘passion’ as one of the criteria, of which I did not deny is just as essential. But in my post I wrote that, more so than the fiery spark, that supernova energy that propels one into the idea of wanting to become a UX designer rather than just mere pixel pushers and help businesses do better, is that one needs to have patience and commitment. I wrote something along the line of, in the fast-paced industry such as tech industry, one needs to have patience and commitment more so than passion, because it is tech industry after all, we work in versions, not a finished magnum opus. The learning curve, while might be as steep as it was when one started, would always be there. This is an area of incessant learning and tweaking. This notion of patience however, did not sit well with a lot of readers, particularly in the time when discourses of burnout weren’t widely talked about yet. It was also the time when UX field was in its early stage of gaining recognition, so it was understandable that there were lots of fresh designers ready to venture into UX, bright-eyed, eager to experience come what may. But that’s the thing about passion and disruption, it burns, it disrupts. Without strategic patience, sustainment and commitment, pretty soon when the novelty of the field starts to wear off these young blood would soon go out to look for other injections of dopamine boost. Jenny Odell, in her much talked about book that I still wasn’t able to shut up about, wrote about the importance of the acts of maintenance and care when she noticed the workers tending to the rose garden she often visited, “Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.”

In this very same premise, maintenance should be a crucial feature of the technologies we design as well. Noah Brier in a WITI edition wrote about the reason he chose Omnifocus above other task management tools out there — it was because the app has the feature called Weekly Review that no other apps like it does. “Each project in Omnifocus has an option to set a review cadence. Whether it’s once a week or every two months, you can then go through all your projects that are up for review and check in on them,” Noah wrote. I have never used Omnifocus before — at my previous workplace, we used Basecamp and I am currently relying on Notion for my personal use — but I agree this feature is something, especially distributed teams, would find extremely useful. It would perhaps eliminate the need for a daily or weekly short meeting at the start of the day to check in what everybody is working on, and if the distributed team does not work in the same overlapping hours, they can check what’s going on the moment they sign in. Vaughn Tan wrote about the importance of maintenance by design, “The most common way to think about maintenance is as a process of finding and fixing broken stuff— maintenance as the routinised search for problems. This allows many small fixes (easier and usually cheaper) instead of a big one (harder, requiring more downtime, more expensive).”

I chanced upon these words from author Luis J. Rodriguez, who wrote Always Running, in Book Post newsletter today, which also made me think about sustainment and commitment a lot:

In writing, as in any artistic endeavour, nothing is guaranteed. You may not get published. You may not become known. You may not even be able to earn enough to pay your bills. But if this is the heart of what you care about, then you have to do it and do it as well and as persistently as you can. It’s about a primary agreement to live out your inner story. Hang on tight to the first agreement between yourself and the universe. This is the source of real authority, the root of “authoring.” This is where you enter the realm of ownership, responsibility, and, ultimately, freedom. There are many obstacles arrayed against the poet, writer, musician, and artist in this society. That’s on society. But if you give up, that’s on you.

Speaking of sustainment: Writing 300 words every day had closely become a chore I dread these days. I am thinking of taking a break but in a way that I will not be deprived of this intellectual stimulation — I worry less about input as I still read voraciously every day, but more about output. Any ideas on how do I navigate this?

Reading today:

  • “But to me, the film’s critique is nothing new. The Korean language and culture embody class stratification, and I was frustrated because I wanted everyone to recognise the ubiquitous nature of the class stratification that happens every day, in every conversation, which isn’t apparent in the subtitles. This ability to navigate the language, even for an immigrant turned naturalised citizen like me, is how you keep in touch with culture. Perhaps this is where translation fails, with the nuances of emotional understanding.” Bong Joon-ho’s film is even more nuanced and incisive than closed captioning would suggest.
  • The Iowa caucus disaster is a function of a broken economic structure that rewards con artistry over competence.
  • Take a quiz to find out how populist you are. Apparently a lot of my views align with Bernie Sanders’.
  • Something to think about: “How do you win against a computer that is built to stop you? How do you stop something that predetermines your fate?”


  • Reading: Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. Give me more brilliant essays such as this one to read!
  • Viewing: Musician and psychology professor Bertolt Meyer hacked his prosthetic arm so he could play synthesiser with his mind. Genius.
  • Listening: Discovered the music of Palestinian composer and pianist, Faraj Suleiman, who in his works introduces some new Arabic scales and modalities where it was said, “You can hear Bach, Stravinsky but also rock music, Egyptian music.” My favourite track is Crushed Coffee.
  • Food & Drink: Had some nasi lemak and made some affogato to go with it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s