I read this quote earlier this week in a fantastic cover story from Fast Company, detailing Jenna Lyons rise at and approach to J.Crew (which you should totally read when you get a second!). To give the quote a bit of context, she was talking about doing a review of jewelry for a spring catalog, and noticed the picks made by the stylists were a bit underwhelming. Instead of getting upset or placing blame, she immediately tried to get to the root of the problem — that is, why the designers chose such uninspired pieces in the first place. In the case of such a big corporate retailer, the issue stemmed from a miscommunication between the stylists and merchandisers, but Jenna’s comment to the team that “It seems like you guys feel you didn’t have a lot to play with?”and the above quote really struck a chord with me.
Anybody who creates can tell you that inspiration definitely ebbs and flows. But the more I’ve worked for myself, the more I have found that when I am producing meh work (or at least work that I consider meh), it often has less to do with my abilities or technical know-how and more to do with everything going on in my life. A packed schedule, a disagreement with a friend or my spouse, being unable to say NO to things…all of it takes its toll, and the space in my brain that — when relaxed and happy — can wander freely and be imaginative is suddenly jam packed with unimportant daily stressors. I saw this play out while we were on vacation for sure. On days when I let my mind wander about a million miles away from work? Sudden bursts of inspiration. On days where I was checking in with my real life and trying to coordinate various aspects of work or our move? Stifled, and I just wanted to sit in front of the TV and rot (sad to admit since it was a vacation, but true).
Jenna’s quote got me thinking about how your work and how you’re feeling overall can be such a reality check, if you’re willing to be honest with yourself. This played out recently with a friend of mine too, who has found herself so exhausted, overworked, and over stressed from putting too much on her plate (from work, social life, and a myriad of hobbies) that none of it is fun anymore. And where’s the fun in that? But by taking a step back and being honest with herself, she’s scaling back and trying to reclaim the things in her life that used to bring her joy.
I think that sometimes we try to tell ourselves that we can do it all, and ignore the obvious signs for what our limitations are, simply because it’s hard to be honest with ourselves. I used to think that I could handle any amount of stress and any number of projects, but once I was honest with myself, I definitely realized I had a limit (and note: we all do). I also used to think that if I couldn’t handle an infinite amount of things, that it meant that I wasn’t good enough or working hard enough. So. Not. True.
Being honest with myself hasn’t led to being instantly cured of having a full plate or having an endless source of creative inspiration and happiness…but it has meant that I check in with myself more, don’t make myself feel guilty for setting boundaries or saying no to things, and found a better balance (well, at least a little bit).
What about you? Do you sometimes have a hard time being honest with yourself?