Living the Back Up Plan First

image via 

Have any of you watched The OA yet on Netflix?  I don’t watch a ton of TV, but a few weeks ago I had a night to myself and started it on a whim.  I got hooked.  And when I like something, I can’t just like it.  I have to obsessively Google the back story and learn about the people behind the projects, and I go down an internet rabbit hole of short lived obsession.  Totally normal, right?

Before watching this show, I had never heard of Brit Marling.  What interested me was that she not only stars in the series, but was one of the creators of the show.  So here’s a woman who had a story to tell, and made it happen in a very big way.  I love that!   What’s more – I came across this video  interview with her, where she discusses leaving her cushy corporate gig at Goldman Sachs to pursue her passion.

Sounded quite a bit like my own story (litigation paralegal turned interior designer).  When I get into a comparison hole and wonder why I’m not further ahead on my current path, I need to just remind myself that I did it backwards.  And dreams take a long time to pin down into specifics, so it’s not such a bad deal that I’m still working it all out.  The fact that I am is what matters.

Do any of you have a back up plan?  Or a dream you are saving for later on down the road?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Home Office Ideas

Photo of me by my lovely friend Amanda 

I have a ton of books.  Like, a TON.  In the photo above, what you don’t see is the top row of books on the super tall book shelf, another overflowing book shelf next to it, or the other two book exploding shelves across (you can see the side of one on the left of the picture).  Add to that a growing sample library, project files, and notebook collection.  My office, which is half library, half museum, is becoming just a tiny bit out of control.    Continue reading “Home Office Ideas”

Project Snapshots

I realize I don’t put a lot on this blog about the things I’m working on, and so I’d like to share some tidbits from a project I’m wrapping up.  A few months ago, I was contacted by a lovely family who purchased a second home in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood and needed their new empty condo completely furnished.  Sound like a dream?  I know… Continue reading “Project Snapshots”

A New Season

March 2016

Back in early March, I was sitting on my sister’s couch, crying my eyes out in the middle of the night.  Things were horribly, yet inexplicably wrong at my job (my dream job!) and the anxiety of returning to a toxic workplace had ruined the end of my week long vacation in Phoenix.  The feeling crept up on me, until it had totally overwhelmed me and stopped my ability to enjoy a single moment of the day.  Imagine Sunday Anxiety x 1000.

Earlier that day as we wandered through the aisles of a Native American Market, I felt lost and hopeless, touching every stone and asking what they meant.  Where was the thing that would purify my soul?  Where was the thing that could protect me?  I allowed my mom and sister to dawdle at the booths and rushed ahead of them so they would not see that I was crying.  Something in me had cracked and broken, but I did not know what it was.

Continue reading “A New Season”

How I Get Motivated to Work


A few weeks ago, I put out a wish into the universe that I would get more work and just a tiny but busier.  It’s been really nice having a flexible schedule during the summer, but when things slow down too much – that can get scary.

Well, the universe has responded!  Suddenly, I am busier than I’ve been since I started this journey, and it happened all at once.  My head is spinning, and I’m starting to get that excited feeling like “I can do this!”.   But also that terrified feeling like, “How is this going to get done?”.  So I’m thinking of the little things I do to keep myself motivated to stay on task, since working from home comes with a lot of distractions and juggling a bunch of different projects for a bunch of different clients is not easy, no matter where you are.

Get Dressed.   (Ok, at least put on a bra…)  Something about going through those motions of washing my face and changing my clothes helps me wake up and feel prepared to tackle the tasks ahead of me.  It’s so easy to stumble out of bed and sit down at the computer and start looking at email, but taking the time to “get ready” really helps me wake up and feel more alert.  Taking my glasses off and putting my contacts in is another thing that helps me feel more awake.  Preferably before I eat a breakfast burrito slathered in hot sauce…

Make a list.  Seeing all the things I have to do is sometimes a little overwhelming, but it really helps to prioritize tasks.  Anything that requires asking a question always comes first, followed by time sensitive things (showrooms close at 5), and then all the rest that follows.  Sharing lists with others is also a really good way to keep everyone up to date on what I’ve done, and what I still need to do.  I use Wunderlist for that, and it has been great – it’s so satisfying to mark something complete, and it syncs to my phone, so I always have it on hand for reference.

Here’s me, pretending to make a list for the photo.

Take Breaks.  Remembering to eat and drink water and listen to the things my body is telling me it needs is a must.  I have a hard time sitting still for too long and it helps me to get up and walk around for a minute.  When I return to the task, I have cleared my head of distraction, and feel more prepared to re-focus.

