Category Archives: Self-Help

My Totally Relaxing Sabbatical Week

I was on my sabbatical week last week, and it was AWESOME.

In the past, I tried to be somewhat productive during my sabbaticals wether it’s learning something new or getting a project done. But this time, I was determined to just do whatever I felt like doing, whenever I wanted to. 

I had no agendas or goals. I just wanted to relax and unwind and that’s exactly what I did  🙂

Here is the report back from my super relaxing week off:

1. I read a bunch!

My husband Dave got me a Kindle for my birthday in January. I’d never had an e-reader before and wasn’t sure how I’d like reading on a device vs. paper books.

Well, it turns out, I LOVED it.

I love being able to get a bunch of books for free from a local library and also buy Japanese e-books through Amazon Japan for much cheaper (and quicker!).

Sadly, they don’t have a very good selection of Japanese e-books at Seattle Public Library, but I got an English version of Haruki Murakami’s book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and enjoyed it very much.

Normally, I get to read like 15 minutes before I go to bed (if I’m lucky!) but during my sabbatical week, I just read whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted.

I still got up fairly early every morning, but instead of writing, I just read on the couch. It was such a luxury to spend hours reading during the day!

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I also received an advance copy of Lisa Congdon’s The Joy of Swimming the other day and started diving in (pun intended!) during my sabbatical week.

Lisa is one of the artists I admire so very much, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be her friend on the internet. And I’m SO honored to be contributing a book review for this upcoming book!

I’ll write more about this beautifully illustrated book of hers in the coming weeks. But let me tell you it’s so delightful and inspiring ❤ The book will be released on April 17, and you can preorder it now here!

2. Cooking & Eating

You know food is my passion. I’m more passionate about eating than cooking 😀 but in order for me to eat good food, I’m often exploring different ways to cook with fresh, nutritional ingredients.

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Growing up in Japan, I had a close relationship with fermented/cultured foods. Maybe it’s wired in my DNA 🙂 but I love the process of making fermented foods very much. Fermented foods are full of flavors and good probiotics that help your digestive functions.

I’ve been making yogurt, bread, fermented nut/seed spread, miso, pickled vegetables etc. for quite some time. Homemade fermented foods taste a lot better than the store-bought ones, and I feel good knowing exactly what’s in it and how it was made.

Yes you do need to put in some prep work, but after that, you just let them be and let the nature work its magic!

I feel like a little kid on a Christmas day every time I open up a crock or jar of fermented foods for the first time. It’s not always successful but after you’ve done it a couple of times, you’ll get a hang of it. I love how everything turns out slightly differently every time even if you follow the same recipe.

Anyway, I made the vegetarian kimchi above with Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, and carrots, and it turned out yummy!

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I was also able to take extra time to prepare yummy breakfast like this in the morning during my time off.

Funny thing is, I grew up in a household where we ate more western style breakfast (like toast and eggs) but I’ve been getting into eating more traditional Japanese food for breakfast. It’s nice to switch things around depending on my mood 🙂

3. Fun & Unproductive Things to Refuel

The rest of the week, I did things just for fun 🙂

I had a very nice (and overdue) facial at Luminous Skincare Studio using the gift certificate Dave gave me for our anniversary, had tea with friends, had a night out with Dave to watch Academy nominated animated shorts and just enjoyed each other’s company more 🙂

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And of course, this guy really enjoyed extended lap time with his mama ❤

Overall, It was soooooo relaxing and exactly what I needed! I’ve said this before and will say it again – Deciding to take every 7th week off was the best thing I’ve done for myself and my creative business! 

Yay for self-care!!

xo Yuko

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It’s OK to change your mind

changing-mind_loresHi! I’m back from my sabbatical week off. I’ll write more about what I did later this week! Stay tuned 🙂

I’m actually writing this post before I go on my sabbatical and wanted to share my thoughts on breaking commitments.

Let me back up a little and tell you that one of the ways I keep my focus and motivation is to tell my audience I’m going to do something. I’ll even set a due date and announce it to my audience like it’s a done deal. It’s called public accountability and it’s worked for me in many situations.

It works for me because integrity is very important to me, and I hate letting myself and other people down.

Setting a timeline and making the commitment known to the public give me the extra push when I feel like giving up. It doens’t matter if they remember or not. In fact, my audience is probably not tracking and remembering every single detail I share with them. What matters is that I remember. Remember that I put it out there because it was important enough for me to follow through.

Making a public commitment doesn’t make the process easy, per se, but it does help. It helped me with sticking to a year-long daily drawing project Happiness Is from 2014 to 2015. I also made a public commitment to publish a weekly blog last summer and did that until I said I’ll do it at least 3 times a week a month ago (so far, so good!). I’ve also been publishing a monthly newsletter since last summer, and I’d made a commitment before I started.

To be completely honest, when I make a commitment, I’m never 100% sure if I can deliver on the promise. I have the motivation and intention of sticking to it, of course. But things change. Maybe you realize your goals are different now than 6 months ago. Maybe you have more information about a particular situation and need to course correct. I’m still big on keeping my commitments in general, but I’m also learning to be more intentional and strategic about the commitments I keep and don’t keep.

I’m getting better at listening to my gut instinct and usually know if something wasn’t gonna work from the beginning. In those situations, I don’t have a hard time saying no from the get-go. What I struggle with the most is when I have to break my commitment after saying yes with a full intention of following through.

It’s interesting because when other people break their commitments, I get disappointed or annoyed but I’m able to let it go. But when I do it, even if I have a really good reason for it, it’s very, very difficult.

It feels somehow I’m not an honest and reliable person. I feel flakey. And that’s the last thing I want people to think of me as! I want to be seen as a person of integrity and want to be trusted by others.

Trust is so important. If you can’t trust me, why would you want to do business with me? I know my customers and audience won’t be able know me like my close friends and family do, but I want them to be able to trust that they’re going to have a positive experience when they are interacting with me.

