Letting go

The Joy Of Release

To truly be free we need to let go.

I realized that I’ve been holding on to bits and pieces of my past lives, carrying them with me every time I move. They clog up my house, they take over my closets, they tie me to a person I no longer am. They hold me back from becoming the person I truly am and want to be.

It’s time to clean house. Literally.

Tonight I went through closets and drawers, ruthlessly tossing the “one day I might use this” stuff. Because I won’t. I chucked the “it’s perfectly good” stuff. Because it’s perfectly good for someone else, not me. It’s not my taste and not my style, so why do I insist on keeping it?  No more.  Out it goes.

Pretty teal sheets? Never use them because they feel scratchy.  Goodbye.

Expensive dress?  Looks like hell on me, actually.  Goodbye.

Writing desk that my mother hand-stained for me when I was seven, but even she didn’t really like?  It just takes up space.  Goodbye.

A barely opened tube of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste? My son is almost five. Goodbye.

I’m tired of opening up closets, cabinets and drawers and being confronted by things that no longer have a useful life here. Tired of paying penance daily for bad buying decisions.  Tired of so much… well, crap, quite frankly.  So into a legion of trash bags it goes, destined for the dumpster or the nearest Good Will bin.  Good riddance.

It’s amazing how good this purging feels.  I thought I would feel guilty about getting rid of all of this “perfectly good  stuff,” but instead I feel refreshed, cleansed, renewed.  Even with the closet doors closed, the rooms now feel somehow lighter and more spacious when I walk into them.  The weight of the past is lifted. I’m free.

I’ve let go of the past.  And now I’ve made room for the future to come in.

Have you?

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Curiosity Shouldn’t Kill the Cat

curious roy

I’ll admit it. I’m not the most focused person in the world. Sure, I can stick with a task if I set my mind to it, especially if there’s a deadline attached. But more often than not, if left to my own devices I’ll happily meander in and out the simplest of projects all day long.

My problem is that I’m intensely curious.  About everything.

As a kid it could seriously take me half an hour or more to look up a word in the dictionary.  I’m a terrific speller, so finding the word wasn’t the problem.  On the way to the word I was looking for I would stumble on another one that looked pretty interesting so I’d stop to check it out. Which would remind me of another word I had been meaning to look up. Which made me think of… wait, where was I? Oh yes, looking up that word.

Of course now that I do everything on my computer this is no longer a problem for me. I google the word and — bam! — the definition of one word and one word only appears.  No getting distracted by other fun terms along the way.  But while I’m on the internet, let me just check my email really quick. Cool, that new book I ordered has shipped. Which reminds me, I wanted to check out the author’s website. Maybe I should add him to my RSS feeds…

Okay, so the internet didn’t solve my wandering problem; I just traded up from analog to digital.

Actually I don’t consider my wandering off for a while a real problem at all. (Although I’m sure I could find a few people who would disagree with me there.)  It’s in those meanderings that I find some really nifty usable stuff, and that’s also where some of my best creative ideas start to form.  I’m very much a non-linear thinker – I work a little on this, then think a little on that, and research a little on something else. All the little bits and pieces start to ferment in my brain, and I follow the ideas as they bubble to the top. Makes perfect sense to me, although I’ve noticed this process of mine makes some people terribly uncomfortable. Especially when a deadline is looming near. (By the way, I’ve never missed a deadline yet.  I’ve learned to relax and trust in the muse.  She’ll give me the idea or solution when I need it, and her watch keeps pretty good time. )

I get to the end result sooner or later, and in my experience later often yields a better result. My curiosity is what keeps me informed, and what keeps me creative. So I’ll go ahead and keep indulging it when the urge strikes me.

Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat. It makes her a better mouser.

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Creative Challenge: what can you do with an old phone book?

Now and then I come up with crazy little creative challenges for myself. (Yes, I’m bored and easily entertained.)  Today while rifling through the hall closet for something completely unrelated, I found three — yes, three! — old phone books.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t used a phone book for its REAL purpose in probably a decade. If I need something I either ask around for recommendations or look it up online. Apparently the only purpose they serve for me is taking up space in my already teeny-tiny closet.

