Putting up a wall

I’m a bit of a history nut. I’m particularly crazy about the ancient Rome era. Now, when we say “Romans”, most people imagine badass legionaries with big red shields.

And that’s alright because that was a huge part of their empire. They swore to themselves never to let their guard down after Rome was sacked by the Gauls in its early history. Because of that, they developed a highly organised, professional war machine. They conquered whatever they set their sights on. And they remained hungry — after each conquest they already had plans for the next one. At their peak, the Romans controlled the region between the frozen Scottish highlands in the north and the sandy deserts of north Africa in the south. But then — they stopped.

Emperor Hadrian decided to put up walls to “protect the empire”. His decision meant that he was happy with what he had. Protecting his lands became more important than conquering new ones. It was a drastic shift in mentality. A mentality that Romans never adopted before. Until then, they were always on the offensive, expanding further into unknown. The more they conquered, the more resources they had to expand.

But then, all of a sudden, they decided to put this war machine on hold. They put their legions on the walls where, for most of the time, they waited. The most effective army in the world was put on a defensive. They couldn’t use their skills so often anymore and they didn’t have to learn new ones to overcome new obstacles. The decline of the army started. The sharp swords got dull. The tactics were forgotten. A few generations later, it was nowhere near the might of the early empire. The downfall had started.

Don’t put up a wall, draw a line

What we can learn from this story is that we should never put up our walls. We should never draw the line and be happy with what we have. I don’t mean that in a materialistic way. Money and materialism are the worst things to drive someone forward. Look beyond that and see what you want to achieve. Are you looking for knowledge to satisfy your hunger of curiosity? Are you looking to pick up skills that will always keep you sharp — in step with time? The moment you put up that wall will be the moment of the start of your decline.

I put up a wall once. I was in the middle of transitioning from web design to UI & visual design and I thought to myself: it’s my job to make this look nice, I don’t want to worry about coding it. That’s developer’s job. I was happy with my UI & visual design skills so I put up a wall around them. My ignorance turned into fear. Fear of code and anything about it. I had basic web design skills from before but started neglecting them. JavaScript was what I dreaded the most. I had always relied on my brother, who’s a full stack developer, whenever I needed anything done in Javascript or jQuery. Even if it was a simple animated scroll.

But then one day, out of the blue, I decided it was time to change. I tore that wall down. It happened in an instant. I decided that my skills weren’t good enough as they were. I finally decided to face my fear. I started learning JavaScript. I completed the course on Codecademy. I read a book. I started coding and exploring what I can do with my newly acquired skill. I conquered my fear. I broke trough the wall and the only thing that I had on my mind was: “okay, what’s next?”

Through conquering that fear, I rediscovered my hunger. My curiosity. My mind shifted. Now I feel like there’s nothing that I can’t do. The opposite. I can do anything I put my mind to. It may need more time at first but I will do it. Now I don’t put up walls anymore. I draw lines. These lines don’t represent the current state. They don’t represent something that I’m happy with. They represent a point in the future. They represents skills I want to acquire, products I want to build and the person I want to be. Lines can be moved. Walls can’t.

Matej Latin

I’m a self-taught designer proving that you don’t need a design degree to make a career in design. I went from doing boring graphic design work to working for big tech companies as a Product Designer. I thrive in the grey area between design and web development and I wrote a book about web typography for designers and web developers.

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