If I change my mind and break my commitments, I’m afraid it’s going to negatively affect my customer’s experience. So my first reaction is to try my hardest to prioritize their experience over my better judgement.

But is that really the only way? Would my audience automatically have a horrible experience if I back out on my words?

While it is extremely important for me to do my best to keep my words, it’s also important for me to be honest and vulnerable when things aren’t working. You know what builds trust? You being brave and showing up as a real person. A real person with struggles and challenges.

And I have such a hard time doing it!! I’m afraid that showing up as a less-than-capable person is not inspiring to people. 

I often have to remind myself that when other people share what they’re struggling with, I get a lot out of it. It makes them more human. And if they’re human and accomplishing these amazing things, I can do it, too! It gives me motivation and inspires me to keep working towards my goals even if I hit a roadblock here and there.

In this recent Seanwes podcast episode, they talk about how people are encouraged by the fact that you showed up, not necessarily by how successful you are when you show up. I couldn’t agree more!

So I want to show up here today and share a story of me breaking commitments lately. This is not me making excuses – I’m pretty good at owning my decisions 🙂 but maybe you’re struggling with something similar and it’s helpful for you to hear my experiences. I want you to know that it’s OK to change your mind 🙂


I was planning on offering a creative coaching group in Seattle during April and May. It was going to be like a support group for creatives, and I was really excited about it. I had flyers made and had been advertising it on my website and social media for a couple of months.

But for the last few weeks, I had this nagging feeling whenever I thought about it. The class registration was about to open up on Febraury 15. I had already mapped out the promotion calendar and figured out the curriculum etc. But I just couldn’t get the excitement back when I thought about actually doing it. I was conflicted between wanting to do it and knowing it wasn’t the best use of my time and resources, considering my new focus was to grow the product side of my business (you can read more about refocusing my business goals here).

So I did the self-test and imagined how I’d feel if I cancelled the group. And when I did that, I felt relieved. When I imagined going through with it, I felt very unexcited and felt it was such a drag!

I had a few days before the registration opened and had to seize the opportunity then if I was going to cancel the group. So I wrote an email to the owner of the art school, where I was going to have the group, and let her know I decided to cancel the group. I was really anxious when I hit that “send” button. She’s been very nice and supportive, but I was afraid she was going to be dissapointed and think less of me.

A few days later she replied to me and was totally understanding and that was just that. I felt so much better and lighter!

Another thing I’m backing out of – I don’t know if you remember but I said a couple of months ago I was going to start another year-long drawing project this spring. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I had a really awesome experience when I did it the last time, and it’s continued to give me many opportunities now even almost a year later. I was also itching for a new creative challenge!

Then again, I realized it was just not the right time for me. Doing a regular project like that (especially a daily project) is like having another job. As awesome as it could be, it’s just not the kind of commitment I should be taking on at this time.

When breaking commitments, I remind myself that It’s not just about what other people would think or how they’re going to react to your decisions. You can never control those things 100%. What you can control is how you’re making your decisions and how to communicate your decisions to other people.

It takes courage to say, I was going to do this, but I can’t any more. Fear of judgement often creeps in and clouds your judgement. How do you know it’s not just a temporary feeling of cold feet? It feels scary to back out of things because the biggest opportunity of your life time might have been waiting just around the corner.

You’re right. You don’t always know. You just know what you know given the information that are presented to you at this present moment. So, how can you make the best decisions based on what you know?

My best advice is to listen to that little voice inside of you. Your intuition or gut instinct is there to protect you and guide you to make a decision that’s best for you. Imagine saying no to this opportunity. Imagine saying yes to this opportunity. How do you feel in your gut?

You can also talk about it with someone supportive, someone who is not emotionally attached to what you’re trying to do. It could be your partner, friend, mentor, a coach or a counselor. Even just telling them your situation and having them reflect it back to you can bring you a tremendous mental clarity.

In my recent situations, the big question I had to ask myself was – how is this going to help me reach my goals? It may seem selfish to think this way, focusing so much on what you’re going to get out of it, but you’ve got to. You have so much time and energy in a day to pursue your passion, spend with your loved ones, and to fulfill your other obligations. You want to choose a path that will allow you to meet your needs and needs of others most effectively.

If you’re choosing to do something that you know is not going to serve you, simply for the sake of keeping your commitment, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and people around you in the long run.

At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to deal with 100% of the consequences of your decisions. If I had not cancelled my coaching group, I would’ve had a very unsuccessful marketing campaign because I just didn’t have enough focus and time to promote it effectively. Maybe I would’ve had a very small number of participants sign up but still spent the same amount of time preparing and facilitating the group. And it would’ve taken away time and energy from focusing on my number one priority, resulting in me not being able to deliver the top notch awesome products to my customers this summer. Sad!!

Even if you make a decision to back out of your commitment through a thoughtful process, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people won’t be disappointed. They probably will, and that’s understandable. Just like you’re allowed to have feelings and emotions about changes, so are people on the receiving end of your actions. And if you’ve been cultivating good relationships with your customers and audience, and you’re being honest about the reasons for change, they’ll eventually understand.

I’m learning that nothing terrible happens when I break my commitments. As long as I’m making those decisions carefully and intentionally and communicate honestly about it, things usually work out. By saying no, I’m saying yes to a future me who is happier and more fulfilled. And that future me will produce better work and be able to provide a better experience for my audience long term. And that is something worth being courageous for!

xo Yuko

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I’m going to be on a sabbatical this week!

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I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be on my sabbatical week this coming week and won’t be posting any blog for a week. Since I’ve increased my blog output lately, my absence might be more noticeable during this sabbatical, and I didn’t want you to worry 🙂 It’s intentional!

In case your’e not familiar, I’m borrowing this idea of Small Scale Sabbaticals from Seanwes and have been taking every 7th week off since last October. And let me tell you, it’s a life saver!! 

