Balancing Career With Life Laura McCullough-DeLorme

7 07 2008

It’s no surprise this topic is posted about often…it’s a struggle for many of us.

I’m selfish when it comes to time I want to spend working.  In fact, I’m fairly selfish about my time in general, but I do recognize I need more in my life than just work and that it’s good for me to make room for other things. It’s funny how I see so many women’s magazines encouraging women to start saying no to invitations and to cut back, whereas, I have to make an effort to say yes to social engagements or else risk being a hermit.

In the past I loved to work all night when inspiration hit…or go for three day jags in the studio and tell my husband he was on his own for a week because I “had a lot to get done”.  I scoffed at the whole idea of making a work schedule.  It seemed boring and I feared it would stifle my creativity. I even referred to myself as having a “manic” style of creating and was proud of my all-nighters and subsequent need for four days off because I was tired and burned out.

The thing is, while my husband is extremely supportive, the bloom was starting to go off my rose as he grew tired of coming home after work to find me either holed up in the studio and resentful of his interruption or taking a break and resentful that I was expected to want to eat dinner with him or go to a movie.  I even tested friendships by canceling the same chai dates two or three times in a row because I was feeling “inspired”.

It isn’t as if I didn’t care about my husband and friends, but I felt I was being true to my inner artist/writer clock and that “they” needed to understand.

This all came to a head last year when I was preparing for my first art show.  I excitedly announced to a friend that I was going to have to work twenty-four hours a day for the “next two months” and she didn’t respond with much enthusiasm.  I commented to my husband about her lack of excitement and at the same time realized that actually, he didn’t seem too excited either.

I had one of those big moments where I realized everything had to change, but I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t like it and in fact, the only thing that motivated me was that I figured I could get more done if I set regular hours and went into disciplined mass “production”.

I made a detailed schedule that included time for life as well as time for work.  I was pretty impressed with myself and couldn’t wait until “Monday” to start my new routine.

I bombed out.  I couldn’t do it.

I did schedule time and sometimes I even managed to stick to my schedule, but I didn’t feel happy or particularly inspired to create.  My eight hours of work time would pass and I’d get a few pieces made (in-between checking my Yahoo horoscope, reading blogs, seeing “what’s doing” on Etsy and making some urgent phone calls to let friends know that a new bakery opened).  Then, I’d close up the studio for the day, head downstairs to have dinner and watch a movie with my husband…resentful and worried the whole time about how I didn’t get any work done earlier.

A girlfriend of mine gently asked if I could use some help with my schedule (this was after a teary call because I realized that I wasn’t going to have as many pieces as I needed for the show and because I still wasn’t pleasing my friends or myself either). I said yes…and this in itself was huge, I’m not wasn’t big on accepting help.

She knows me well and figured that my schedule was too rigid for a “beginner”.  She suggested that instead of blocking off time for various things, that I needed to look at what I wanted to accomplish on any given day.

Instead of blocking off eight hours as “Work”, we wrote “Twelve Wallets” or “Twenty Cardholders”.

I can’t tell you the difference this made. I’d get up in the morning and know that I had a real goal to work towards that day. Plus, she also realized I needed scheduled creativity time…so I scheduled a day to work on the new designs or play with the paper and see what new ideas were born.

I found it easy to pull myself away from the desk after completing my assigned number of pieces and in fact, this helped me to better price my work because I was able to better track how much time each wallet took to make.  It didn’t take long to realize I’d underpriced my work and could have been arrested for breaking minimum wage laws when it came to paying my one and only employee! 🙂

This has worked well for me, but I have to be honest…old habits die hard and it will probably continue to be a struggle. Especially at times when I feel as if I have to get more done in a day than is possible.  However, I’m learning that saying yes to invitations for midnight walks after the rain with a girlfriend or kicking back with my husband and having chips and dip while watching Tommy Boy (Who would ever imagine?) can be a lot of fun.

