#11: We owe it to the poets

Living with solitude, among many other necessities

Dear friends,

Today’s newsletter will be a change of pace. I’d like to stir the pot a little bit, and let my thoughts simmer. For just like any slow-cooked meal, my voice usually takes some bit of time to truly come alive. It is one that requires me to embrace all the ugliness, and the mess of my mind, of which I oftentimes have an internal conflict with. Maybe Naval was unto something when he said:

I have all the ingredients necessary to produce something. I have all but a clear head, and that really is my current blocker, presumably.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of finding that clarity, I’ve been slowly embracing solitude as an integral part of my life. Much like anything that is worth doing, breakthroughs happen when you’re alone. It is also conveniently due to the current state of the world. There’s literally no better time to do this than today.

Please join me in reflecting with these poets, writers who can speak about solitude more discerning that I ever can.

On finding love and adventures:

“There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone:
It finds a lovely certainty in the evening and the morning.”
- Canticle 6 by May Sarton, poet (courtesy of BrainPickings by Maria Popova)

On seeking refuge from the busyness of daily life:

“In these lonely, isolated places, we have an opportunity to meet with bits of ourselves, with which the routines of daily life don’t allow us to commune,”  - The Appeal of Lonely Places by Alain De Botton

On living a meaningful life:

“How would you choose to spend your time if you had no social and no professional obligations?” – that’s how you know your true self - Susan Cain on Leading the Quiet Revolution by Susan Cain and The Knowledge Project

Everyday, quarantine-friendly habits that promote solitude:

  • Sit down and read a book everyday. Start with 10 mins. (As of writing, I’ve gone up to 30 min minimum especially if the book is great)

  • Schedule short walks around the block. Leave your phone at home, if you can. Don’t forget your masks.

  • Write a short reflection on the day. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I started with ‘What I’ve learned today’ until I have a ton of drafts on my Notes app.

  • Delay answering conversations with the outside world, unless it’s an emergency. Unless your life, livelihood or someone else’s life depends on it, text messages can wait. Start with 5 mins.

  • Pick an ancient philosophy, and gradually study it. You will learn that most of our sufferings now are nothing new. The idea is to apply what our ancestors have taught us so we can endure it, so we can do more than just surviving. We can live. (I picked Stoicism, and I’m on my 2nd year)

  • If reading is not your thing, then maybe consume some podcasts that are good for your soul. Netflix doesn’t always have to be your first choice of entertainment. Podcasts are free on most platforms. I would highly recommend starting with The Knowledge Project.

“However, the two things must be mingled and varied, solitude and joining a crowd: the one will make us long for people and the other for ourselves, and each will be a remedy for the other; solitude will cure our distaste for a crowd, and a crowd will cure our boredom with solitude.” Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

How are you keeping yourself sane amidst all the insanities out there? I’d like to know.

I’m always happy to hear some feedback from these little nuggets of wisdom I send out. If you have some thoughts, opinions on how I can make this a lot better, feel free to get in touch: email, website.

Thank you for reading.

Nikki Espartinez

#10: Customer, User, Human

A word on empathy

nikki espartinez

Dear friends,

You are receiving this email because you’re currently subscribed to my newsletter. I’m not one to waste my time on anything so I try my best to make these pieces of writing worth your time.

I have a passion for Designing Experiences, as evident on my body of work, books I chose to read, knowledge I chose to absorb, and things I chose to pursue. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this line of work calls for a commitment to selflessness: it’s not about me.

If you are designing experiences (spatial, web, services, artificial intelligence et cetera), you absolutely can’t afford to be selfish. It will kill the integrity of your product. The fate of the design will highly depend on the level of care for your users. The word ‘empathy’ means a lot of things for a lot of people. It is almost imperative for you, as part of the builders/doers/makers, to let go of personal gains, otherwise your users will take the hit.