Since I started pursuing my passion full-time last summer, I’ve been working very hard. Like Sean says in his article, it’s hard to stop working sometimes when your work is something you love, and working towards your dream feels so fulfilling.

But if you don’t stop and take care of yourself, you’ll burn out. And if you’re burnt out, the quality of your work will suffer, and eventually you’ll stop enjoying what you love. So sad! I’ve noticed signs of burn-out creeping up several times in the last 6 months and am glad I have a system in place to regularly step back and recharge. In fact, it’s one of the most important investments I make for myself and my business.

A friend recently asked me what I do during a sabbatical week. Basically, it’s a time for me to step back from my day-to-day and spend time doing things I don’t normally get to do.

During my past sabbaticals, I’ve done some of these things:

  • Cook and bake more
  • Work on creative side projects for fun
  • Spend more time with friends and family
  • Take webinars and classes
  • Do long-term business planning and goal-setting
  • Work on big picture projects
  • Organize and declutter the office
  • And, relax and veg out!

I don’t do client work and stay away from my daily blog-writing routine during my sabbaticals. I engage in the social media on and off to post about things I’m working on (mostly for fun) during the sabbaticals, but I’m more relaxed about posting consistently.

You might be surprised to see things like long-term business planning on my list above, but I find it refreshing to focus on some of the bigger-picture thinking during my sabbaticals. It’s so important to do, yet I never seem to make the time for it when I’m buried in the day-to-day of growing a creative business!

At the end of the day, you can spend your sabbaticals however you want as long as you come out of it refreshed and energized. It may mean a relaxing vacation on a tropical beach (I wish!) or maybe it’s spending a day in the kitchen labeling everything in your pantry… The world is your oyster, my friend!

Although taking a regular time off feels a bit scary at times, it also makes me stay productive during my “on” weeks because I don’t want to worry about any loose ends during my sabbaticals. I remember being extra motivated to get stuff done before a vacation at my old day job. It’s the same thing! Except, when you work for yourself, you get to decide how often you take your time-off and you don’t need anyone’s permission 😀

If you’re curious about it, I say just do it! I wasn’t sure if it was going to work at first but once you do it a couple of times, it just becomes something you do. I schedule all of the future sabbaticals on my calendar so I know when it’s happening and can plan other things around it.

If every 7th week off seems too much, you can start small and take a long weekend or even a day off to remove yourself from the everyday busyness. I do recommend you schedule it regularly and follow through with it so it doesn’t get put on a back burner.

I honestly don’t know how I stay motivated and focused without my sabbaticals. It’s definitely a game changer!

I usually write a blog post about what I did during my sabbatical week and you can expect a report from me after I come back 🙂 You can check out my past posts here if you want to know more!

Have a wonderful week! Looking forward to seeing you after my sabbatical 🙂

xo Yuko

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An advice for a 13-year-old aspiring artist

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The other day, I was at a craft show with my booth selling my paper and hand block printed goodies.

It was going pretty slow for me. But I always enjoy getting to know my fellow vendors and chatting with the people who stopped by my booth.

In the afternoon towards the end of the day, this mother and daughter stopped by to look at my products. They were saying to each other how cute they thought my stuff was, so I thanked them and let them know they can pick up/touch anything and ask me any questions.

The mom started chatting with me about what I do and asked me how I became an artist. So I gave her a short version of my background and told her how I started making art for fun as an adult and gradually became serious about pursuing it as a career and eventually quit my day job at a non-profit social service organization last summer.

She seemed delighted to hear my story and proceeded to tell me her daughter is an aspiring artist. Her daughter was standing next to her looking a little uncomfortable now the focus was on her. She was about 13-year-old and wasn’t saying very much at this point.

Her mom started showing me the pictures of her drawings on her phone and was so proud of all of her daughter’s work.

I told them I liked her drawings – they were Manga drawings she’d made on her mom’s phone, and it reminded me of my Manga-drawing days of my pre-teen years, too. She smiled a little shy smile. She started scrolling the photos and showed me more work and told me a little bit about each – about the outfit her character was wearing, what the scene was about etc.

Her mom then asked me if I had any advice for her daughter for becoming a working artist some day. I thought for a second and shared my thoughts with them.

You’ve gotta work hard.

Practice drawing every day. Don’t try to make your work look like someone else’s. Your skills are important, and having your own style is even more important. Find something that’s uniquely you and let it shine through all of your drawings. Enjoy the process. And put your work out there! Let people find your gift.

I get pretty fired up about people pursuing their passion, so I may have been a little intense. But that’s the best advice I’ve gotten and wanted to pass on to anyone who is wanting to choose a creative path.

She nodded as she listened to what I had to say. After our little chat, they thanked me for my time and advice and left my booth to get on with their afternoon.

As they walked away, I felt a huge sense of fulfillment and truly wished her dream would come true some day. And I was once again reminded of how privileged I was to be able to pursue my creative passion so wholeheartedly in my current life.

And also, how cool is it that her mom is super supportive of her daughter’s creative passion? It’s so important for creative people, especially young people her age, to know that what they create is valuable and internalize that message. Having a parent who is so excited and encouraging of her creative path would help her future endeavors tremendously!

Try to encourage young people in your life to stay creative. And you can be a role model by staying creative yourself 🙂

xo Yuko

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My Interview with Stephanie Medford at Everyday Artistry

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Hello!

I was so honored to be interviewed by Stephanie Medford on her blog Everyday Artistry the other day! Stephanie is an artist and encourages others to build a life full of creativity through her art and blog.

She’d asked me to share my creative process and how I embrace creativity in my daily life with her readers, and of course, I said yes!

Every time I’m asked to talk about my passion and process, I discover something I hadn’t thought about before. I wanted to share the interview with you and hope it inspires you to have creativity in your everyday living, too 🙂

You can read the full interview here. Enjoy!

xo Yuko

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7 Tools to Find and Keep Your Motivation

motivation_loresI’m often asked where my motivation comes from.

