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How to cope with personal problems while staying focused at work

“I wanted to ask you a personal question – that maybe you might not wish to answer and if that is the case I totally understand and apologize for crossing any lines. You mentioned in your book that you went on a backpacking trip after you had some personal problems. My question is how do you prevent personal or family problems from distracting you in your work and how do you stay focused?

I am a highly sensitive person and it is my understanding that many creatives are commonly sensitive in nature, so maybe you might be the same, or possibly developed strategies to stay positive and focused no matter what the circumstance. I find it very hard for me to stay focused when there are a lot of things going on at home. Maybe you might have some advice?”

What a beautiful question. I find it beautiful because as common as this concern is, rarely is it discussed in the context of not only emerging designers but in the western world’s traditional education system. As the wise Aristotle once said “criticism is something that can be avoided easily, by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing”. Thank you to the soul that willingly and bravely asked this via email. We can all learn from this gift; vulnerability.

I’d like to answer this question in four actionable parts and in a way all of us can utilize.


Firstly, it’s important that we accept that personal problems will always be part of life no matter how old we are. Our pain is directly relative to the level of our resistance. So, if we find personal issues are too overwhelming and distracting our work life, let’s use that as an opportunity to grow.

Ask yourself, what can I learn from this problem? What’s good about this situation? What defects of my character can I improve? By asking quality questions, you’ll always get quality answers. Accept the things you can control and the things you can’t. How you respond to problems is 100% yours. Own it.


Secondly, you’re not alone. No matter how bad you have it, there is always someone in the world who has it much, much worse. My mother once told me that “your absolute worst nightmare is someone else’s greatest dream”. It only takes a flick through the daily news to see how real that advice is.

Besides that, I’ve found three ways that have accelerated my perspective in the right direction. One way is to travel to a third world country. Experience their culture and see what real problems are. Another way is to volunteer your time for charity or community service. And thirdly, start and end your day with gratitude. Spend some quiet time being grateful for all the things you have in your life. Focusing on what you have, rather than what you don’t, is a healthy way to stay grounded.


We are complex and extraordinary human beings. We are not one dimensional. Identify on a sheet and write down everything you are. You’re a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a designer, a traveller, a story teller, a social butterfly, a surfer, a runner, a vintage records collector, a self taught chef, a guitarist… whatever you do, you are diverse in your responsibilities, talents and interests.

It’s crucial to perform to the role that is required of you at the time that demands it. If you’re required to work, then commit to the moment and deliver your very best. The same goes with family time, personal time and social time. Give each area of your life, the focus it deserves and ‘switch hats’ when it’s time to.


Yesterday is gone. When all is said and done, the level of interruption your personal life can give you heavily boils down to your tolerance of allowing it.

Decide to redirect your problems with constructive solutions. If you don’t know how, seek more advice. There are many people willing to help who have gone through what you’re going through. Soon enough, you’ll be the one helping others too.


We know that life is made up moments. Find the party in each. It’s by no means easy, but nothing worth having is. No matter how difficult things may seem, this is a chance to increase your capacity to be patient, kind, understanding – to detach yourself from yourself. And most of all, to love.

What are some ways that have helped you cope with personal problems?

For more, pick up a copy of Ram Castillo’s internationally and industry-acclaimed book ‘How to Get a Job as a Designer, Guaranteed’.

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Author: Ram Castillo

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About Ram Castillo


Ram is an award winning Design Director, Blogger, top ranking Podcaster, Speaker, Instructor and Author of two internationally acclaimed books 'How to get a job as a designer, guaranteed' and 'How to get a mentor as a designer, guaranteed'. He's based in Sydney, Australia and in 2012, started the blog which helps thousands of design students and graduates be employed. Ram has since been featured in Communication Arts, HOW magazine, Herman Miller, deFrost*, and Apple.

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