“Design problems are larger than the subjective experience of individual humans. While it is absolutely necessary to understand the lived reality of people to design for them, this is not sufficient. Sure, a lot of bad design starts from neglecting customer needs. Even more comes from failing to see the larger picture and one’s place in it.” From the Medium Post, “Everyday Empathy” by author, designer, researcher Erika Hall of Mule Design

Metrics don’t lie, and impressions don’t bend on opinions & politics. Less of those, and more of usefulness, ethics, transparency, inclusivity, efficiency, and many others. In an era where we are all, for the most part, highly dependent on softwares to do great stuff, (Customer) Experience should be the top priority. Notice how it’s not <big fancy job title> Experience.

Customer, user, human.

Don’t gamble on it by putting your interests on top of user needs. That is not what makes products great.

John Maeda articulated it best in this article:

“So what will I do with all this knowledge about the word “politically correct” and a solid questioning of whether empathy really matters or not? I guess my answer is — I think empathy does matter in the design of products today. And to Prior’s point, it doesn’t matter though if you’re not doing anything with it.”

- The Rabbit Hole of “Politically Correct

We are all in the business of turning empathy into action. Perhaps, this is the most critical OKR of all.

Thank you for reading,

Nikki Espartinez

#9: Notes from a first-time educator

And a little note about mentorship to go along with that

Dear friends,

I was tagged on a post about adult teaching from a forum I frequent, and I thought I’d publish my answers here to make it available to you.

Tips on landing a job/gig as a TA/Co-instructor without past experience:

- Get in touch with those schools you are interested in teaching part-time for. Aside from the managers, instructors and the school itself, ask students themselves. People in schools like GA are generally approachable, dynamic and incredibly well-rounded. The diversity of knowledge, skillsets and backgrounds you'll encounter will help you determine which course to teach/focus on.

- Just like any job application, prepare your resume and portfolio (if applicable) and tailor it to the job you'd want. For aspiring UX educators, remember that a ‘portfolio’ goes beyond the grid of design work you’ve done. It could also mean things like: events you’ve organized, communities you helped built, microblogs you’ve started. It’s the collection of the most substantial, real-world work you’ve thrown yourself into, documented in forms of blogs, github pages, private google slide decks, or even notion accounts.

- Tap into the professional organizations, niche forums, virtual meetup groups to expand more reach, and to attract serendipities (you'll never know who you'll meet) which can potentially help you find the perfect teaching gig for you.

- Write about what you want and turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy by sharing it to people. Write why you'd want to teach, what you'll teach and maybe some core topics around it.

Now that you have the job…

- Read, and research like hell. Be a step ahead of everybody so you'll always be confident. It's also great to have a handy set of reading list for your students (on any given topic).

- Say hello to Google Suite, Microsoft Word and all the other amazing documentation apps. You'll need them especially with remote teaching.

- Take a moment to get to know your students. Have a 1-on-1 chat with them on what their goals, needs and aspirations are. I don't have any other teaching experience aside from adult education so I don't have anything to compare it to. I would just say one thing: they are the brightest, most relentlessly hardworking bunch of people you will ever meet and they are often serious about the courses. This will help you ensure that you, the curriculum and the teaching experience itself will help cater to their needs. From career changes to just pure skillset-advancement, every student has a different goal post-course. It's best to identify them as thoroughly as you can.

- Identify where you will fall short, and accept that. Rather than making it seem like you know everything, it is so much better to admit those shortcomings, and learn them, or bridge that gap by seeking assistance (with your co-instructors). In my opinion, students can always tell when people are faking it.

- Mentor, if you have the capacity. Or better yet, find ways to connect students with potential mentors, and other professionals. This will go a long way especially to those who are looking to advance their careers. Who better to assist them with that than you?

- Seek criticism regularly. From students themselves to instructor managers, find areas where you can be better, and actually work on it. You are a product of iteration, and you will serve others best when you make informed & educated decisions about your next move. Resist your own biases by constantly challenging yourself to make the next class better than the last.

