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 🙂
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 🙂
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!
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 🙂
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!
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 🙂
Hello, hello! Happy New Year to you! Did you have good holidays??
I always feel so renewed on New Year’s Day. It’s probably because I grew up in Japan, where New Year’s Day is the biggest holiday of the year (kinda like how Christmas is here), and everything slows way down for a few days to celebrate and set intentions for the new year.
I remember the cold crisp air walking down on a frosted road to the local shrine with my family to pray for health and prosperity on New Year’s Day. I took it for granted back then, but what a wonderful ritual to start off the new year sending well wishes for others! Anyway, I don’t go to the shrine on New Year’s any more, but I always feel sacred around the New Year’s.
To start off the new year, I wanted to share a story about how my creative endeavor all started about 5 years ago. It all started with my purple fingerless gloves, and it was completely unexpected.
I crocheted these about 5 years ago. I wear them all the time. They are so soft (I think it’s lambswool?) and warm. They’re fingerless, so I can type, text, and play Jenga with them on if I ever wanted to.
You’ve probably noticed the right thumb has a different yarn. That’s because I mended it last year when it finally started to come apart. I actually made a new pair then but somehow couldn’t bear to part with this one. I didn’t want to let them go because I made them, and they’re perfectly functional with a little repair.
But that’s not the only reason, and I never really thought about it until recently.
A little over a month ago, I was walking around my neighborhood and ran into a friend. We chatted a little bit, and she complimented me on my purple gloves. I said thank you and told her I made them a long time ago.
And then it occurred to me that these gloves are what got me started on my creative endeavor 5 years ago.
I had been crocheting for a few years at that time and posted a picture of these on Facebook. A friend commented and said I should sell them on Etsy. At that time, I didn’t know much about Etsy and was skeptical if anyone would want to buy what I made. I spoke to a couple of friends who had Etsy shop, and they told me it was no big deal, and I should just try. I was still unsure about the whole thing but got curious and decided to open my first Etsy store anyway. After all, I didn’t have much to lose!
So, I crocheted a few other pairs, took pictures and listed them on my brand new Etsy store on December 18, 2010! I went to bed that night feeling a little scared. What’s going to happen? Would people like them or think it’s stupid?? Would anyone buy them?
Next morning, I got up and anxiously opened my browser to check and found I had just made my first sales! A very nice woman from Memphis bought my gloves and later ordered another pair for her daughter. In our correspondence, she was so kind and sweet and even invited me to visit her in Memphis if I was ever in the area (which I haven’t done to this date yet). That very first experience got me totally hooked (pun not intended!) on the joy of making stuff for other people and being appreciated for it. It was kind of gratification I’d never felt before.
My creative focus has gradually shifted since then to art and printmaking (crochet is strictly a hobby now). And my little purple gloves remind me of how my casual attempt to try something new 5 years ago has set me on a course for my creative journey now.
I had never dreamed of becoming a full-time artist back then. It was not something I even thought of as an option. So much has changed in the last 5 years, and who knows what’ll happen in the next 5 years?? You might be planting seeds for your big dream right now and might not even know it.
Life can be so unpredictable. I use to feel uncomfortable with the change and uncertainty and am still not 100% comfortable with not knowing what’s going to happen next.
But I’ve learned to keep doing what makes me happy anyway.
When you push yourself to go outside of your comfort zone, and if you do it often enough, it becomes less scary. And then you realize that big scary thing you were afraid of isn’t actually that scary. What’s more important: when you do something that scares you, life brings you more opportunities. Go on and takechances! You would’ve never gotten this advice from me 5 years ago 🙂
May the new year bring us lots of opportunities and the courage to go after them!!
p.s. I’m starting a free 4-week challenge starting tomorrow January 4! If you’re creative but can’t seem to find the time to practice or have too many ideas and don’t know where to start, sign up here. I’d love to help you!
When I used to work for a non-profit social service organization, about half of the funding came from government and municipal entities. The contract renewal and budget approval time of the year was always stressful. I wasn’t the financial decision maker so I only knew the financial state of the organization on the surface level. But after the recession, we were under a constant threat of losing governmental funding. It was really sucky. It was terrible to work your butt off to help people in a bad situation and to be told (indirectly, in their action) that your work was not important enough to continue funding for.
Luckily, domestic violence victim advocacy community had a really strong presence in the region, so with the strong public pressure to the government, we were able to continue receiving their funding every year. But other social service agencies were not that lucky. Many of them had to reduce program offerings or forced to do more with less. And at the end of the day, the point is that we had to fight for it. We had to prove our worth to the funders to continue providing services. Which is pretty crappy.