So, being the (bored and easily entertained) creative that I am, I thought “hey, what else could I do with these?”  Here’s what I came up with:

The Phone Book in its Entirety

  • Booster Seat – a tried and true solution. People have been propping their kids up at the dinner table with phone books for generations.
  • Bug Squisher – Drop one from on high and the little critter will never know what hit it. As a bonus, you can tear out a page to clean up the resulting splat.
  • Door Stop – Provided it’s not a really heavy door, this should do the trick. Be careful not to trip on it, though.
  • Umbrella Hat – Stuck in the rain? No problem. Just flop it open and stick it on your head. Voila!  Well, okay – it’s highly unlikely that you will get stuck in a downpour while carrying a phone book, but if in the event it happens you’re covered.

Phone Book Pages

  • Gift Wrap – Tear out a page for that impromptu gift. If you work it right, you can highlight the person’s very own name right there on the paper.  Downside is it only works for relatively small gifts. And it’s kinda see-through.
  • Bird Cage Liner – Sounds like a good idea, but I can’t actually test this one out to verify. I don’t own a bird.
  • Cat Toy – ball a page up and throw it on the floor for hours of crinkly feline fun.
  • Coaster – Fold up and place under drink. I’m testing this one out now, and it seems to be working okay so far. Although I predict that on a very humid day a soggy pile of mush would ensue.
  • Origami – meh, not so much. I’m not exactly an origami expert, but I think the paper is a bit too flimsy to really do it well. Also it’s not perfectly square, so there’s cutting involved before you can start folding.
  • Hat for the Cat – I did warn you that I was bored, didn’t I? As you can see, Jake was not amused.

Okay, so this creative challenge was largely a bust. I didn’t find any nifty new and useful things to do with a phone book, other than toss it into the recycling bin. But that’s the nature of creativity, isn’t it? It’s not about always coming up with “perfect” ideas. It’s about exploring and re-imagining things in the pursuit of a new idea. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In the words of Thomas Edison, ” I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

What creative challenges do you set for yourself? (And what do you do with your old phone books?)

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And the winner is….

A couple weeks ago I submitted a cover design to CrowdSpring for Guy Kawasaki‘s new book.

I was hopeful there early on (even got a positive comment from Guy himself!), but alas the $1,000 prize was not to be mine. Bummer.   Even so, it was still a valuable experience for me in a couple of ways.  I got the opportunity to make the digital acquaintance of a couple of people, including Ross Kimbarovsky (one of the founders of CrowdSpring) and a buyer on another project who happened by and really liked my work. I also got a chance to chit-chat with a couple of other designers on the project whose work I really liked.  I always enjoy an excuse to meet new people.

As an in-house designer, quite often the only creative solution I see on a project is my own. It was really interesting to watch so many solid ideas develop in so many different directions, when all of us were given the same basic project specs. I spent a good amount of time deconstructing some of the others’ designs, figuring out their thought process and why they made some of the design choices they did, or figuring out what I would have done differently. Excellent opportunity to stretch the creative brain.

If you haven’t stopped by yet, go take a peek at some of the great work there.  If you’re a designer, CrowdSpring can be a quick dose of “real world” inspiration so go check out what directions your fellow creatives are heading in these days.  If you are in the market for a designer for an upcoming project, it might also be a good way to do some window shopping.

All in all,  a very good experience. The thousand bucks certainly would have been nice, but you can’t win them all.  I’ll get ’em next time. 😉

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As others see us

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value of his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”    Marcus Aurelius

Most of my life I’ve worried about what other people thought about me. Parents, teachers, friends, bosses, boyfriends – I’ve spent countless hours and an incredible amount of energy trying to be who other people wanted me to be. It never worked. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I was always letting someone down.

I was told that I’m too smart, but also too naïve; too brash and outspoken, but also too shy. I’ve been characterized as someone who takes too many risks, as well as someone who is afraid to let go a little and enjoy life. I’ve been told I’m way too accommodating, yet also impossible to live with. Very accomplished, yet a complete failure.

Are you confused? So was I, for a while. And then I realized something very important.

They were all right.       And they were all wrong.

Each of these very well-meaning people in my life were trying to help me become a better person in their own way, but they were seeing me through the filter of their own personal values, preferences and experiences – not mine. They judged me based on the small slices they saw, not me in my totality. Their frame of reference included only the “me” they saw in relation to (and sometimes in reaction to) themselves.

Other people’s opinions can be valuable tools; they can give us insight on our own behaviors and actions by showing us how we appear from the “outside.” (Sometimes good, sometimes bad.) But the trick is to remember that these are just very brief reactions from very different perspectives, and not some ultimate and unchanging truth.

