On Guilt

I've been thinking a lot about guilt lately.

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, many artists and creative types are not lazy slackers, but rather are perfectionists. I know I certainly am. Many stories and many projects have died between my ears because I never put them down on paper.... I didn't know how to finish them and so I never began. Or, as is increasingly the case, I feared I simply couldn't dedicate the time.

I'm not sure if guilt is a helpful emotion at all. I think there are plenty of ways to be in touch with your conscience without feeling guilty. And for me personally, it's a loaded word fraught with Catholic-schooling implications.

I've realized the past few days that I was feeling guilty about not writing. Not writing on my website and not writing creatively. I realized that in order to write about design, I need to actually be reading about design, exploring new things in design, and detailing my own process. I used to do all of these things and now I don't. January is full of short days, and I get home from work and I just want to eat and watch TV and talk with friends and go to bed. I don't feel like "working" more by doing these other things because somehow I've let it become work rather than relaxing.

I'm not sure what this says about me or about the Design World at the moment, but it's always comforting to feel like you're not the only one. Everyone feels stuck and wonders if they should be doing something more "meaningful" (and then feels guilty about making a living). I felt very inspired reading THIS on Brain Pickings about a famous writer's internal struggle against the daily grind.

It’s so foolish to live (which is always trouble enough) and not to save your soul.
— Willa Cather

Here's to catching up- both on deadlines AND with friends... :) Let's keep striving for that balance (even in the dark, short days of January).

New Year New Words

Image via Google LIFE archive

Image via Google LIFE archive

Last year I wrote about how by meditating on the short phrase "Let go" I would attempt to blog more. Instead I kind of "let go" of having any sort of blogging schedule or philosophy. Odd, because I wouldn't let this kind of thing fly in my professional life, and I guess I wasn't considering this website a part of my independent professional life (i.e. freelance). So while I was counseling clients on how to achieve a cohesive brand, I wasn't doing it for myself.

A big reason why is that I was simply tired. After years of juggling I found a great balance within my career. I now work two part time jobs, while still taking on freelance clients. In addition, I relocated from my city apartment home of the last eight years to a small cozy house in the suburbs with my boyfriend. Aside from being tired due to these major life changes, the days and weeks involved in these processes (process-i?) were exhilarating, beautiful, and inspiring. I had to think about "let go" a lot in this time, because I'm a bit of a control freak. I'm bossy and I like the be the person in charge with all the answers. Concentrating on letting go allowed me to be in the moment, and navigate these life changes while accepting that they would sometime be scary.

In October, I read this piece, which struck a chord with me. Maybe it was ok to be wholly invested in the life transitions I was in the midst of, and not feel guilty. 

At the same time, everything goes through ebbs and flows. Life happens, good and bad. New opportunities can take up a lot of our time that blogging once commandeered. That’s okay. Having a life outside of the internet is so, so important because that’s what fuels our souls.

In December I was at a play and overheard a lady talking to her companion. She was responding to a question about what she was working on, and after rambling for a bit, she blurted, "You know, Patti Smith, Picasso, they took YEARS off from making art! They didn't make ANY art for DECADES! YOU KNOW?" There was an edge of panic in her voice. Because these artists had done it, it must be ok, right? It was a sign for me that I don't need to validate my work or my schedule or any number of those things. Especially when so much love and inspiration was (and is) indeed still happening in my own daily life.

In part because of these thoughts, I've decided that my word for 2016 is TRUST. I like trust because it can be used as both a noun and a verb. I can work to build trust with my clients as I meet new people. At the same time, I can trust in myself to balance work and relationships. I can trust in my own artistic abilities. And I can try to trust the helpful criticism and kind support of those around me in all parts of my life.

Happy 2016.

Current Online Obsessions

Between a family wedding and speaking at Ignite Minneapolis (more on that later), I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off. However, when I've had some quiet internet time, there have been some great gems as of late....

1. My God, there are companies that believe designers can be multifaceted

2. One of the most gorgeously designed sites I've seen in a while, filled with both snarky and compassionate advice on starting out in design. Valuable for any artist.

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3. My favorite show EVAH is ending soon. This article (h/t Kristina Fong) is one of the best I've read on the internal creative workings of the show, a beautiful and insightful look on how the sausage is made so to speak.

