Things Are What You Make Of Them by Adam JK + Giveaway

by Grace Bonney

The writers that we’ve worked with over the years here at D*S are some of the most talented and creative people on the planet. And one of those amazing people, Adam JK, has a brand new book that is going to bring a lot of good into the world.

Things Are What You Make Of Them is Adam’s rallying cry for not just creative people, but for all people who feel emotionally connected to the world and the creative community. Each page of this cheerful, colorful, and heartfelt book provides wisdom, advice, empathy and connection for those who are dealing with the sorts of ups and downs that come with creative careers. From reminders about setting goals, to letting yourself off the hook for comparing yourself to others, Things Are What You Make Of Them is full of moments that we all need to hear and be reminded of. And the fact that it’s in a bite-size package (4×6″) makes all of those supportive moments easy to literally carry with you any time you need a pick-me-up.

This book was inspired by Adam’s series of hand-written essays here at DS, so our community already knows just how special and helpful Adam’s brand of encouragement is. His posts are not about false hope or blind optimism; they’re about a sense of really understanding what it’s like to live life as a creative person and to find a way to make it all work — the highs and the lows.

Things Are What You Make Of Them will be in stores everywhere on October 3rd, but I wanted to share this today because through October 8th, $2 of every book sold will go directly to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, which does work for economic justice, health, and representation for LGBTQ girls and women. (Penguin Books is donating $1 of every book sold, and Adam decided to match that donation himself!) So if you’d like to pick up a copy and support Adam’s work and the TSF, click here to find a store (online or in person) near you carrying the book.

I ordered 5 copies of Adam’s book to give away here at DS, so if YOU’d like to win a copy, leave a comment below telling us about a moment when you learned something meaningful in life or work and what that lesson was. Adam’s work has always inspired me to listen and learn more from small moments in life, and I can’t wait to hear some of yours. xo, Grace

Suggested For You


  • I learned a valuable lesson after my first knee replacement surgery. I was feeling quite alone and vulnerable in anticipation of the surgery. Since I live alone, I was deeply concerned as to. how I would manage during my recovery. I was truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, compassion and care my friends offered. I learned to graciously accept their help and to express my gratitude Being fiercely independent, I was never one to ask for help but through this experience I learned others find joy in helping others just as I do.

  • It’s taken me almost 30 years, but I’ve finally figured out that nothing is forever–in the best possible way. My decisions always used to feel so final. If I made a choice about what job I decided to take, what country I decided to move to, what educational path I chose to follow–I always felt like these decisions were IT, that they would change my life forever and there was no going back. Well, turns out they DID change my life forever, but you know what? You can always go back. You can always make another change, another choice afterwards. Just because you decide to go to grad school half an ocean away doesn’t mean you are stuck there if another opportunity arises. Just because you decide to leave behind something important to move to a new city for your career doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind and return to that thing. Life doesn’t move in one direction or at one pace. This is an incredibly privileged position to be in and I’ve finally learned to be thankful for it rather than daunted by it. If you have an opportunity to take a step forward, do it. Even if it’s scary, remember: you can always go back.

    • “This is an incredibly privileged position to be in and I’ve finally learned to be thankful for it rather than daunted by it..” Beautifully said.

  • I was working on a painting in class were the teacher was very critical about my technique and in essences my lack of talent. During the end of the project classroom critique all of my classmates were on the opposite side of the spectrum. I gained a lot of confidence in that moment to trust my perspective and voice. The teacher was trying to help but was unable to relate to my subject matter and was not the right audience for my art.

  • While all my other classmates were taking a design tour of Europe, I decided to go home and find in internship in Chicago. I had nothing but low level student work in my portfolio, and it was hard going finding a job. My parents started to doubt whether I would find what I was looking for, but I persisted that this was what I was going to do with my summer and by golly I would find a job, and soon after, I did. My mom apologized for questioning me and I learned that setting a goal for myself and then pursuing it with confidence is how to approach challenges. And the work I did at my internship helped me land my first job out of college. win-win!