On a similar note, I’d hear from time to time that public schools were cutting music and arts programs for financial reasons. I would have the same yucky feeling whenever I hear the arts are the first ones to be cut. What kind of a message does that send?
It says that arts are not as important as other subjects like math and science. It says that arts do not bring as much value as other things people are willing to fund.
As artists and makers, we need to pay attention so we don’t internalize these negative messages ourselves. I’m not saying that arts should be prioritized over other things. I’m saying that the unique value arts and creativity bring need to be recognized, and people, young and old, need to be encouraged more to nurture their creative side.
I saw a statistics once that people “lose” their creativity at a significantly high rate after age 8. And it spikes again after retirement. Interesting, isn’t it?? The presenter explained that it’s not that our creativity naturally declines, but rather we’re just not encouraged enough to be creative as we get older. And many of us when we retire and get out of the expectations of the workplace find the space to be creative again.
In this video, Brené Brown (my hero!) talks about creativity and vulnerability so eloquently and describes how kids get discouraged and shy away from engaging in creative activities after getting bad marks in art classes or teased because their creation doesn’t look a certain way. Early experience of shame around creativity really sticks with you. It’s so powerful that some people avoid any creative activity like a plague!
Have you been to a non-arty conference or workshop where the facilitator asks you to draw how you feel or what your ideal self looks like or whatever? I never really understood why people were so embarrassed to share their drawings with the group. It struck me after watching that video that I was naturally a pretty good artist as a child and never really experienced negative interaction around creativity growing up. So even though I’m not a master artist and get insecure around my art sometimes, I never feel ashamed of my creation. On the other hand, I was not very athletic and was often ridiculed in P.E. class, so I dreaded and avoided (and still do!) any sports activities. It totally makes sense! The shame I felt growing up left such a bad taste in my mouth about any physical activity. I’m slowly recovering from that now as an adult… Yikes.
Let’s go back to the conversation of values that your art and creativity bring, shall we? When I hear value, naturally, I think of money. Social media is flooded with the v-word. I’m sure you’ve read a blog article or two talking about how to bring the most value to your clients etc. While the money-making aspect of business is very important, I sometimes feel lost when I think of what “value” my art is bringing to my audience.
People can buy my art prints, but it doesn’t make them more money. Well, at least not until I get super famous and people start fighting over my work 😉 But you know what I mean. So what is the value of my work?
I bring this up because I provide “nice-to-haves” for a living. You know, I’m not fixing someone’s car or rescuing people out of a burning building or anything. And it makes me doubt my work’s value sometimes. People don’t “need” my art to survive, right?
It’s true if you want to think of it as an absolute necessity for survival, like if you’re stranded in the middle of the desert, you’d probably choose a drink of water over a cute drawing of a cat. But we don’t get stranded in the middle of the desert very often. At least many of us don’t… So why do we measure value of our work against something super tangible or basic human needs?
Think about what values you’re getting out of the things that are not directly helping you make money or do specific things. I know you have them! Like your favorite shows on Netflix. Art on the wall. How about your cat that’s snoozing on the couch for 12+ hours every day?? You have them because they’re clearly filling some needs you have that are not tangible.
We have a Netflix subscription so we can watch shows that entertain us. I have many art on the wall made by artists you’ve probably never heard of because they make our home beautiful and inspire me to create more. I have a cat because he gives me the unconditional love and the comic relief. Oh, and apparently petting your kitty lowers your blood pressure! I guess that’s a tangible benefit they have 🙂
Do you see? Just because they don’t directly help me make money, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a value. And you might have noticed that they’re all helping me to stay well and happy – which is super important if I’m going to keep working hard and thrive as an artist.
If you’re able to read this blog that means you have access to internet. That means you can afford “nice-to-haves” in one shape or another. Think of why you chose to have those things in your life. It doesn’t have to be a physical “thing”, either. Maybe you’re subscribed to an online artists’ community. Maybe you work out with a personal trainer. Are they less important than having a cold, hard cash in your hands right now? Not necessarily, I bet.
How are those things making your life better? Imagine if you don’t have them, how would your everyday life be different? And how do you think your creativity is making other people’s life better? I know many of you have taken the time to tell me how my blog and art work have inspired you. You have no idea how much your words of encouragement mean to me! Yes, money can certainly motivate you to do things, but that’s certainly not the only thing or even the top 5 motivating factors for many of us.