In Tandem With That Last Post

Hands down one of my favorite agencies is Bulldog Drummond out of San Diego (and not JUST cause I'm in love with San Diego). Not only do I enjoy their work, but they also post insightful, often humorous, and on-point blog entries.

I particularly enjoyed their "WILL YOU GO THROUGH 2015 OR GROW THROUGH 2015?" post. (And not just cause the author also comes out as a massive list-writer). All the items on the list resonated to some extent with me, but especially #4, the idea of "STOP/START/MUST DO" and #9:

BOLD STRATEGY. CONSISTENT COMMUNICATION. FLAWLESS EXECUTION.
Define and cement your purpose and what you want to get done in 2015. Map a clear and bold strategy for the most important initiatives you’ll embark upon. Create your mission and share it with your team, the consumer and your partners. Know what you’re going to focus on and then execute against it flawlessly. Get your team together, cook them breakfast, serve them burgers and tell them what you’re doing, and why and how you’re going to do it. Communicate successes, failures, rockstar moments and misses. Do this often, celebrate the small wins and share the losses. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

It's actually advice I frequently give to others, but am not always so good at following myself!

 

On Resolutions and New Beginnings

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I've always been really REALLY into New Year's resolutions. I used to not only make a list of ways to improve myself at the beginning of each year, but would also end each year by making an even larger list of all sizes of things I had accomplished. So basically I did a pretty good job of driving myself crazy.

This year, like 99.8% of the country I am trying to lose weight, but I am also resolving to post at least weekly in this blog. And I'm posting this at the end of February. 

Two things:

1. It was my birthday last week, and my birthday is the other time of year that I get really introspective about where I'm at and evaluating my goals and/or progress.

2. I am currently proud that I'm posting this at all.

Here's the deal. I get so caught up in not being on time, on not being perfect that at least half the time I just don't end up doing it (whatever "it" may be).  So in this moment, emotionally, physically, and artistically, I say: here I am. Imperfect. But I'm doing it. And I'd rather do it imperfectly than not at all.

It's been a strange month. In some parts of my life I feel happier than I ever have before. In other parts of my life I feel fragile and unsteady. Art and creativity hang in this weird balance in between the extremes. And I'm trying to be ok with that.

My friend Laura picks a word/phrase every year to embody an intention towards the year. Many yoga practices also use this idea of an intentional word or mantra to encourage meditation and focus. Over the last few weeks I've been trying to tell myself "LET GO." LET GO goes against making a list of resolutions. It goes against the Midwest Protestant thing of "you must need to work harder". It is going to be a challenge, but I'm also excited to see what it means for me- from the weight loss to the blog posting... After all, I still love resolutions (and listmaking). It's hard not to love the idea of new beginnings. 

Galway Kinnell 1927-2014

As I've mentioned before, I draw inspiration from all worlds of art to feed my own art. An amazing artist passed away this week, the poet Galway Kinnell. 

He is the author of one of my favorite poems, "Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight". It begins:

 

You scream, waking from a nightmare.

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
hard,
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

 

What Have I Been Up To?

Mostly underestimating how time-consuming it is to begin a new job, EVEN when it's PT, and EVEN when you're about to embark on a new freelance adventure. 

Fortunately, my job is the most positive and fulfilling I have had in many years. But combine that with all the other things that comprise a well-rounded life and still aiming for sleeping 7-8 hours a night, I haven't devoted as much time to blogging or freelancing as I'd like. Granted, I have had projects, but where I've fallen behind is in seeking out new clients. 

Ed Fella: Polaroid photographs 1990-2005 (image via AIGA)

Ed Fella: Polaroid photographs 1990-2005 (image via AIGA)

The aspect of pure organization is where I've been spending some time. A friend sent me this apropos piece about finding authenticity within our busy lives, even when it's scary and feels selfish. And of course, I've been reading and re-reading several parts of How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul - it makes me feel a bit less guilty about the well-roundedness of life these days. I've felt frustrated with many designers in the past who seemingly live outside of the "real world" because daily life isn't somehow "design worthy". I love designers like Ed Fella who find inspiration in the everyday, who see the beauty and design in things that others consider mundane. 

Being Freelance

On your own, you have to be more disciplined, not less. You have to make your own schedules. You have to resist the allure of the fridge and daytime television. Also, the act of leaving the house every day to go to a place of work, and being out in the world is good for creativity—street posters, architecture, favorite shops, faces in the crowd, galleries, book shops, going to the sandwich shop at lunchtime— all contribute to the building of an alert design sensibility. Even the ugly stuff— the crass billboards and the trashy magazines on newsstands— informs the way we think about our work.