- Try to have fun. There are a lot of things to do, to keep up with, and organize. It won't be as effective if you're not having fun. It’s one of the things that will make the long hours, interrupted weekends, and weeknights worth it.

Schools, bootcamp institutions you can get in touch with: General Assembly, Career Foundry, City College of New York, Flat Iron School, Hack Reactor, and maybe even your local community colleges.

Not quite ready to teach a big class yet?

You can always start small, and do mentorships (paid or pro-bono). There’s no shortage of people looking for mentors in their fields. More importantly, if you are getting paid to do something, I think have something to teach yourself, regardless of how small you have to start.

Still interested? Join me & a bunch of other mentors across tech on this Brooklyn-based platform, RookieUp. Other organizations offering mentorship services: HexagonUX, Girls who code, Girls write now, Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City and many others.

I’ve also wrote a quick starter guide on how to be the mentor you’d like to meet from my newsletter #7.

Required reading for this space:


Your work will be hard, but there are students facing more severe challenges. Students with no internet or no computer will need support, as will those with learning differences or other circumstances that make distance learning especially difficult. Supporting these students was on almost everyone’s mind—it came up dozens of times in the Facebook thread.”

Teaching Through A Pandemic: A Mindset For This Moment by Stephen Merrill (Thank you to one of our class guests for recommending this insightful & timely article)

I’m always happy to hear some feedback from these little nuggets of wisdom I send out. If you have some thoughts, opinions on how I can make this a lot better, feel free to get in touch: email, website.

Be safe. Talk soon, I hope.

Thank you for reading,

Nikki Espartinez

How to be the mentor you'd like to meet

This is just the start

Dear friends,

This is a short one, and it is one I feel incredibly passionate about: mentorship. It probably is worth dedicating an entire series for but I’d like to start small. Consider this an early stage version of an idea.

A year’s worth of notes about being a good mentor:

  1. Don’t try so hard to be smart. Ditch the jargons, and you’ll eliminate BS in a second.

  2. Learn to listen and shut up. This is not about you. This is about the person you are mentoring. Don Draper once said, “People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.” While he may not be the most ideal mentor, he still gave out valuable quotes and lessons for the luckiest viewers alive. He was a flawed character (who isn’t) but there’s no doubt he really did paid attention to what makes people tick, what sets them apart, what makes them inherently human. Master that curiosity and you’ll mentor the world. 

  3. Be a voracious reader on relevant subjects. Trust me, your future self, colleagues and dinner mates would thank you.

  4. Strive for a stronger EQ. It’ll make you a lot more rational, and resilient.

  5. Be a learner yourself. Have some skin in the game, and never be to big to still do some of the dirty work yourself. This will not only increase your empathy towards your mentees, it also might just make you a lot more self-aware of your personal weaknesses. In case no-one told you, that is not a bad thing. 

  6. Train yourself to be relentlessly optimistic. Optimism is contagious. It’s powerful, and timeless. It’s hard to convince someone to improve their work if neither one of you looks forward to the possibilities of it, to the future where it exists, to what that person is capable of doing even in the midst of a crisis. Anyone can be a skeptic. It takes courage and resilience to not be. 

  7. Pick up mental models of folks who’ve done it and iterate to what works for you. Some books/blogs for that: Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, What to do when it’s your turn (and it’s always your turn) by Seth Godin, or his entire blog if you want a primer, Essays by Paul Graham, Jony Ive biography by Leander Kahney, Damn Good Advice (for people with talent) by George Lois. Loads of resources out there for your curiosity. This is simple, and there’s no rule for how to do this right other than to just go out there and absorb knowledge. It’s the one thing you have a complete control over. Why is this specific piece important? See #8

  8. Accept that you’ll fall short, and that’s ok. The biggest difference is when and where you can use your flaws to your advantage, and how can you train yourself to make informed decisions when shit hits the fan? Learn from folks who’ve done it. (or at least had some resemblance to what you’re currently facing). Your mentees would probably respect you more if you have the humility to do this.