My short answer: it comes from my deep desire to make my art business successful. I daydreamed about becoming a full-time artist for so long, and once I had the opportunity I wanted it to work out so badly. I hate letting myself down. And since I’m just a one-woman show right now, if I don’t hustle, it won’t happen. And I’d be a very sad person if I failed!motivation

Even though I had a great job, it’s no surprise my heart wasn’t in it 100%. I was sad that I wasn’t following my creative passion all the time. I was frustrated that I couldn’t devote more time and energy into my art business. I had this yearning to have my life centered around creativity, and my reality wasn’t matching my vision.

When I quit my day job last summer, my reality finally matched my vision. And the scary thing was, I didn’t have any more excuse for how slow my business was growing. There was no “oh, well I have a day job and don’t have time to do my art and make my business happen!” It was time to hustle. It was time to do what I said I wanted to do for a long time. People around me seemed to think I could do it, and I had to prove to myself I could do it, too.

It’ll have been 6 months since I quit my day job when this post comes out, and the best thing about running my own show is actually not the fact I have more time to make art (because actually, I do a lot of other stuff to run the business than making art…), but it’s the fact I get to make decisions about my work and do what I love on my own terms. It also means if I slack off, it’ll take me longer to achieve my goals or not at all.

Sure it can be hard and stressful, and there are many annoying things about being your own boss. But it’s also extremely fulfilling. I just love it and want to protect it as much as I can!

With that said, I have other tools to keep me motivated and disciplined for the long run. Hope you’ll find them helpful!

1. Find your “why”

When I work for a goal, like working out regularly and sticking to a healthy eating habit, I need to have a very clear purpose. If I don’t understand why I’m doing something, I tend to be less engaged with the process, and it usually won’t last.

So when I quit my day job last summer, I spent half a day creating my artist manifesto. I went through a whole process to clarify why it’s important for me to have art and creativity as a center piece of my life. It’s a declaration of how I want to be in the world. You can peek into my process here.

My artist manifesto is put up on the wall by my desk, and every time I look at it, I feel encouraged and centered.

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My artist manifesto

2. Seanwes podcast

I get SO much motivation about creativity and business from a handlettering artist/entrepreneur, Sean McCabe’s contents (especially his podcasts and YouTube channel). When I feel like slacking off, I listen to his podcast and get fired up immediately. You must check out his work if you’re a creative entrepreneur!

This 2-minute video always gives me the motivation boost! Show up every day for two years.

 

3. Public Commitment

When I’m working on something big or new, I like to let the public (i.e. social media & blog) know that I’m doing it and when. It worked really well when I worked on my 365 Day Happiness Project from 2014-2015. Even though my audience probably isn’t tracking what I’m doing as closely as I am, it gives me the extra motivation to say it out loud to the people who support my work.

4. Track your progress 

I like to write down what I’ve accomplished every day. For most days, it’s small things like, writing a blog, sketching ideas for new work, or shipping my Etsy orders etc. But I’m no longer saying “What did I do today?” and actually see how productive I’ve been. And if I hadn’t been productive, I could review the day to see where I got stuck.

What’s great about tracking your progress, ideally every day, is that you can see how your everyday small accomplishments are helping you achieve your big goals. What you do every day, though it might seem unimportant, counts.

I hate doing finances. I just find no joy in the bookkeeping activity! But I make myself do my finances at the beginning of each month. I usually have a pretty good idea about how much revenue I had the previous month, but it’s nice to see the actual numbers especially if it’s more than what you thought! And it makes the year-end tax preparation a lot easier…

I also started tracking my social media following monthly a few months ago. I don’t want to put too much weight on how many people follow me on social media, but it’s good to know that my audience is growing 🙂

5. Accountability Partner

I have a few accountability partners I meet on a monthly basis. Having a one-on-one accountability and a dedicated time and space to talk about your goals and challenges is very helpful. It’s like when I know we have a visitor, we do a better job of cleaning our house. When I know I’m going to have my accountability meetings, I’ll be extra motivated to get stuff done. I wrote my experience with my accountability partners here and here if you’re interested!

6. Set a deadline for a project (even if it’s fake!)

I’m not gonna lie – If I don’t have a deadline for a project, it will NOT get done. It’s a fact. When someone (usually a personal friend) wants me to do something for them and tell me “whenever you have time, no rush!” It just won’t happen. I need a hard deadline to get motivated!!

So when I don’t have an external deadline assigned to me, I usually set one for myself and pretend it’s the hard and fast timeline to get something done by. I often combine this with the public commitment piece for extra motivation!

For example, when I had offered to teach my block printing class and group coaching sessions this spring at a local art school, I set the dates and time for the classes first and started promoting them before I had the contents. This way I have to make it happen, and it helps me backwards plan all the steps to execute it.

7. Develop habits that set you up for a long-term success

Of course, I’m human, and if I’m on all the time, I’ll eventually burn out. I believe firmly that avoiding burn-out is one of my top priorities for my long-term success and well-being. If I lose joy in what I do or get sick because I neglect to take care of myself, all bets are off, right?

Some of the habits I’ve developed for self-care are: getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night, getting up early and do something productive first thing in the morning, workout regularly, eating a healthy diet, no social media during meals, making sure I have plenty of alone/quiet time, and taking every 7th week off to recharge.

As you can imagine, maintaining these habits are not always easy! It means you have to say no to many things you enjoy doing. But that’s the thing about habits – once you get used to doing something over and over, you’ll start to feel off-balance if you don’t do it! And even if you slip every once in a while, it’ll be a lot easier to get back into it. If you’re trying to replace some of your unhelpful habits with more helpful ones, I say go slow, focus on one thing at a time! Be patient and kind to yourself if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you want. Developing new habits takes time.

Finding your motivation isn’t easy – especially if you’ve been trying hard for a long time and haven’t seen any significant results. These tools have helped me find a motivation when I felt like crawling into a hole and forget about everything. I hope it’ll inspire you to come up with strategies that work for you!

