I think Mary Poppins was onto something with her lyrics.
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,
the medicine go dooooown, the medicine go down.
As a parent, I’ve never seen my kids as excited to tidy up as Mary Poppins was able to make Michael and Jane Banks. Rewatching the film as an adult it makes me realize Ms. Poppins knew a thing or two about human nature.
You can’t force motivation. We have to want it for ourselves.
Let’s be clear – this lesson doesn’t just apply to children. In my experience children are far easier to encourage / manipulate than adults.
Adults, especially those of us with fiercely independent souls — we rebel against doing things we have to do…things we don’t have a say in.
And so even when we want something to change in our life, it can be painful to start that process.
So how do we make shifts when we’re so used to our patterns, our comfort zones, our familiarities?
Why would we opt for short-term discomfort given only the promise of long-term satisfaction?
And how can we recognize change when it’s unfolding bit-by-bit in front of us?
I’m Kim Wensel and this is Resentfully Yours, a limited series podcast where we examine, adjust, and reframe the expectations of a creative career.
The topics on this show explore how to avoid resentment when you’re feeling misunderstood, overworked, and undervalued. Because as a working creative the question isn’t IF you’ll feel this way, it’s WHEN.
This series focuses on how to get back to work that’s life giving, not life sucking; making your own definition of “making it;” and ditching the excuses that are keeping us from reaching our true potential.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CREATIVE?
As a fresh college grad, I had the privilege of taking a 7-week round-the-world backpacking trip. We booked our tickets through a company that offered reasonable rates if you were willing to put up with completely unreasonable itineraries. As long as you kept heading the same direction, you could plan any trip you wanted – even if it meant it took 27 hours of travel between destinations.
It was June 2007 when I set off with my college roommate, Jess. She was the perfect companion — the free-spirited soul that let everything roll off her back.
I, on the other hand, was preoccupied with my job search. Sitting atop a boat in the middle of Thai islands I was worrying about what I would do after my contract position was over.
I’d already secured a job that would take me through November, but I couldn’t stop worrying about what I’d do after that — so worried that I couldn’t take in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I was in the middle of.
Since then I’ve been searching for meaning in my vocation.
Maybe that’s because I’ve been someone who chased my interests rather than chasing the money. I landed in college admissions, which allowed me to travel months out of the year. And after that a series of helping professions that made me feel like I was making a difference.
But one thing I never considered myself to be was creative.
Growing up I didn’t have innate artistic abilities. I thought to be creative meant you were an artist or singer — you could play an instrument or write poetry. I could do none of these things.
I realize now that creativity is different than artistry — it’s about how you think and perceive as much as it is about what you produce.
I’m also aware of the divisiveness of the term. In certain circles the term “creative entrepreneur” is seen as disparaging or isolating. The people backing this argument think everyone is creative and it makes no sense to further distinguish some people’s creativity from others’.
I’m going to do so anyway.
Because people who engage in creative work for a living can’t help but do so. We feel a tug at our soul unlike others. And we get immense satisfaction from the process.
But herein lies the potential problem.
I started my first business seven years before I went full time with Pattern of Purpose. While building the backend, establishing my reputation, and working on early projects I was consumed with BECOMING.
In between clients I would feel a deep yearning to be in the work. So much so that I witnessed myself time and again offering to trade or work for free.
Every time I’d do so I’d look at my husband and say, “Never again.” He’d laugh knowing that there would, indeed, be another time I’d say this statement. But he knew better than to try to correct me. I needed to feel it and believe it myself.
During these lulls I would justify my actions by saying, “I’d rather be working than not and another client is another opportunity to add to my portfolio.”
It didn’t occur to me to work on projects for myself.
I boasted about not having time for hobbies.
And every time I had an idea my first thought was: how can I monetize this?
By the time Pattern of Purpose came around my identity was split between only two things — being a mom and running my business.
How many of us get to this point?
We are our work and our work is us.
Our personhood has become intertwined with our output, making the professional personal.
How we feel at work impacts how we are at home. A single email can send us towards the bottle of champagne chilled in the fridge or down a deep spiral.
Until 18 my identity was wrapped up in something completely different, yet similarly all-consuming. I was an athlete.
I played basketball year-round, traveling to different states each weekend. As a parent I now have empathy for my parents, molding their schedules to my bracket play.
I was good. Good enough to get a college scholarship had I not blown out my knee my junior year. And when it was over it was over. I didn’t know how to fill my time. As a freshman in college I had to totally recreate who I was and how I’d move through the world.
Most of that time turned out to be spent partying. Shocker, I know.
But there were a few things that I held onto from my youth — camping, hiking, traveling. Looking back now I can see the things that brought me joy. What I can’t see is when I ditched them altogether.
Maybe it was when I became a mom? Maybe earlier than that — when I started working full-time and time off became a luxury?
It seems somewhere in there my personal interests became less important as I shapeshifted to those around me. Suddenly the months became years. And the response to, “What do you do outside of work?” was simply a self-effacing laugh.
Oh and I could make up excuses.
Well, I don’t live near the mountains. It’s hard to go hiking.
I don’t have friends that would go white water rafting with us. And we can’t take the kids…
I’ll never get through all of the seasons of that show so why even start?
But the truth that I would never admit out loud was: I found more meaning in my work than anything else.
HOW TO TURN OFF AT THE END OF THE DAY
We moved into a new house this past year and one of the simple luxuries of having more room is having a bath tub. I’ve never been a bath person, but between having one and my kids having a thing for bath bombs, I’ve learned to enjoy soaking in the evening hours.