We all need to find a place in life where we feel comfortable with ourselves, our decisions, our chosen paths. Whether we’re talking about a career, a relationship, or a lifestyle, at the end of the day we’re the only ones who can judge what is best for us, and we are the ones who have to live with those choices. If we’re lucky, we choose wisely and end up happier for it.

Accept other people’s assessments of you with a grain of salt, and remember what really counts is what you think of yourself. Go ahead – trust your gut, go with your instincts, and follow your ideals even if everyone else tells you you’re crazy. After all, no one knows you better than you.


photo by Nina Matthews

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crowdSPRING: making a case for the demon of design

So tonight I made my first submission to crowdSPRING.  Yeah, I know, I know — they’re the bane of the design community, they’re cheapening the industry, yada yada yada…  As a professional designer I should hate them, right?

Nope. I like them just fine.

And here’s why.  There are many talented people out there that don’t have “professional” design backgrounds, or young’uns that just haven’t gotten their big break.  I believe they deserve a chance. So what if it means an increase of competition in the industry?  Competition is good — it keeps us on our toes.

There are many UNtalented people out there who think they are designers. (Some of these get a paycheck in the industry, by the way.) If their submission stinks, they’ve only wasted their own time, and a little of the buyer who has to sift through the crappy entries.  Has no effect on the rest of us.

It’s an easy way for those of us with talent to make a little pin money on our own terms.  No beating the bushes for freelance clients, and no being saddled with clients or jobs you don’t want.  You pick the gigs you’re interested in, and when you have the time. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

It’s a great outlet for all that pent-up artistry that doesn’t get to see the light of day at your regular job. It gives you a chance to flex your creative muscle on a variety of projects that you normally wouldn’t get a chance to do. And you don’t have to stand idly by while your hard work suffers through design by committee – YOU get to call all the shots for once and let the work stand on its own merits.

It’s an excuse to create good stuff for your portfolio. We all know we’re “supposed to,” but when is the last time you sat down and created a “pretend” design to maybe show to a prospective employer one day?  Um, never?  Thought so.

And last but not least, it’s a good way to make professional connections and do higher-profile work that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Let’s say that Guy Kawasaki (who submitted a creative brief for the cover of his new book) falls head-over-heels in love with my design.  Where else in the world would I get the opportunity to do work for him? He’s certainly not going to find me in Podunk, NJ, even if he tried.

All boats rise and fall with the tide.

The tide is changing, and my boat is ready. Is yours?

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Looking to free yourself from good employees?

Tired of paying larger salaries to those star players?  Do those game-changing ideas make you toss and turn all night?  Ready to bask in the calm sea of busyworkers?

The solution is really very simple.

Here are 6 easy steps for freeing up your budget to employ greater mediocrity:

  1. Don’t thank your star performers. Ever. Even when they manage to pull a proverbial rabbit out of a hat, make sure that you take the time to point out every minute flaw. Give them detailed lists of how it could have been better.
  2. Pretend that all the good ideas are yours. Don’t give them credit for a job well done — no “attaboys” here!  After all, they do work for you, don’t they? If you hadn’t hired them they wouldn’t have the privilege of creating great stuff for your company.
  3. Treat them like children. Watch them like a hawk. Make sure they ask your permission for everything. Make sure they know you don’t trust them to make any decisions on their own.
  4. Bury them under bureaucracy. Make them jump through flaming hoops to get things done. Focus on outdated corporate policies that don’t impact the bottom line.  Make their projects suffer by committee. Distract them from their real work.
  5. Don’t reward. Make sure that you treat everyone equally. Give them the same 2% pay increase that the slackers got. Prove to them that their extra efforts are futile.
  6. Stifle creativity. Make them do things the way that they’ve always been done. Treat innovative ideas as dangerous. Smash their eggs before they hatch.

With the economy the way it is, unfortunately you may have to carry these overachievers a little longer.  But rest assured — as soon as the job market opens up, they’ll be off the payroll and out of your hair forever.

Oh, and by the way — your competition says thank you.

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What do you interview for?

When you interview a prospective employee, what do you ask them?

There’s the usual going over the resume, asking about skills and experience. Then comes the “let’s see what you’re made of” questions − what was your biggest failure and how did you handle it? What is your best/worst attribute? What did you like/dislike about your previous job/employer?

All of these are fine questions, except that they are easily (and commonly) prepared for. It becomes a highly groomed game of cat-and-mouse, rather than really finding out what kind of person you’re sitting across the table from. Unless you’re looking for a candidate who is highly skilled at B.S.-ing their way through meetings, this may not be the best tack to take.