Take care, my friend 🙂

xoxo Yuko

p.s. My Creative Coaching service is officially open! Let me know if you’re a creative person needing help getting stuff done. Learn more here.

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On Humility and Tenacity

so-humble_loresHappy almost February!  I hope your new year is going well so far.

I have a lot going on on my plate right now! Registration for my Introduction to Block Printing class and my Creative Coaching service will officially open tomorrow February 1, 2016! So I’ve been working many hours to prepare.

And as I wrote last week, I’m also shifting my business goal a little bit this year to focus more on my art products. Of course, I’d made a commitment to add on all these new services (teaching, coaching etc.) before I realized I needed a better focus for my business…, and I’ve been trying to figure out ways to tie them all together so they’re all part of a cohesive brand. Which is easier said than done…!

I’m very excited for all these opportunities and at the same time feeling very humble. I’m learning and growing at a hyper speed and for sure make lots of mistakes in the process.

Making mistakes isn’t fun for anyone especially if you’re a perfectionist. Disclaimer: I actually don’t consider myself a perfectionist, per se, (my husband might disagree…). But I always want to do a good job and feel bad when I make mistakes.

Growing up, I did pretty well academically without trying very hard. I was no genius, but I didn’t struggle very much to “get” whatever we needed to get good grades. I’d study some and did good enough across the board. I was naturally a pretty good artist and did well with languages, too. I’ve never been athletically inclined, but other than that, I was pretty much able to coast from childhood to college.

As nice as it sounds, I realize now that I didn’t develop a strong tenacity as a child. I read this study once that one of the key factors for success is not necessarily your innate talent but it’s your grit: your ability to stick to it long-term even if things get hard.

I faced some road blocks and struggles when I moved to the states after high school just because it was such a big transition! Learning to navigate a totally new culture and systems in a foreign language took some time and effort. It was like I reverted back to being a small child again. Granted I was still young and didn’t have as much of a hard time adapting as my older counterparts, but still.

Once I got in to the university, I struggled to keep up with the classes. Studying college level materials in my second language (not to mention in  Women Studies, which involve a lot of very complex ideas and critical thinking…) was very difficult! I couldn’t just coast any more. I had to study very hard just to get mediocre grades.

It was a very humbling experience and helped me to develop the tenacity I was lacking growing up. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I’m grateful that I didn’t end up being the big fish in a small pond forever.

I had a big transition again last year when I left my day job to pursue art full-time. It was a very exciting change but also one of the scariest. For my day job, I worked for the same organization (though in different positions) for 14+ years. I knew the people, how the organization ran, the community, and the work really well. I realized once again I’d become very comfortable in my environment and wasn’t trying very hard to challenge myself.

Even though I had been working on my art business on the side for several years up until that point, now I really had to do it. I was leaving what I knew and a huge part of my identity to figure out where I belonged in the world again. It was like my teenage flashback all over again! Ahhh!

But what was different this time around was that I’d had more life experience and knew from the get-go it wasn’t going to be easy. I expected challenges and a long road ahead of me when I took the leap of faith. Instead of being ashamed of not being able to just pick it up and be successful over night, I was ready to be patient with myself and allow grace for my growth and learning. I see my mindset shift as a sign of maturity, and it makes me hopeful that there is no limit to a person’s growth no matter how old you are!

I’d rather welcome experiences that make me humble than staying in the comfort zone and being stagnant. 

When you’re naturally good at something and not used to making mistakes, it’s discouraging when things don’t go as smoothly. It almost feels personal. It makes you vulnerable and makes you want to go back to what you know and feel safe. But when you learn to sit with your discomfort and appreciate the fact that you still have room for growth, you’ll find the courage to push forward. And the more you do whatever scares you, the easier and less scary it gets! I know and have experienced this first hand many times now 🙂

If your fear of mistakes is keeping you from following your passions, you’re saying no to so many opportunities and possibilities. You’ll experience the world much more fully when you act with bravery and courage every day.

You’ll probably still feel bad when you make a mistake (I do!), but don’t let that stop you from getting up and trying again. Yes, do let yourself feel whatever emotions that come up and be kind to yourself.  But instead of blaming yourself/other people/the circumstances, focus on what you can do to change the outcome in the future. It’s so empowering to put the power back in your hands.

Be brave, my friend! I know you got it.

xoxo Yuko

p.s. As I shift my business focus this year, my approach to this blog will shift a little bit too. I’ll still be providing these self-help-y contents because I like to help you! I’ll also be highlighting more of my creative processes, what I’m making/doing, and things that inspire me. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing my posts more often, and that it will continue serving as a source of creative inspiration!

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I had a moment of clarity during my sabbatical week.

believe_WT_loresHello!

How’re you? I’m back from my mini sabbatical week this week and have lots to share with you!

For those of you who are new to my blog, welcome! 🙂 I take every 7th week off from my regular work to step back and do things I don’t normally get to do, like learning new skills and pursue my other creative passions. (You can learn more about where the idea came from here.) I write a blog post about my sabbatical week afterwards to share what I did with you. It’s helpful for me to reflect on my sabbatical, and it also helps me to hold myself accountable to actually take the regular time off!

Since I’d just taken a few days off over the holidays, I wasn’t too much in need of relaxation/vegging out time. Instead, I focused my time and energy on learning, business planning, and organizing.

Here is a few highlights of what I’ve done!

1)  Future Planning & Refocusing My Business Goals

It’s been almost 6 months since I quit my day job (hooray!), and I’m now beginning to realize I need to tweak my strategy for my art business, Honeyberry Studios. My strategies have been to work hard, do more of what I’m good at, and put myself out there consistently and see what sticks. Yes, I’ve been getting exciting opportunities by doing these things, and my business is growing for sure. But I knew I needed a clear focus to take my business to the next level. 