On one such occasion recently I was listening to Oprah’s podcast. Let’s be clear: I’m not a casual podcast listener. If I don’t have a pen and paper closeby, I’m furiously attempting to pause the show and scribble down thoughts in my notes app.
This time the line that hit me went like this: Oprah said, “A career is not a life.”
Well, of course it isn’t, I thought to myself. But upon closer examination I realized that I had built a life around my creativity. And my work sat squarely in the middle. Who I was was what my LinkedIn headline stated.
I had very little to show just for myself. Just for the joy of creation.
I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and still it felt empty.
I’d spend my nights and weekends “catching up.” I brought my computer with me on every vacation, eeking out quiet time to work.
I wasn’t doing this because I was forced to, but because it felt like I was getting ahead. There was always something else on my to-do list and I lived in fear that if I didn’t keeping crossing things off, eventually that list would suffocate me.
This is such typical American behavior.
We envy cultures that take siestas, those that enjoy long lunches with friends, wine and conversation flowing.
We dream of vacations where we can engage in the things that others embed in their daily lives. But it’s not just being in a different location. To have more of that in our lives means adopting a completely different mindset and outlook on the purpose and importance of work.
I once worked at a company that had unlimited vacation. Take it when you need it, as long as your duties are covered. That’s great, in theory. But I had a boss that never took leave. She was a walking ball of anxiety mentioning at least once a day how little time she had for all the work to be done.
Did I want to be like her? Definitely not.
Did her actions influence my PTO requests? Absolutely.
More and more companies are adopting flexible vacation policies. But their words don’t align with their actions.
While we understand that we have responsibilities and priorities outside of work, we still think we can do it all.
In her book, Do Nothing, author Celeste Headlee talks about this socialization of work. In her research she explains that our colleagues now fill the role family and friends once did. But now that we’re spending more time at work and less time in our communities, it’s not surprising our circles have become smaller.
And when you work for yourself, it’s not uncommon to cultivate your entire social circle from your clients, colleagues, and coaches. I often find myself chatting with a “work friend” at 7pm as I’m prepping dinner.
When you have a nontraditional situation, when we’re no longer walking into the office and breaking away at specific times — especially when we’ve chosen a career path we love — it’s challenging to ever turn it off.
THE PLIGHT OF THE CREATIVE
Until 2021, the work I was most known for was brand strategy and copywriting. Most people would come to me in need of the words to complement their brand design.
Writing had always been something I loved — I’d even had one client call me the word whisperer.
I also love a challenge (remember my past as a competitive athlete), but most of the time these projects felt heavy. Just when I felt I’d nailed what they wanted to communicate, someone would come back to me unsure, or worse, changing their mind altogether.
It wasn’t just the indecisiveness. It wasn’t just the vagueness that got me.
It was the realization that as a creative, many people think they can do our jobs as well as we can.
I can’t count how many times someone has said, “I don’t need all of that. I just need something simple — it shouldn’t take that long.” As if coming up with five words for a billboard is as easy as writing a 10-page manifesto.
It’s the same for other creatives.
As I flipped through a recent copy of Architectural Digest I saw a quote from an interior design client, “Little did I know that minimalism was more expensive than maximalism. Every little corner has to look good, every little bit.”
As creatives there’s a low barrier to entry in our field.
Unlike board-certifications for physicians and aspiring attorneys needing to pass the bar, we don’t have credentials that meaningfully separate our talent from others. We just have our process and our product.
Unfortunately that means that some think they can do our jobs just as well as we can.
In my chats with other creatives — designers, developers, writers — we’ve commiserated over clients trying to give direction, assuming they just need a pixel pusher to get the outcome they’re looking for.
Just because our work doesn’t require a license doesn’t mean everyone can do it.
The plight of the creative isn’t new. But it’s personal.
And somehow going into year three of a pandemic, it feels more urgent than ever to detach from.
There are some universal truths we’ve accepted and lessons we’ve learned after having our movement restricted, health threatened, and work put on hold.
For years we became accustomed to and celebrated going 1000 miles an hour, believing that somehow that will result in something meaningful.
Last week I listened to an interview with Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays With Morrie. I never read the book when it came out nearly 25 years ago, but the advice he had rings true for me today.
Mitch, someone who spent his career surrounded by power players and professional athletes, witnessed something telling as he interviewed his dying professor. He said that watching someone at the end of their life makes you realize status makes no difference in comfort.
Neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of it you have.
We know this. And, yet, it’s taken until now to believe it. Now when we’re witnessing the Great Resignation — 4.5 million people leaving their jobs every month. People fleeing cities for a more relaxed life. And valuing how they spend their free time.
Finding a place of inspiration, allowing ourselves to embrace the larger than life picture we have for ourselves — these things require ease, flow, and everyday delight. And if you’re so deep in the work that you can’t see yourself outside of it, maybe it’s time to choose another way.
The question is not “What do I want to do?” It’s, “Who do I want to be?”
When you consider this, how might you introduce yourself differently? What are the markers you’d set for a life full of purpose and excitement? How would you round out your days?
A 2018 Harper’s Bazaar article written on the author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers shared this: It never occurred to Travers, as she began writing the first book, that anyone would want to publish it. “I wrote it for myself,” she said.
Mary Poppins was the best at what she did not because she took herself seriously, but because she was fully alive wherever she happened to be. She didn’t spend her days convincing the children and their parents to change their ways. She made it enticing to do so.
I’m sure she’d have some wise advice for us creatives. But it wouldn’t come out in sound bites or courses. It would show up in the unplanned moments.
She wouldn’t convince us to play, to rest, to detach from the expectations of others. She’d enchant us from the other side.