  • Honestly, Ira Glass’s advice to creatives (“The Gap” https://vimeo.com/85040589) has changed my life more than almost anything else. Basically, the idea that your taste is going to be better than your creative skill can match for a really long time, and you have to give yourself time to get better. Getting to a place where I’m patient with myself when I’m learning something new has made me able to work harder and take bigger risks in my work and art. And give myself grace when I fall short or fail. I have patience with myself in my work, art, when I’m trying to learn new habits or skills – basically when I’m working hard to make any kind of change in my life!

    It’s a paradigm-shifting listen, if you haven’t experienced it already!

  • My “moment” just came recently. I have been doing hand-lettering for the past seven years or so, small projects here and there – wedding invitations for friends, addressing envelopes, making logos for my other creative friends starting their own businesses, etc. I have been so hesitant and so scared to jump headfirst into my very OWN business. And the more time I spent on Instagram and other platforms, the more I convinced myself that I was just not good enough. This field was full enough of very talented, very creative individuals, and didn’t have room or need for another one. I have spent more time browsing Design*Sponge lately, and Adam J. Kurtz and his words have been an inspiration to me – break down big tasks, treat yourself when big wins happen, set goals, be your OWN boss. So I’m going for it.

  • I’ve learned that, however lofty and exciting my goals are, achieving them is mostly dependent on my adherence to small and often boring habits and tasks performed faithfully. It’s so easy to skip or even drop a daily habit or goal that I have set for myself, like meditating, getting to bed early, practicing a new skill, eating well, etc. For the most part they’re not fun or exciting, and sometimes I begin to feel like a slave to these daily habits. But ultimately, these are the building blocks that will get me to the goals that are exciting and rewarding. They’re what help me feel and be my best. Keeping this in mind makes more more motivated to stick with them, and I’m always glad I did.

  • In 2009 I attended a dance and choreography workshop with Neil Greenberg. Throughout the workshop his advice was consistently, “Make it more what IT is.” Almost Buddhist in its inherent open-ended and self-reflective nature. I tell myself this whenever I create, and sometimes with more rote tasks, too.

  • As a young designer about to graduate university, I have been hesitant to speak up and share my perspective unless asked in professional settings. Because I lack the technical experience, I was always so nervous that I would be accused or judged or laughed at or shot down. But being bold and opinionated is part of making great work. Great work doesn’t come without vision and vision doesn’t come without (a whole lot of!) development.

    I have seen too many talented designers become complacent in a job that doesn’t suit their full potential. This may sound like naivety, but I am going to try my absolute hardest to stay critical of the profession and its products.
    I learned through speaking up and pursuing my own ideas that I don’t need an invitation (or permission or a client or a paycheck) to do something awesome (or provocative or empowering or thoughtful!)

  • Just in the last couple of years, I have finally learned to enjoy my own company and feel happy living my life by myself. It took time and work but now I feel a level of freedom, peace, and contentment that I’ve never had before. I feel truly happy and it has improved all my friendships. I no longer engage in relationships because I feel a sense of lack or loneliness. I have been able to let go of relationships that were not healthy and to establish healthy boundaries in the ones I have. Learning to be happy by myself has boosted my self-esteem and self-confidence.

  • After ;losing a husband and a son, I live more for the moment. My son and I have a wonderful relationship knowing that we are in this together..