How about asking questions that they can’t prepare for?

Ask questions that have no (or at least no obvious) right answer. What questions will give you a glimpse of how their mind works, and how they react?

Whether the question is position-related (how would you counter the competition in “x” scenario) or  something more generally thought-provoking, you’ll get a more accurate read on how quickly they can assess a given problem and how capable and creative they are in coming up with solutions.

Here are a couple of examples from various sources:

  • Imagine dropping a Rubik’s Cube into a bucket of paint. How many of the cubes will get paint on them?
  • How many tennis balls can you fit in this room and how would you get them here?
  • How do they get the cream filling inside a Twinkie?
  • Why do people climb mountains?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • If you had to lose one major body part, what would it be? How would you compensate?
  • If the earth lost its gravitational pull, would any living things survive?

The bottom line here is interview for the attitudes and aptitudes your company needs.  If you find a person that can think the way you need them to, and has a personality that “fits” your company, you can always teach them the skills they will need to be successful in the position.

It’s easier to buy a carpenter a toolbox than teach a person with a toolbox to be a carpenter.


Photo by Robert S. Donovan

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Creative Regression Theory

I’ve decided that I need to be 4 again.  Well, maybe not the actual age — that could be problematic with the limited income and lack of driving skills — but I would love to rediscover that devil-may-care passion I misplaced somewhere over the last couple of decades.

Somewhere around the age of 4 we hit the creative “sweet spot,” where there is a perfect convergence of factors to produce incredible amounts of creativity.  Around that age is when imagination fully emerges and kicks into high gear, motor skills improve to include fine detail, the brain is able to synthesize disparate pieces of information into original expression, and  — here’s the best part! — self-censoring in deference to societal norms hasn’t really kicked in yet. To a 4-year old, anything is possible.

Have you ever really watched a kid at that age? It’s amazing. I hand my son some crayons or paints or legos or just about anything, and he will throw himself into his work with complete and utter abandon.  He doesn’t worry about the “right” way to do it; as far as he’s concerned he is doing it the right way because he’s having a blast. And if he doesn’t like the way it comes out, he just starts over. No biggie. For him it’s just a reason to extend of the fun and maybe try something new. Nothing to sweat about.

He doesn’t really care if real trees aren’t purple, or that puppies aren’t supposed to have seven legs.  So what?  It’s his picture.  If you don’t like it, go draw your own.

I think as adults we should all resurrect that inner 4 year old.  Let’s give ourselves permission to pursue our passions and indulge our creativity.  Let’s come up with crazy ideas, and try doing things in ways we haven’t tried before. Let’s stop worrying so much about whether we’re doing it “right,” or what everyone else will have to say about it.

Everyone’s entitled to their own personal vision. And if you don’t like it, go draw your own.

Life Unplugged (well, at least a little bit)


“My name is Colleen, and I am a digital addict.”

Like most digital creatives, I spend a huge chunk of my life in front of a computer. At work, of course, but also at home — checking email, following some Twitter feeds, seeing what’s going on in FaceBook land, reading a number of blogs that I follow, and writing for my own.

After many sleep-deprived weeks of working, parenting, and lots of ongoing projects (including this blog), I decided it was time for a digital break.

Last weekend I traded it all for a well-deserved and long-overdue visit with some friends to share some great conversations and several glasses of wine. Despite being completely unplugged for two whole days, the world kept going without me and I really didn’t miss all that much. (Okay, so I did get a little twitchy once or twice, but all in all it wasn’t that bad.)

This week I’ve tried to continue my somewhat unplugged streak. Instead of spending an hour or so on the computer before bed (which they say is the worst thing you can do, by the way), I’ve been using that time to curl up someplace comfy and lose myself in a good old-fashioned printed book for a while. I’ve been more conscious of how often I just “pop in” to check what’s happening online, and I’m trying to consolidate and limit it to more predefined time chunks.

Today I planted some flowers in the back yard, and then planted myself outside in a chair with a beverage to enjoy them (both the flowers and the beverage). Well, okay, yes — I’m out here with my laptop, too. But I’m enjoying the fresh air and just got buzzed by a curious hummingbird (way cool!) — two things that just don’t happen in my indoor office.

Being connected is certainly important for me personally and the work that I do, so I’ll never abandon it entirely. But there’s something to be said for intentionally stepping away now and then and enjoying what’s right there in front of you.

So when is the last time you really unplugged? What filled the spaces in your life that the missing 1’s and 0’s left behind?

photo by peasap