(— Adrian Shaughnessy, How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul)

On Insecurities and Dancing Better

A friend sent me a page she ripped out of a magazine with an interview with Arianna Huffington. Stylist.co.uk hosted this cool "Life Lessons" event where she was one of the speakers.

Alongside the fact that Huffington discusses making sure you get enough sleep (a cause near and dear to my heart), the part of the print article that stood out to me was her thoughts on personal insecurity. 

Ignore that negative voice in your head. I call mine my 'obnoxious roommate'...
There's nothing worse than comparing ourselves. Each one of us is unique and any time we spend comparing ourselves to others is like drinking poison. One of my favorite quotes is by dancer Mikhail Baryshinikov:

I don’t try to dance better than anyone else. I just try to dance better than myself.
Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

I think it can be really easy to get bogged down with that negative voice, which so frequently tells us we're not good enough. One of the best things I heard when I was a waitress was a comment a former boss made at the end of a long shift, after we had all dealt with customers with various eccentricities and demands. "You never know what people walk in here with," she said. It's true. Even this week, I was shocked when a friend who is about to embark on a new business adventure spoke to me of her insecurities. To me, she is a paragon of talent and confidence. Obviously, she isn't perfect, but it was still almost shocking for me to hear that she doubts herself and her plans at all. From the outside looking in, I would have nothing but complete confidence in her. 

You never know. Maybe when you're busy comparing and doubting yourself, someone else is looking at you, wishing they were as talented and confident as you.

For me right now, focusing on The Career and The Art, I'm trying to tap into another Huffington quote from the actual Life Lessons event:

"However great your job is, who we are at our essence - despite that - is magnificent...tap into that: it's SO inspiring"

Balancing Act

As I begin the process of retooling and restructuring my day-to-day life and source(s) of income, I am continually conscious of staying mentally and physically healthy, as well as being inspired by the people around me. 

I do a lot of things to try and stay healthy: walks by the lakes of Minneapolis, bubble baths, Mexican food, wine with friends, and snuggling with my cat are just a few. On the exercise front, I find a lot of comfort in running and yoga.

My friend Calley recently started teaching at Yoga Garden in Minneapolis, and I just went to my first class with her last week. It was so wonderful to just be present in a welcoming, airy space like Yoga Garden, and be led through poses with fellow yogis.

I felt particularly inspired to practice that day after reading the weekly message Calley had sent to her students:

"Finding Balance

It is part of the human experience to live in a bubble because we are limited to the perspective of what is around us.  Even people who are very worldly, in relative terms, live in their own version of a bubble because it is impossible to understand each and every version of the human experience in one lifetime.

... the thought of my mothers’ support for my career choices made me realize my own bubble. Not every female (still, sadly) has the kind of support to take professional risks. I’ve got a pretty cushy bubble here.

And this is balance:
STANDING SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF "I WANT SOMETHING BETTER," AND "I'D NEVER CHANGE A THING."
(Lino Miele's Ashtanga Yoga)"

I understand that position of balance at this moment in time better than ever before. I'm lucky to have received these words at just this time in life, and to get them from a friend and fellow artist-preneur! Let's all strive for some balance AND risk taking!

My Shadow Career

All my life I've attempted to exert a certain amount of control by compartmentalizing. Family. Friends. Dating. School. Work. Art. By keeping things in their boxes, I could thrive within multi-tasking. I could go easier on myself when one area was down, because others would be in stasis. Others would be full and balanced and gratifying.

Within the last decade of my life, I have done many things. I've lived abroad. I've traveled to Europe, Asia, and Australia. I've witnessed marriages, divorces, births, and deaths. I've fallen in and out of love. I've completed two post high-school degrees. Somewhere along the way I realized that I don't have to separate everything for my own safety and balance. I realized that the important people in my life were there in every part of it. That my identity is based on more than just one of these boxes or labels like "getting married" or "having a college degree". I found myself within graphic design, and realized that art didn't have to just be one separated part of my life, it could be part of everything that I did.