The passport holder pictured above is an example of an item that came out of the studio on one of my scheduled “free-days”.  As always, for more of what’s happening in the studio, I can always be found here:

Little Orange Kitchen Studio


The Journey: Laura McCullough-DeLorme

7 05 2008

The path of my creative process has been a long and evolving one. I’ve traveled it easily and it’s rare that I feel stuck, uninspired or as if I’ve emptied the well and can no longer create something new. However, as long as I can remember, the real obstacle for me and one that held me back was (and sometimes still is) my own struggle with self-worth.

It isn’t that I don’t get a kick out of things I’ve made. In fact, I’ve been known to give myself loud applause and dance around in delight when a piece I’m working on turns out even better than I imagined! Yet, when it comes to feeling that my work is “art” or when I’m viewing it through other people’s eyes, I become stuck and fearful that what I do isn’t substantial enough to count.

This pattern first began to emerge when I was ten years old and sabotaged my dream of becoming a gymnast. I practiced alone with very little family support for several hours every single day for a spot on a team that for the very first time was accepting gymnasts under twelve. Then, after all of my effort, when the big day came I blew off the tryouts.

I was a natural, but I was embarrassed to show up in a secondhand bodysuit (which snapped at the crotch) instead of a real leotard and with my parents’ signature on the slip, but not their presence. Although I knew that my skill level was high, I didn’t feel legitimate compared to the other girls who looked and acted the part with hired coaches.

A few weeks later, I felt angry, hurt and disappointed in myself as I sat on the curb watching a parade pass and blinked back tears when the excited new gymnasts rode by on their float waving while everyone applauded.

This pattern carried itself into my adulthood. Several years ago, I began to draw and this time I was strongly supported by friends and family members. They encouraged me to make some prints and greeting cards of my work. I didn’t. Again, old feelings of doubt and of an underlying lack of confidence in myself surfaced and I was afraid to take a risk…I knew I was repeating old patterns and sabotaging myself, yet I made excuses about being too busy.

In spite of letting the drawings go, I kept creating and soon began making wallets and little purses out of paper and vinyl.

Again, I was encouraged to try to sell them. I agonized a long time before entering my wallets in my first juried fine arts show. I was petrified, but not of being rejected (I’m a playwright…rejection I can handle!), but of trying something “artsy” and demonstrating a clear effort to start something new, I was officially putting pressure on myself to “make a go of it”. Was I setting myself up for embarrassment or feelings of failure if it didn’t turn out the way I imagined?

The thing that finally tipped the scales in the “go ahead and apply” direction was that I knew I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake I made with gymnastics or my drawings. I didn’t want to see promotions for the show and know that maybe, just maybe, I could have been part of it if only I’d tried. Plus, I have a long history of trying too hard for other people and not enough for myself, so I went ahead and applied.

The wallets did win a spot in the show, but I’m embarrassed to share that my problems weren’t over. I began lamenting that I wasn’t going to be thin and look like a “real artist” in indie/artsy clothes, that other artists would think my booth was unprofessional, that I wouldn’t sell enough and that I’d be forced to keep my spirits up publicly for two days all while wanting to die and become invisible. Isn’t this lame? Talk about self-absorption.

Finally, I had to come to terms with the fact that all I can do is create and market. Those are the only two things I have control over…making things and finding places for them to be seen. How people react isn’t up to me, but standing behind my work and not having regrets is. I wasted years being afraid to put energy and time behind my own ideas and not making a commitment to being someone who not only creates beautiful things, but who isn’t afraid to be proud and believe that what she makes matters.

These days I’m committed to my work and while I’m still plagued by doubt at times, I don’t let it stop me. If you’re just getting started, I urge you not to waste precious time second-guessing and doubting yourself. Once you take the leap and really commit to your work, you’ll be amazed by how much lighter you feel. If you are reading this and recognize a little bit of yourself in my experience, I hope you’ll go look through your many boxes of saved work (we all have them) and reconsider the reasons you put it away. It’s never too late to give yourself or your art a second chance.