And on the flip side, if you didn’t have these “nice-to-haves” for whatever reasons, you’d definitely need to use your creativity to make your life more interesting or convenient, wouldn’t you? After all, that’s what we did as kids. We made up stories and characters to entertain ourselves. We could get lost in the world we created for hours and didn’t think it was waste of our time. There were no boundaries or limitations of what we could do with our creativity and imagination. And it can still do that if we let our creativity run free. It’s just that we picked up some baggage along the way and learned to hold on to certain things as our security blanket. Being creative has become riskier as we got older.
Creativity is a gift that keeps on giving. Everyone has it. But many of us were told it’s not that important or you were not that good so we stopped nurturing them. When your creativity is not nurtured, it becomes more work to access it so you don’t even bother trying.
Being creative is empowering. It lets you see things in different ways. You realize you can do things you never thought were possible. You learn to adapt to difficult situations with grace.
Whether you’re a writer, a singer, a dancer, a painter, a poet, an actor, a comic etc. etc. etc., you’d be doing a disservice if you were holding yourself back because you don’t feel like you’re providing any values. Don’t believe it if someone treats your work as “less than” because it’s not perceived to have values in a conventional or super tangible way.
What you do is important. Without art, this world would be so boring and not really worth living for. So don’t wait till you retire to find your creative sparks again!! Now is always a good time to start.
p.s. I’m participating in the Journey Within blog hop by Kiala Givehand this coming Tuesday, December 22! Come on by and join me in a couple of days 🙂 I’ll be sharing my holiday food tradition with my drawings!
Lately I’ve noticed saying no to potential opportunities more or be a lot more thoughtful about saying yes. I’d been trying to say no to time wasters all along, but this is money-making opportunities I’m talking about here. It’s not like I’m making a lot of money from my art yet. How can I afford to say no, then?
You’ve probably heard the advice “take any jobs you can get” especially when you’re starting out. I’ve always felt a little funny about this notion that when you’re a new at something, you should be grateful and say yes to anything no matter what. Say yes to projects or clients you don’t feel good about. Because, how else are you going to pay your bills, right?
When you compromise your values or processes to pay your bills especially if the job is closely related to your passion, it’s bound to make you feel resentful and burn out.
If you feel like you can’t afford to be choosey with the project you take on, it probably means that you need to have other ways of bringing in an income. You could do the Overlap Technique Seanwes talks about and keep a day job, or work on building up your savings so you could quit cold-turkey and don’t have to worry about paying your bills while you pursue your passion.
OK, so let’s assume your bills are taken care of for the purpose of this conversation. If the money is the number one reason why you can’t say no, then you need to figure that out first even if that means you can’t pursue your passion fully or at all until your bills are taken care of. I know it sucks, but seriously, mixing your passion and money is a tricky business.
If you’re dreaming about making a living doing what you love, do whatever it takes to avoid burn-out! It’s the best thing you can do!
Let’s talk about how you know when to say no. I ask these questions to help me decide if the opportunity is right for me.
1) Do you have time to do it?
I’m getting better at this but used to underestimate how long anything took from start to finish. I would get frustrated because I said yes to things thinking it’d only take so long to finish but in reality it took waaaaaay too long.
For instance, I just recently said no to an art show. It’ll be showing some of the pieces I already have. And I almost said yes because I know the organizer and like her personally, and it’s not like I needed to create a whole new artwork for it. But it was coinciding with a couple of big holiday craft shows I’m doing. Since I’ve done a few art shows now, I know putting together a show, even if you’re not making new art, can be a lot of work!
I’m having an art show right now at a nearby cafe, so my husband suggested I just take them down and hang the same art work at the new place when the show is over (the new place is only a few blocks away). But I don’t want to show the same pieces again because it’s boring.
If I don’t follow my husband’s reasonable advice, I’d need to take them down from the current venue, bring them home, choose different pieces to show, make sure I have a scan of all the original works (and if not, scan, edit, and upload them), trim them, mat them, and frame them (go get frames if I don’t have them). I’m gonna need display signs, coordinate uninstall/install with the people of each venue, drive, park, etc. Uninstalling the pieces doesn’t take very much time, but it’s still work. Installation usually takes longer when I’m doing a good ol’ nail on the wall method. You have to measure, level, and hang your pieces carefully. When I’m hanging about 12-ish pieces, it usually takes anywhere between 1.5 to 2 hours. Now that’s a chunk of time! And that doesn’t even include all the prep time, which could take 2-6 hours.
If it wasn’t the holiday crazy time, I would’ve said yes. Like I said, I almost said yes to this. And I’m sure I would’ve managed it somehow had I said yes. But it’s been a little bit of a pattern lately, and I always get so overwhelmed and resentful and swear I’d never do that to myself again. So I said no and felt GOOD.