I had a privilege of having a mini coaching session with Cassie from Modern Thrive (and Maker Mentors) the previous week. By the way, both organizations offer very practical professional development resources for creative people, and I’ve taken a few of their workshops before. I’m currently signed up for their One Year to Build a Better Business free training and Cassie had offered limited number of coaching sessions to the training participants. (FYI – She normally doesn’t do individual coaching, so you won’t see it offered on her sites.)

Anyway, during our coaching session, she went right in to the heart of the matter: my business lacks focus. I sell physical products. I do commission work. I write a self-help blog. And now I’m starting a coaching practice! It was definitely an elephant in the room I was trying to ignore for a while.

She suggested I pick one thing and focus on that first. And once that one thing starts to bring in enough income, then I can start to expand.

I’d heard that message over and over from different sources before, but I was so close to everything I was doing and was in denial about it until then. But as I was hearing that from Cassie, it finally clicked with me. I was in the right place to really listen and understand that I needed to niche down to be more successful. 

Of course I had a mini panic to think I had to just pick one thing and go with it. The reason why I’ve been doing many things is because I’m good at them and like doing them!

I’m sure many of you can understand the fear of just focusing on one thing as most creative people have more than one passion and talent… Am I gonna be bored? What if I choose a wrong thing to focus on? But then people won’t know I’m good at other things, too! Ahhhhh!!

Whenever I’m faced with difficult situations, I usually freak out a little bit. Then I calm down and start processing more logically about what’s going on and figure out the next steps.

For this situation, I freaked out thinking I needed to do a major course correction for my business, pre-mourning the loss of things I don’t get to pursue, and then began to feel hopeful that having a clear focus is going to help me be more successful.

Cassie asked what I wanted to focus on. I thought for a minute. If I had to choose one thing, what would it be? I answered, it’d be working on my illustrated products.

If I’m truly being honest with myself,  commission/client work is not my first choice even though it helps with the cash flow the most. There is often a lot of back and forth with the client, and it takes a lot of energy to create something that meets their goals while accomplishing my vision for the project. It can be really stressful. I think part of the problem is that I’m not charging enough… But that’s another story!

Going back to my preference to focus on products – although it’ll take longer to make a profit from selling products compared to doing commission work, and there is a lot of work involved in having a successful product based business, I’d much rather be directing my own creative vision and how my voice and values are reflected on what I provide for my customers.

Just to clarify, and I was happy to hear this from Cassie, too, it doesn’t mean that I’ll quit everything else I’m doing now (i.g. blog, teaching, coaching etc).  I’ll still keep my other ventures going on the side to continue to build a community and to bring in supplemental income. I just need to put most of my time and resources into building a successful product business this year. And when I say product business, I’m talking about growing my Etsy shop (e.g. greeting cards, art prints, and stationery), mostly!

I’ll also be shifting the focus of this blog a little bit. I’ve been focused so much on providing contents to help other artists  with creativity and motivation this past year. AND I’ll definitely continue to provide the same, helpful contents because that’s my passion, and I won’t be fulfilled if I let that go completely.

The future of my blog is actually very exciting! I’m envisioning my blog to become a channel to bring you even more creative inspirations in the coming year! You’ll definitely be seeing my posts more often, and I’ll be sharing more behind the scenes creative process, new products and services to inspire a creative lifestyle, and things I learn along the way!

Though unknowns are always a bit uncomfortable, I’m feeling grateful to have a clearer direction for my creative business. I hope you’ll enjoy learning different aspects of my creative life on my future blog! 🙂

2)  Learning Opportunities

Another thing I did during my sabbatical week is to learn! I participated in a few really great learning opportunities.

  • I participated in the Money Management for Creative Types webinar with Melanie Lockert of Dear Debt. I’m not bad with money and am generally frugal, but I’m not super comfortable with money, either. Numbers just don’t excite me. But this is one of the things I needed to have a better grasp on in order for me to grow my business, and the workshop was awesome! Melanie shared a ton of practical tips and tools on how to manage your finances and increase your income. I feel more confident about my money management skills now!
  • As I mentioned earlier, I’d signed up for the Building a Better Business free one-year training with Maker Mentors. We receive one email every week for a year with assignments and challenges to help our creative business grow. I worked on the challenge from the first week, which was to create a business plan! The timing was perfect as I was recalibrating my business focus, so I spent quite a bit of time working on that. I still need to refine it, but it gave me a good place to start.
  • OK, the universe does send you messages and nudge you in the right direction, doesn’t she? As soon as I had my conversation with Cassie about shifting my focus to product-based business, I saw a Facebook ad about this free video training about how to build a successful handmade business with Renae Christine. I immediately signed up and devoured her contents as I received her videos in 3 parts. The videos were short and sweet and packed full of helpful information!! I took a bunch of notes but need to go back many times for sure.

I always feel energized and pumped after great trainings and webinars. Now off to put into practice what I’ve learned!!

3)  Office Purge

I confess. I’m not a very organized person.  My physical space that is. Like crunching numbers, I’m just not excited about organizing stuff. I organize my working space every once in a while but it doesn’t stay clean for very long. I like to have things around where I can see, and it gets cluttered pretty quickly.

I’m often envious of other people’s beautiful minimalist studio spaces I see on the internet. I kinda like having a little bit of clutter though (I get inspired by the little things I have!) and don’t think I’ll ever have a super clean studio. But my space had become less functional over time, and I recruited my husband Dave to help me with an office purge. Dave, unlike me, grew up in a very OCD household and gets energized about organizing things! Talk about a perfect match 🙂 So we scheduled a purge date during my sabbatical week and got to work.

My ultimate goal was to organize my “art shelf” that is right by my desk in our shared home office. It was so packed, and things were kept in random places, and I often couldn’t find what I needed. We had stuff piled in front of the shelf, too, so it was very hard to get to things on the bottom two shelves. It was definitely not helping me to be creative!