  • It was 3 in the morning and I was sitting in my car in an empty parking lot with a close friend after a music festival. I had recently wrapped up what was the hardest semester of college that I’d ever been through, personally and academically. My friend, we’ll call him J, and I were having one of those standard “it’s 3am, we’re gonna get DEEP” conversations where you contemplate your existence and why the world works the way it does and other such things. This was the night that I really realized that my purpose is to just love. Everyone on earth is, has, or will go through tough seasons. I had just experienced one, and J was there to love me through it all, and I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t had that support system. I realized the value of having someone like that in my life, and that I wanted to be that person for someone who was hurting, whether they were a close friend or someone who came into work and looked like they were having a bad day. Loving people doesn’t mean you have to smother them, it can be something as simple as asking how someone is and actually listening to them, or just offering support. I don’t know if I’m making sense anymore or if I’m just rambling, but it’s just so hard to put into words how much of an impact that conversation had on me.

  • This past week has been incredibly transformative for me. It finally occurred to me to stop allowing fear to have such a firm grasp on me + how I live my life. I think I’ve often feared doing things because of my lack of confidence, and I so often worried about trying things because of how I might look or seem to others. I’ve also feared things not going “according to plan” because I was scared I couldn’t handle a less than favorable outcome. And while a majority of my life has been good, I have been through my share of incredibly tough times and I’ve gotten through them. I’m trying to use that now as proof for myself that anything challenging that comes my way may cause me to feel fear, but that fear does not need to hold me back anymore. Instead, I can see the fear for what it is, and move through it, ultimately moving forward. I am capable of overcoming more than I think I am + I’m trying to reframe my mindset in terms of that.

    On a similar note, due to some recent events in my life, I found myself worrying about the future to an alarming degree. I realized how often I was thinking up possible scenarios that were not happening but that I feared might happen. It was causing me a lot of pain, so I’m trying to live more presently. And thanks to a session with my therapist, I’ve learned that when I find myself falling down the hole of worrying too much about the future, I need to gently pull myself out. It’s helped me to stay a lot more positive.

  • I am an artist and illustrator and and strong introvert. I never thought I would be a good teacher, especially to kids. This past summer I agreed to teach a few kids’ watercolor workshops and reluctantly agreed. I was surprised at how much I loved it. Kids are so fearless with a blank page and they have really changed the way I approach my own art. Teaching kids is turning into a stable side hustle for me now. I have learned that I need to at least try things once, even if I think I will not enjoy it, because I might surprise myself.

  • After living most of my life staying quiet about severe mental health issues in my family, I have recently become vocal and will confront people who are doing and saying things that are discriminatory or promoting stigma. I feel uncomfortably vulnerable and want to crawl under my bed after sharing this part of my life with people, but it does get easier. Recently, a friend who suffers from a serious mental health issue confided in me that people want her to be the face of successful mental health treatment, but she is not able to do that because the stigma is so strong. I’ve learned that I must speak up, even when it’s hard, because others cannot.

  • I once read a great line that has never left me. The difference between being a good student and a great student. is not doing what comes easily to you, but mastering what is difficult! I was always so-so when it came to math. I had trouble with geometry. My teacher at the time, showed no interest in helping me. I decided to ask some of the brainy kids in class for help. They were kind enough to assist . I also bought the review books and worked on the problems, in my spare time. This enabled me to pass my tests and the class ,as well. Years later, I studied Interior Design. I was nervous about drafting, floor plans etc. All of a sudden, I was forced to think in three dimensions. Eureka!!! The geometry kicked in , and I understood it completely. At first, I was thrilled, then I was mad. I was a visual learner! At long last, my key to it all. This article is about creative work, but their are many creative endeavors that require technical skills, as well. What I learned is to keep plugging away at something, if it is your happy thing. No education is ever wasted. After all, at the time I had to take geometry, I never thought I would have any use for it. Life has a way of surprising us.

  • A moment I learned something meaningful in life…It’s not a single moment, but many moments of failed fertility treatments spanning over four long years, where I have learned to accept that my life is not going to look like the person’s next door. The meaning I have found in this is to truly take one day at a time and soak up each moment; to be present in marriage and in work. These moments have taught me the importance of savoring each good book that comes your way, each delicious meal created, and new relationships that may fall into your lap (even if those relationships are with your pet!).