  9. Write often and encourage your mentees to do the same.

  10. Just be human. And have some compassion for what people are going through. That’s it.

That’s it. I’ll expand more on the subject over the coming emails. There’s a lot to address here and I want to make sure it is all worth your time.

Best thing I’ve read today:

If you are just out to make money, god bless: I hope you make some money. If you just want awards or recognition or for others to think highly of you, I hope you get that too. But I don’t think anyone is really satisfied by fame or fortune. I find it incredibly satisfying (and gratifying, rewarding and pleasant) to honestly have done the best job I could have done on something and I believe that works for everyone else too. Being skillful and exercising your mastery is what you’re here to do. Doing anything less undermines the whole point of being alive.

from Rules of Business by Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO

Be well, and safe!

Your friend,

Nikki Espartinez

07-You're sensational, if you want to be

A short post about sustainable happiness

Dear friends, and subscribers to this little newsletter,

When I was 25, I’ve quit a job for the 2nd time. It was a particularly comforting memory. I was feeling neither confident, nor defeated. It was one of my earliest encounters with stoicism, a philosophical movement that would change the course of my thinking (and living) half a decade later on.

I found this micro-blog entry from that day written from a coffee shop. Although at that time, I was flat broke, and had no job prospects in line, I still had the money to buy overpriced coffee and write some thoughts. Walking cliché, I really was back then.

Anyway, here’s that said note, unedited and raw from 2015:

“The trick is to stay calm and look the part, clear your head and clean your ears, be on the look out for tricky phrases and vague sentences, keep your chin up and don’t lose eye contact, dress so well they’ll be the one who’s intimidated, and not the other way around, stay positive and hope things will fall to place, draw the worst conclusions but expected the best things to happen, have an honest mouth and take action with what you want. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get it. You’re the sum of all the things you have learned and saw and experienced. You didn’t go through all of that to stay a mediocre. Show them what you’re made of, what your influences did to you and what you’re doing for yourself. Don’t overthink things. It’ll just mess up your mind. Don’t corrupt your heart with toxic thoughts. You’re sensational, if you want to be.

Also, always have a trusty brew on top of every good decision.”

I don’t know who needs to hear this. I just think hope & some bit of optimism is getting too old-fashioned these days, with good reason right? I mean with everything that’s been happening all over the world these days, it’s sometimes hard to wake up and actually look forward to living. It’s even harder to get excited about the future.

But guess what, as cliché as it sounds, nothing worth having comes easy.

‘Easy’ to me is this:

Escapism is a modern drug we’re all guilty of having in various shapes and forms, some more potent than the others. We escape through gluing our eyes with endless news cycles, rotting our brains with Facebook/Twitter troll confrontations, numbing our feelings of instability, and despair with feel-good movies on Netflix, getting high on ‘add to cart’ buttons.

Just one more movie, TV show, or a stroll on a category & clearance page. Maybe, just maybe, I can finally find what I’m looking for. Maybe, just maybe, I can leave this page and checkout happiness or peace of mind, or clarity, or fulfillment. Maybe, just maybe, I can shut off the noise for once, and have some bit of control to things, for once in my life, even if it lives primarily inside a shopping cart.

Don’t fall for any of this.

Derek Sivers said it best in his short blog post entitled, ‘You are enough’ :

“I’d like to train parrots to say “It won’t make you happy!.” I’d let them loose in shopping malls, big electronics stores, and car lots. Then, when people are considering spending their savings on a giant TV, or going deeply in debt with a new car, a surprising squawk might shock them back to their senses.

The quickest way to double your income is to halve your expenses. Any study of happiness will tell you it’s best to actively appreciate what you’ve got”

Here’s to contributing to less noise. I am looking forward to a future less of it, and more of sustainable happiness doing most of what I want without relying too much on external sources for them.

Be well, and talk soon, I hope.

Your friend,

Nikki Espartinez

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