On Monday, we spent several hours going through everything on the shelf. Dave helped me to assess what I need to have on the shelf vs. what could be stored elsewhere. We reorganized our storage room to make room for extra supplies, threw some things away, and took the rest to Goodwill.

Here is my before and after photo!

before-and-after

OK, maybe it still doesn’t look totally organized :D, but believe me, it’s 100 times more functional! I want to get nicer bins and boxes for my tools and products eventually, but for now, this will do! Things are much more organized and easy to access, and I feel spacious. Breathe.

We only tackled this one area in the office in one day and talked about scheduling a regular purge session to tackle other parts of our house. Sounds good to me! I like taking baby steps 🙂


There you have it! That’s what I did on my sabbatical week. As you can see, I did a lot of planning, learning, and organizing, which was just what I needed. Even though it may not seem like a relaxing week off, I’m really fired up and energized about the direction my business is taking this year!

Looking forward to sharing more with you as things progress! Thanks for being on this ride with me 🙂

xo Yuko

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My 3 Daily Self-Care Habits

take-care_loresHello!

How was your week? I hope your new year is off to a good start and that you’re able to get back into the groove of things after the holidays.

It’s been almost 6 months since I quit my day job! Hooray! Boy how time flies! My next 6 months are already filling up with exciting opportunities, and I’m so grateful 🙂

I’m opening up my Creative Coaching service officially in a couple of weeks, will be guest teaching for the Journey Within e-course in March, and offering in-person Block Printing workshops and Creative Coaching group sessions in Seattle in April and May. It’ll be a hectic few months, but I’m not complaining! If you build it, they’ll come, right?

By the time this blog post comes out, I’ll have taken yet another sabbatical week! I decided to take every 7th week off to step back and recharge last fall following Seanwes‘ advice, and this is my 3rd one already! Taking a regular time off makes me anxious a little bit especially when there is so much to do, but I have no doubt my mini sabbaticals are keeping me from getting burnt out. When you’re following your passion and work for yourself, it’s so easy to just work, work, work. It’s engaging, and you want to see the results fast. But you’ll eventually get burnt out if you don’t take care of yourself. And then what?

Taking regular sabbaticals works for me because I can plan things around it in advance, and once you get in a habit of it, one week off every 7 weeks isn’t that big of a deal.

But I understand that it’s not always feasible to hit the “off” switch regularly if you don’t have the flexibility to do so. Maybe you have a day job or want to align your time off with your kids’ school schedule etc. And that’s totally fine. You just need to find a self-care strategy that works for you and your unique situation.

In the last 6 months, I’ve been developing a few daily habits that help me stay well. The daily small maintenance is helping to repair any wear and tear as it happens so I still have energy to enjoy my sabbaticals when it happens. Just like your house or a car, if you treat them crappy all the time and try to fix them all at once, it’s going to be more work and is gonna cost you more. Maybe some damages will be permanent. It’s same for your self-care. If you do a little bit of maintenance every day, you won’t need to do an overhaul down the road. It’s totally OK to prioritize it 🙂

So, on my mini sabbatical post today, I wanted to share a few daily self-care habits I’ve developed:

1) Get up early and take advantage of the quiet time.

I get up at 5:30am most of the days. On my workout day, I go to the gym first thing in the morning. On my non-workout day, I grab a glass of water and start writing. It’s usually my blog posts, or sometimes it’s my newsletter or some other contents.

You might be wondering, “Well, getting up early in the morning doesn’t sound like a self-care! Isn’t sleeping-in better?” I know. I started it as a way to be more productive. But I also noticed how quiet my mind is when I begin my day early and focus on one thing. I feel more spacious and my brain is less cluttered with noise and to-do lists.

And It feels GREAT to get my writing or workout done before 7am. You have the whole day ahead of you to work on your other tasks! This could be particularly a good habit for those who have kids or live with other people. This is sometimes the only quiet time I have all day because my husband also works from home, and once he (and our noisy parakeets) gets up, our tiny apartment is no longer a quiet oasis 😀 As an introvert, I need my alone, quiet time on a regular basis, and this is a great way to ensure I get it every day.

An important note for getting up early is, I don’t check my email or social media until after breakfast. I want my mind to be free of information clutter as much as possible during my morning quiet time. Delaying your email or social media response for a couple of hours shouldn’t be a huge problem. They can wait.

2) Go to bed early.

In order to get up early to enjoy a quiet start of the day, you need to go to bed early. This is somewhat of a new habit for me. I’ve never been a night owl but used to go to bed around 10:30 or 11, which made it harder for me to get up at 5:30 every morning.

Nowadays I try to go to bed at around 9:30pm. I just feel better having 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. To facilitate a good night sleep, I was trying to have no screen time (i.e. no smartphone, browsing on my laptop, Netflix shows etc.) at least one hour before bed, but this early bedtime is making it a little harder. But I try to end my screen time by 9pm and transition into getting ready for bed then.

3) Don’t eat and work at the same time.

When I worked at my day job, I used to eat my lunch at my desk checking email or browsing the internet because that’s what you do on your breaks, right?

Now that I work for myself at home, I had to make more of an effort to separate work and breaks. So when I eat breakfast or lunch, I physically move away from my desk and don’t look at my email or social media while I eat. It usually takes less than half an hour for me to eat, but having that time away from the information noise and mental clutter and focusing on the food you eat is quite meditative.

That’s it! These are the 3 habits I keep every day to stay energized and well. Building a new habit is not easy. It takes time and repetition even if you don’t feel like doing it. But once it becomes a habit, it gets easier to stick to.

I do this because I need it. I need plenty of rest and nourishment to keep going. It’s not an option: it’s a necessity for my long-term well-being and success. I need alone time, good food, exercise, and sleep to function at the highest level.

Everyone needs different things to stay well. Your self-care starts with learning more about yourself! Make some time to do that this week 🙂

OK guys, I’ll come back next week and share what I’ve done during my sabbatical week!

Be well.

xoxo Yuko

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Taking the long way

long-way_lores

Hey guys!