In order for me to know exactly how long my tasks take, I log my hours on Google calendar. I like having a documentation because I can’t hold that information in my head! It’s also helpful to track your progress over time, too. When I was working on a series of watercolor abstract paintings, I got quicker as I worked on more pieces e.g. 8 hours per piece to about 6.5-7 hours. So in the future, if I do a similar project, I can make a pretty accurate estimation of how long it will take to complete it.
With that said, though, 99% of the time, things take longer than I think. I need to remember that when I’m scheduling things. I try not to schedule things back to back and also schedule some extra buffer time just in case. And don’t forget to factor in the time it takes to clean up your art equipment, packaging and shipping your stuff, taking and editing photos, backing up your files etc. that’s related to our project! They add up.
2) How is your work going to be valued?
I was recently talking to a potter friend of mine about commission works. We both had a similar reaction about people coming to us with very specific request about what the piece should look like. It feels like they’re coming to you for the technical skills but not for your unique voice or the artistic expression. I’m tempted to charge more for these types of projects where clients have a lot of subjective or arbitrary art directions and want you to follow them exactly. The best kind of clients are ones that love anything and everything you do and pay you to create your best work for the project.
When I work with a client for a commission work, after getting all the initial information back, I talk to them about my creative process and how I use the One Concept Approach.
With this particular process, you get all the relevant information and project goals at the beginning, then you go away and do your work and come back with one final piece for the client. No arbitrary revisions or input. This way, the client can focus on what they’re best at, which is knowing about their goals, and you can focus on what you’re best at, resulting in you providing your client with your best work.
When I heard this concept on Seanwes podcast, it blew my mind. Really?? This is OK? I mean I loved it. It totally shifted my belief about power and value I had as a creative professional. It’s not mean or stubborn. It’s saying: Hey, you came to me because I can create what you want. Let’s be on the same page about how that can happen most effectively for both of us.
Anyway, I do use this approach when I work with clients, and most of them have been totally OK with it. In one situation where we had a problem, it was because we had a miscommunication, and not because this particular approach was bad.
I’m a shameless idealist, so I would choose to turn down a job if the job/client requires me to compromise my values or process. Even if that means I need to get a day job again to pay my bills. And maybe you’re not as sensitive as I am to that aspect – and that’s OK as long as you have strategies to combat burn-out!
3) Ask your gut.
Above all else, your gut is the most effective tool to gauge whether you should say yes or no. Money or no money. Time or no time. You want to pay attention to that gut feeling. We all have it.
Unfortunately, many of us have trained ourselves not to listen to it or talk ourselves out of it because it’s not logical or you’re afraid of the consequences of saying no to something or someone.
Like you, I’ve said yes to many things I shouldn’t have. You know the moment you say yes, you regret it and feel the tight knots in your stomach. You put off working on the project as long as you can. You dread the whole process. You’ll get the project done because you have to, but you’re drained and resentful. Not very nice.
It can be scary to go with your gut especially when your head and heart are saying something else. But once you do, you’ll know that your gut is always right. When I decided to quit my day job cold-turkey, I was scared (= my heart’s voice). I didn’t think I was ready (= my head speaking). But my gut was telling me I needed to do it. So I did and haven’t regretted it once.
I do a gut check by imagining saying no to a project. If I feel light and relieved for not having that thing on my plate, then it’s probably not right for me. Maybe it’s not right because I don’t have the time. Maybe it’s not the kind of project I want to take on even if I had time for whatever reasons. You could also imagine saying yes to something and see how you feel. Focus on how you feel in your stomach, not in your head (=logical, rational voice) or heart (= emotions, fear, shame etc.). Your head and heart might try to sway you in a different direction by asking you, “But what about the money?” or “Oh but don’t you wanna have a good relationship with this person? Are you sure you want to say no? They might never ask you to do this again.”
But what’s your gut telling you?? Listen to it and see what happens!
And the thing is, even if you say yes to a wrong thing, it’s not going to be the end of the world. You wouldn’t be excited about it. You may have to pull long days and late nights and not have a day-off for several weeks. You may feel small because your client is micromanaging your creative process.
But you’ll learn from it. No experience is wasted no matter how sucky it is! That’s how I’d like to see life anyway.
I remember several years ago I was in a workshop about self-care, and the facilitator said to us that saying no to something else is saying yes to yourself. A light bulb went on at that moment!
I want to say yes to myself more. Because if you don’t, nobody else is going to do that for you!