  • I learned that if I live day to day, task to task: I always think I can do more than I can actually fit into a week, and I always achieve less than was possible over the month. So I learned to plan smart: relax if I don’t tick everything off my task list by Sunday night, but keep an eye on bigger goals and projects that are possible over time if you bite off a little chunk each day!

  • I have 2 older brothers. As a kid, they were always bigger & faster. They ate so fast, I think sometimes they swallowed their food whole. I always got fed, but sometimes, I didn’t get all that I wanted. One day, I had some candy I had gotten from a birthday party. They asked for some and I said no. They said I was being greedy. I didn’t like being called that. It made me feel shameful. I changed my mind at that moment and shared with them. I felt better for doing that. Since then, I have always tried to share with others when they’re in need, even if it’s something small.

  • I learned that I can’t wait for the the seas of my life won’t part to make way for my creative life in advance, but as soon as I just “step into the waters” of creativity, even in tiny ways, suddenly the solid ground appears in front of me.

  • I have learned with time that I can do anything (just about), but not everything. There are so many wonderful things to do and create in the world but you have to focus on the things that are the right fit for you. I started my own easy shop and blog a while ago as a creative outlet and side business, but have recently realized that while I can make work that matches the styles or attitudes of other artists I need to focus on the projects I most enjoy. This also can be applied to many aspects of my life outside of design, each person only has so much time in a day so spend your time wisely on the activities and events that fulfill you most.

  • As a working mom feeling emotional of sending my youngest to daycare everyday (“mommy but you work from home, why can’t I stay home with you?”), add on the emotional toll of the creative ups and downs I experience as a product designer (“they love it! they hate it! It’s not personal, is it personal?”) This book looks like the perfect reminder to keep on my desk everyday!!

  • This isn’t really related to a creative profession, but years of working with children with extreme mental health and behavioral needs has taught me that I can’t control anyone but myself. So, it’s actually right in line with the title of the book: we can’t control other people, and we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction. We choose to apply judgment to events or people in our lives, and if we remove that judgment and just respond with logic and compassion then we save ourselves a lot of grief (so, things are what you make of them!).

  • A week ago I learned of the (seemingly) terminal illness of dear family member-by-marriage who has become a friend, a man of infinite kindness who was married to my late and beloved cousin. The news was communicated by a woman who had been friends with him and his wife for some 40 years, a woman with whom I am now close. The lesson has come in just a few days as she reports that he declines, rallies, declines and then appears almost as himself. For me, patience is the most challenging of the virtues. What I am being shown is how to hold fast when he falters, rejoice when he regains strength, not to throw myself back and forth. I will be of no earthly good in an exhausted state. I believe this universe is a place of magic, the home of impossible things. If we have his presence a while longer as they remind him of the sweetness of life with their gifts of pineapple and watermelon bits, then that is a gift, for him and for us. Stay, we wordlessly urge him, stay a bit longer. So much awaits.

  • When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, I went on summer vacation with my family. It was nearing the end of what had been a wonderful trip and I was sitting in the hotel room with my mom and dad. I was lamenting the fact that our vacation was
    nearly over and that we would be packing up the car and heading back home, and oh how I didn’t want to go back to regular life.
    My father, always looking to teach and help me grow, explained that it was the very limited nature of the time away that made
    it so very special. If every day was just like that of our trip, well then, why would we go on vacation at all? I still think about that
    today when I take a trip. He certainly wasn’t saying that our daily life shouldn’t be filled with joy and interest, but it’s the balance between the work and play that helps us to enjoy each a little more.

  • Growing up and all through my twenties I was very timid, meek, and honestly a pushover. Everything changed when my daughter was born. I was holding this perfect little baby in my arms and thought, “I want this girl to grow up to be strong and the only way to do that is to show her how.” It wasn’t simple or easy but flash forward seven years and every good thing I do as a co-owner of a business – standing up for myself or my client – stems from that little moment on my couch.

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