Today I wanted to reflect on taking detours in life. As you may know, I started dabbling in creative stuff a little over 5 years ago in my early 30s. I opened my first Etsy shop selling crocheted wares in 2010, but I treated it as a hobby for the first few years.

Meanwhile, I was working full-time at a non-profit social service organization as a program manager. Work was rewarding and also challenging. I had been there for almost 10 years, and although I was able to keep things fresh by moving to different positions and taking on different responsibilities, I started wondering about my future and what other career options I might have. I had worked for the same organization for all of my career and just wanted to try something different. Something less stressful and with more money would’ve been nice, I thought.

I knew what I needed was to gain practical skills that built on what I was already good at. I did some brainstorming and thought becoming a Japanese/English Interpreter/Translator might be a good fit. I have the language skill and had done informal interpretation and translation for our clients before, so why not? There was a certificate course offered at a local college near I used to work, and I had a friend who was going through the program at the time, so I talked to her about it and decided to enroll.

If you took this certificate course full-time, you would finish the required courses in a year. But Since I had a full-time job, I took one or two classes at a time. So it took me a little longer to finish. I enjoyed being back in school. There is something about having a schedule and place to be and be in the “learning” mode on a regular basis. I enjoy reading articles or taking webinars, but I find in-person hands-on learning to be the most effective format for acquiring new skills.

Anyway, the program was great, and I was learning a ton about professional practice of language interpretation and translation. I made new friends, and that was a lot of fun, too.

About midway through the program, or maybe it was more towards the end, I started having a feeling that it might not be what I wanted to do for a living. It just didn’t seem like a “fit” for me. I was doing well in class but wasn’t excited about it. I would dread and put off doing the homework until the last minute. It was painful to have to go back and edit my translation work over and over again. And the thought of becoming an interpreter and the responsibility and spontaneity of the interpretation work made me anxious. Like anything else, I’m sure things would become easier with more experience, but I’m a think-before-doing kind of person, so being in a position to think and act on your feet all the time seemed super stressful. I completed all the required courses but opted out from the second year program after that.

While I was having doubts about my future as a language interpreter/translator, I started looking into other career opportunities. Around that time, I was becoming more serious about pursuing my creative interests. I was getting a little tired of crocheting products then and was rediscovering my childhood love of drawing. Drawing and illustration seemed to have more potential for business growth, or at least it seemed more straight forward to me than having a handmade product-based business.

But how could I become a full-time artist? I didn’t have a degree or formal training in art. I thought being a successful artist was reserved for only the most talented and the privileged.

After having another brainstorm session (yes, I like to brainstorm :)), I thought, I could be a Graphic Designer! Graphic design seemed like a good, employable skill to have, and you also use your creativity in design process. What a perfect combination! Excited, I enrolled myself in the Graphic Design Certificate course at the same college I was working on the Interpretation/Translation Certificate. I overlapped being in two programs until I finished the first year courses for the language program.

Again, I totally enjoyed being in classes and learning new skills. All of the instructors were working professionals, and I loved hearing their real life stories.

And then, the little voice in my head started talking to me again. “This might help you get out of your current situation, but is this going to make you happy?”

I was creating a bunch of new illustration work for my design assignments, and that was the fun part. When we present our work to the class, I knew mine looked different than most other students’. When it came to doing the actual design work (i.e. “making something look good and functional” in a nut shell.), my heart wasn’t really in it. I just wanted to be drawing more.

I still finished the program after a few years, and on my very last portfolio review class, my instructor recognized my passion for illustration and suggested I pursue what I truly loved rather than graphic design. I felt so free. Finally, I knew, like I really knew, that I didn’t want to compromise any more and decided to give my 100% to pursuing art.

When I share this story with people, some people are surprised and tell me “It took you that long to figure it out??” I understand where they’re coming from, I guess. Yes I invested a lot of time and money into getting the education and training in the fields I chose not to pursue. It might seem wasteful to others. What if I’d started pursuing art more seriously 5 years ago? Maybe I would be further ahead in the game by now. I get it. But I don’t think it was a waste at all! In fact, I gained SO MUCH from it!

First of all, it fulfilled my needs to learn new things and grow. Much of what I learned is totally relevant to what I do today.

For instance, the interpretation/translation program challenged me to think differently about communication. A lot of people think, if you speak multiple languages, you have the natural ability to interpret or translate effortlessly, but it’s SO false! Taking in sometimes very complex information in one language and putting it out accurately and in a culturally relevant way in another language is no easy feat. It goes way beyond just knowing the languages literally and takes deep understanding and appreciation for cultures and history. Do you ever use online translation tools, like Google translate? Maybe it kinda works sometimes for some languages, but it usually returns very confusing and often hilarious results. As a relationship-driven person, I appreciate knowing how artful and thoughtful language communication really is.

Many things I learned through the Graphic Design program are obviously super relevant to my art career today. Knowing the design principles is very helpful in putting together effective and aesthetically pleasing visual materials. And of course, knowing how to use a software, like Photoshop and Illustrator, is critical in my day-to-day work.

I also want to mention that I made a conscious decision to choose options that wouldn’t require me to get a loan and go in to debt. So when it was all said and done, I was not in the red. And my busy schedule forced me to be more efficient, and I learned to juggle school work and full-time job for a few years. In my “detours,” I made new friends and developed relationships with mentors. You really can’t put a price on relationships that add so much to life!

I have absolutely no regrets about taking the long way to figure out what I wanted to do. I’m actually happy that I took some detours. Making the choice to pursue my passion after having some life experience and trying out different options helped to confirm that I’m on the right path. Choosing your passion and switching a career later in life takes a lot of courage.  Maybe 10 years from now, I might have a totally different path again! You never know 🙂

If you took many detours in life, or if you don’t know what your path is yet, don’t worry – nothing in life is wasted. What you do today still counts 🙂

xoxo Yuko

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