But the one part of my life where I couldn't seem to reconcile this is with my job. I left school with a clear vision in my head of who I was, the kind of work I want to do. I kept at it, going from job to job. Leaving some by choice, some because I had to. I continued to define myself by my job, even when I found it totally unsatisfying. I told myself (and was told by others) that if I just "toughed it out enough" I would "eventually" get to do "what I really wanted". And so when it inevitably didn't work out, it felt like wasn't working out. That I was broken.

What I've come to realize through this long process of ups and downs is that

1. There is nothing wrong about listening to your head and your heart about what it is you really want,

and

2. There is sometimes nothing more frightening in the world than doing this.

"It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be" —Paul Arden

LISTEN:

As I've noted in my manifesto on this site, I've been questioned many times about what I really want. I didn't fit neatly into many standardized roles. I felt that I knew what I wanted, how I wanted to work, and who I wanted to work with. The environment I want to work within is not some kind of "perfect job", but rather it is a fully realized vision to me. Above all, I have ideas and drive, and I knew that if the environment wasn't there, than I would create it. I wanted to create my own business.

But I didn't listen to myself. I pushed it off, convincing myself I needed to somehow be conventionally successful. I stayed in situations I shouldn't have. I got fired. I worked with dishonest people. One of my favorite pieces of advice from George Lois's "Damn Good Advice" (and one I wish I had taken to heart far earlier) is #54:

Never eat shit. (If it looks like shit, and it smells like shit, and it tastes like shit... it’s shit.)
If you’re in a relationship (with your boss, supervisor, partner, or client), and you suspect that you are continually being used and/or abused, admit it— you’re eating shit. Without the courage to put an end to it, you’ll never create good work. Put an end to it.

FEAR:

It takes courage to stop eating shit, as Lois notes. It also takes courage to stop being afraid of the unknown. And here's the crazy part: It takes courage even when you know the unknown is what you truly want. 

I've known all along I wanted to have my own business, but it is only in the last couple weeks I have become serious about launching it. Yes, I'm sure I will have ups and downs. Yes, I'm terrified. But I also feel alive. I'm tired of being "trapped in a shadow career" as Steven Pressfield calls it. I've know what I want to do. I may even say the words to other people. But do I have the courage to act on it?

Many artists are addicts, and vice versa. Many are artists in one breath and addicts in another. What’s the difference?

The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional.

When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling – meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.
— Steven Pressfield, from "Turning Pro"

If you're still reading, thanks for sticking with me to this point. This is one of the most self-revealing things I've written in a long time.

I'll be updating this blog with my courageous adventures in freelancing in the coming months. Do you feel stuck in a shadow career? Do you have advice for breaking free? Share your thoughts and struggles in the comments.

30 Days of Ogilvy

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

I've been reading a lot of great stuff lately- both fiction and nonfiction, which is a bit rare for me. One book, that I've wanted to read for a long time and am finally getting around to is David Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man

I pretty much fell in love with it right away. Ogilvy is fairly anti-Minnesotan, in that he is blunt. He writes the book all in first person, and every page is filled with declarative statements that you might alternately love or hate. Agree or disagree with. 

To celebrate what I consider the wit and wisdom of this book, I will be tweeting a daily quote from the book with the hashtag #30daysofOgilvy. And I'm starting 5 days late, since I'm 5 minutes late for pretty much everything in life.

Beautiful thoughts for a rainy day

Nothing explicitly design-related within this post, except of course that every artist should be able to find resonance somewhere within this beautiful Yeats poem.

My sister is an expert on Yeats- I don't know that much about him beyond the basics (he had some sort of late in life fascination with mysticism?!), but his strong, rhythmic language has always made an impression on me.

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors' eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

This poem originally appeared in the May 1914 issue of Poetry magazine

Bonus serendipity that came to me in an email from Good this week. Looking forward to more from this blog!

WORDS OF ADVICE

Four years of university, living on three continents, and countless stories later, I think I’ve finally learnt a useful thing or two:

  1. If you’re bothered by every rub how do you expect to be polished?
  2. You are not an unmotivated person, there are only unmotivational contexts—work through them.
  3. A point is always more effectively made when you don’t need to yell simply so that others cannot be heard.
  4. Know what type of people you attract. 
  5. People are going to talk about you. people are going to look at you. People are going to overanalyze you. No one is going to do this more to you than yourself.
  6. Things do not always get better or easier. You get better.
  7. Do not judge your present self against your past self’s standards. 
  8. If you never hear dissenting opinions you need to find them and listen.