Escaping the 9 to 5 with Vivian Ngai

how to become a graphic designer

This month’s interview is with Vivian Ngai, who overcame her fears and all her ‘what ifs’ to go travelling around Asia and then to set up her own business.

I love her realisation that she had been the only one standing in her way; and, in the same vein, that she herself could be her biggest source of support. We look for excuses in the external world but we also continue to look for validation and reassurance from other people; if we can break free from this and learn to trust our own intuition, to discover what makes us come alive and what we think will be the best use of our time on Earth, I believe we can live a much happier and more fulfilled life.

Other themes in Vivian’s answers include redefining success so that failure is no longer a possibility (whatever the outcome, you’ll learn something and your life will be all the richer for it); accepting a level of uncertainty; and taking that one step – another message that I’m very much in favour of, to get into action as soon as you can so that you really start to move forward towards your goal.

Read on to learn more about her story of taking time off to travel and now growing her online business.

How to become a graphic designer

Vivian NgaiAfter working in academia and research, Vivian Ngai left the cubicle life for a heart- and eye-opening solo-backpacking trip around Southeast Asia and Australia in 2014. Since then, she has continued to seek more freedom in her everyday life. After a stint in food justice, Vivian has now ventured into the world of entrepreneurship and is now a designer, working with wellness entrepreneurs and “heart-led changemakers” so that their authentic essence is communicated consistently and effectively to attract more ideal clients.

1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?

It was partly a slow knowing in my heart that I needed to do something different with my life. It didn’t take long into my first ‘real’ job for me to feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled; a few years later I was in another cubicle job in research and, after the novelty period, I was left bored, uninspired, and feeling stuck. Still, I didn’t quite know what to do, or how to get out of it. It was really an accumulation of small moments, lessons, and realisations that built up over the past decade since graduate school.

Vivian on her travelsMy big ‘a-ha’ moment came when I was talking to a new friend who was about to embark on an around-the-world journey. It reignited my dream of wanting to backpack around Southeast Asia – something that kept being put off as ‘safer’ opportunities like grad school and ‘real grown-up jobs’ came up. Plus, I was terrified and didn’t think it was something I could ever do, especially by myself. And so, somewhere along the way, I had let go of the idea that it would be something I’d ever do, and tried to stay satisfied with what was ‘normal’.

Anyway, my friend asked me why I couldn’t go – and I said, as if it were a fact, that it was just not something I could do, along with a lot of ‘what ifs’ (what if I get sick, lose things or have them stolen, hate it, feel all alone, etc.). It was only when I replayed that conversation in my head that I realised that the only thing that was stopping me from doing this was me. This very subtle, yet empowering, realisation that it was entirely in my own hands: that was the big moment of clarity.

I was still terrified, of course!

A couple of big questions that also helped me:

“If not now, then when?” I realised that if I didn’t do it now, I never would.

“Would I regret it if I didn’t do this in my life?” I knew that I would regret it, or at the very least I would be left wondering. Living with regret is not something I’m willing to do!

So, the answer was clear: I had to quit my soul-crushing cubicle rat life and go out into the big, wide world.

2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?

Definitely my mindset. It was such a subtle shift but once it started taking hold, I felt like everything aligned to make it happen. It was and still continues to be a daily practice of cultivating trust and surrendering. Life is no longer predictable; I don’t know what life will be like in six months. Part of that is terrifying because there’s comfort in predictability, especially since this is what I had been striving for all of my life. But it’s also very liberating, freeing, and exciting to not know. Anything is possible and there’s always an adventure around the corner.

Some days are definitely harder than others. There are many times I really just want to give up… but what’s the alternative? There are pros and cons to whatever lifestyle you live, and I guess I wasn’t happy in one, so it couldn’t hurt to move on and try another.

3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?

I think the biggest support you can have is yourself, of course; emotionally it was a lot of self-work.

I would say I was also lucky that most of my social network was pretty supportive. Actually, I had a lot of people who encouraged me, especially those who were older and regretted not doing it themselves before settling down – which helped me to reaffirm that it was the right thing for me.

Financially, I also had savings that would help fund me on my travels and coming back home.

4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?

Vivian on her travelsI think the biggest changes and shifts in perspective have come since coming back from travelling (which was amazing); and it’s still manifesting and continues to take hold of my life now. I experienced this fantastic freedom when travelling and I don’t think I can not have that anymore. And so the year and a half since coming back has been about trying to figure out how to take what I’ve learned, what I’m still learning, about myself and how I can create a lifestyle to match that.

One thing I knew would be important was to work remotely, to be ‘location independent’. After a few local precarious jobs, and still needing more freedom in my day-to-day life, I ventured into entrepreneurship as a creative virtual assistant. It’s been a few months now, and to be honest it’s still very much evolving. Every day I’m gaining more clarity as to what works for me and what doesn’t, so that I am able create my own life.

I would say the best part of my current lifestyle is having more flexibility in how I spend and structure my day depending on needs and wants. Sometimes I work longer days when I’m riding a creative energy wave, other days I need to be outside and to relax, and I try to honour that natural ebb and flow. Having the freedom to shape my day is nice!

Entrepreneurship is also the best form of personal development. It continuously pushes you out of your comfort zone, forces you to sell and be confident in yourself, allows you to be creative and call all the shots.

5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?

Just take the first step. Really. Life’s too short; the least you can do is try. Also changing the fear-led mentality to “there is no failing”. I think we all hear and know these mantras, but it’s at the very subtle but life-changing moment when these click for you that change really happens.

To be more specific, the first step can be starting to research into the different possibilities. But then make sure that you act on it, because you can research and dream all you want but without action, you’re not going anywhere. Create a plan for yourself so you have time to research and give yourself some level of comfort, but do also set concrete deadlines to just start making it a reality. You’ll never feel 100% ready; you just have to take that leap.

Find out more about Vivian’s creative services – which include design, graphics for social media, PDF design, as well as visual branding – on her website or you can follow her on Facebook.

Have you made big changes in your life and want to inspire others to do the same? Or maybe you’re 100% happy staying put where you are and want to make a case for being satisfied with what you have? Get in touch to share your story!


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