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  • Writer's pictureSumbella

加油 | Add oil, keep building your skills

Doodle reads: "加油!加油!Jiayou, jiayou - Keep going, come on! Go go!"


In Chinese there is a word for encouraging others, called 加油 jiayou.

It actually means ’to add oil’.

I always think of adding oil to a fire, to keep it burning. And to make it burn brighter.

When I was at university in Beijing, if I passed the basketball courts when a competition was on, I would surely able to hear students shouting ‘加油加油!Jiayou, jiayou!”.

We all need that kind of a jiayou: I do now, too.

I am in the final weeks of my drawing course: unbelievably, it's been more than a year of daily, incremental progress.

Sketching, drawing, uploading, getting feedback and doing it all over again and again.

We started with nearly 30 people last year, now we’re down to 7.

I thought I was making progress a few weeks ago, but this last couple of week’s assignments felt so hard. I felt like nothing was happening, and everything I was producing was horrible. I almost stopped. I always almost stop when it feels like this.

I remember feeling the same about Chinese.

After the first year of rather accelerated progress, by the third year of my degree it felt like no improvement was happening. It didn’t matter what I did, how much I read, I just felt my level wasn’t improving.

But it is improving, as long as you’re working on the skill and getting feedback on it, or self-analysing for improvements.

When it feels like this, especially when you're learning creative things, I noticed it helps to do these things:

1. Talk: I talk to someone who has already developed the skill I want.

I usually ask them about these feelings, these moments where it seems rubbish. How did they continue? Does it always feel like this? In my mind I know it’s not. But when you feel like stopping and that you aren’t making progress, words from someone who has done it are powerful.

2. Do you copy that?

Take an example of something you like, or an extract of whatever skill you’re wanting to develop, and instead of creating your own from scratch, copy. You are getting the work done, and if it’s a creative skill you’re developing, you might end up developing your own version from it.

3. Change your environment...

Or at least, change what you see from where you sit to do your work. I shifted my table where I draw, and the place where my tools are. It made a huge difference to how I produce work.

So when you feel like giving up on your skill, your passion projects, try these before you do, or to get back on track.

I feel like it's ok to be relaxed and even carefree about the skill building journey at times, as long as you don't leave it and don’t stop. Consider this a 'jiayou', keep calm, and carry on.


For any students of Chinese reading this, as I was writing this post it reminded me of a song I used to enjoy when I was learning.

It is rather rare song that is about life rather than love, and actually has a lot of practical language in it. It's called 加油 jiayou. A nice person translated it all here. Enjoy. :)

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