On an early August afternoon, graphic designer and lettering artist Eric Friedensohn was hand-painting a sign for a friend’s tattoo shop. As he worked away in his Murray Hill apartment, he noticed a strange smell traveling through the room. Suddenly the windows shattered, smoke began to rise and he fled the building before even getting the chance to find his shoes.
By the end of the day, the fire had destroyed most of his worldly possessions. But when he returned to take a look at what was left, he found a piece of paper that had somehow been spared. It was from a lettering project he had been working on centered around the word “optimist.”
From that moment on, optimism became a central part of Eric’s perspective. After a period of recovery, he found himself more grateful than ever for what he had, and more hopeful for what the future held. A year later, Eric has turned the experience into a way to help others who have gone through similar experiences, and he’s telling his story to spread a message of optimism. Check out his advice for how to move on from difficult moments and his video below.
1. What does being an “optimist” mean to you?
For me, being an optimist is about strength and hope. It’s about searching for the good in everything and moving forward regardless of the circumstances. It’s not about being happy all the time – after all there’s beauty in sadness too… We need to feel the bad in order to appreciate the good. It’s more about how you handle the bad and move past it.
2. When and why did you decide this message was worth spreading outside of your own life?
Right after the fire, I felt it was important to let my friends know what had happened. I didn’t have time to get in touch with all of them directly, so I shared an update on social media. Rather than posting an image of what was left of my apartment, I shared the sketch that I found — “Optimist” — with a message about what had happened and how I knew had to move forward.
I went on to make the letterpress cards and sent them out as a special thank you to everyone who helped me out when I needed it most.
The idea for the video came a few months later, when I was helping out my filmmaker friends, Matt and Jess with some lettering for a music video. Since so many people helped me out, I asked my friends to help me share the story to inspire others who might be in a tough situation.
3. How have you learned to handle things that are out of your control?
Every situation is different. Yes, a lot of things will go wrong in our lives, and often they will come without warning. The only thing we can control is how we respond. We can choose to focus on the positive or focus on the negative. I chose the positive.
Now, even though I hope for the best, I still prepare for the worst. After something bad happens to you, you’re suddenly aware that something bad could happen again at any moment. I do take a lot of risks but I try to do them intelligently.
I think the best way to deal with things that are out of your control is to mentally prepare and get insurance (whether that’s actually insurance or just having a support system) while not allowing that to get in the way of living life.
4. What advice do you have for someone going through something similar, whether big or small in scale?
My advice would be to zoom out of every situation, look at the big picture and ask yourself a few questions:
- How could this have been worse?
- What’s something positive that can come of this?
- What can you put effort towards right now that would make this situation better?
5. What tips do you have on seeking help when you need it?
Just be honest, both with yourself and with those around you. If you need help, write about it and share it through whatever medium you feel most comfortable. Could be an email, a text, a phone call, or better yet, an actual in-person meeting.
The people who care about you will support you.
I believe everything you put into the world eventually comes right back around to you. If you help your friends out, odds are they will help you too when you need it.
6. What was something significant thing you lost in the fire and how has that made you look at things differently?
The most significant thing I lost was a little furry friend by the name of Squilly. This little guy was more than just a cat – he was a buddy with so much personality, who would always make me feel better when I was down.
Pretty much everything else I lost was just, well, stuff. Replaceable stuff. Losing Squilly made me realize there is beauty in the mundane. That every moment you have with a friend should be appreciated. We are not promised anything in this world, andjust being able to laugh with a friend is a huge gift that should not be taken lightly.
7. What helps ground you or offers an optimistic perspective when you are stressed out?
I find that just taking a few deep breaths can go a long way. Besides that, skateboarding is my release activity. It’s a lot like drawing, actually. It’s a means of self-expression, with no rules (besides gravity). Skating forces me to focus on the current moment, detaching from the stresses of rest of the world.
8. How has this experience changed the way you look at your career?
This experience has made me further appreciate my gift and the privilege of working creatively for a living.
I’ve also realized that I can use my lettering to tell powerful stories. I’m excited for future projects that will be focused on giving back and helping others.