I’d love to hear your input!  What things help you to stay focused and motivated to work throughout the day – whether at home or at the office?

Work Exchange: Bottom Line Yoga

As you may know, recently I wrote a ranty post about working for free (don’t do it if you can avoid it).  I am a firm believer in not giving your talents away unless you get something back.   That’s the key concept behind a lot of work exchange programs at fitness studios, and what lured me in to participate in Bottom Line Yoga‘s work exchange.   Sit at the desk for a few hours a week, and in return, receive an unlimited membership that would otherwise cost you hundreds of dollars.  If you can afford the time, you’ll end up doing something good for your body and your wallet.

One of the greatest things about a freelancer’s life is having the ability to determine my own schedule.   If I want to sign up to do a yoga work trade, I can go right ahead and do that, and fit my freelance work in around that.  Living in Bridgeport, there are ZERO yoga studios in my neighborhood.  The gyms that offer yoga are dance studios, boxing clubs, or some other non-yoga focused fitness clubs that offer yoga almost as an afterthought.  The classes show up on the schedule once a week at a really inconvenient time.  The yoga class at my gym is a total joke, and it’s hard to get into the right mindset when you can hear weights dropping outside the door, or when guys with no respect for the group fitness class come in to use the punching bags.  So you know, it’s obviously less than ideal.

The cost of a yoga membership in Chicago is just a little bit out of reach for me.   On top of my regular gym membership, to pay $125+ for yoga just does not make sense for me right now.   Inspired by some advice from Scrappy Yogi, I decided to look for a work trade program that would allow me the benefit of membership in exchange for a few hours of my life each week.  Bottom Line Yoga has two locations in the loop, just steps away from the train – so not too bad of a commute for me.  On Mondays, I man the desk for  few hours, checking members in to the open studio nap and meditation time, and bring my laptop so I can get whatever work I need to done.   It’s a double duty situation for me, and it’s so far been working out great!

The classes I’ve attended have been amazing.  Since it’s a loop worker focused studio, many of the classes are during lunch hour, and the studio does not get super crowded. The increased personal attention has allowed me to get into some poses that I had always thought were too advanced for me.  Never again do I want to cram myself into the back of a 6 pm Core Power Fusion class!

On top of everything else, the studio is such a relaxing, well curated space that is a pleasure to spend time in.  The mix of mid century modern furniture with vintage found elements creates an inviting environment with a casual style.  Mondays have become a day to look forward to, instead of filling me with dread and destroying my Sundays with anxiety.

I’ve always wanted to design a yoga studio…


Master Bath Update

A few months ago I posted some inspiration for a master bath I’m currently working on with another designer.    Well, construction has finally begun, and we’re past the point of no return!  While it’s just a routine renovation, this project is especially exciting for me due to my level of involvement.

You know when you work for a big company and you do all of the lame boring grunt work and then your boss swoops in with the flair and puts her name on everything?  Well it’s not like that this time and I couldn’t be happier.  Even though the project is through another designer’s company, I’m involved every step of the way, and getting valuable experience (and credit for my work) that I never before received while working at a big firm.  It’s refreshing!

But experiences aren’t all super exciting.  Some of them are painful and awkward, and I dread making the phone call, and even worse, leaving the voicemail to tell someone I’m really mad and not happy with what they’ve done.


Not sure if you can really tell, but that’s my drawing up there with a contractor’s markup  changing the design.  And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, they built it.  Without asking me, or the client.  Not cool!  Their reasoning behind the change made it clear they wanted to do things the easy way, and if I wasn’t so invested in the project, I would probably have let it go.  Give it to the boss to deal with and move on with all the other fires I had to put out that day.

But this time it’s different.  This time, it’s personal.  This is my portfolio they are messing with!  If I wanted there to be an ugly tub situation I would have drawn it that way!  So it was on me to send the stern and chiding emails, and make the round of phone calls to ensure that this got taken care of the right way (aka my way!).   And it worked. This morning’s site visit left me reassured that there was a remedy for the error, and all would be done according to plan.

This is nothing out of the ordinary for anyone in the design world.  Stuff gets messed up ALL. THE. TIME.  The color is wrong, something came in broken, it doesn’t fit through the door, the electrician put the plug in the wrong place, etc. etc. etc… Anyone who says they’ve had a project where something didn’t go wrong is probably lying.   Interior designers are constantly freaking out and fixing problems big and small on a daily basis.  In the grand scheme of things, this problem was a pretty small one.  But for me, this was a big step in my independence and professional growth.  I’m celebrating the fact that I dealt with the icky feelings and said what I needed to say without disaster or compromising professionalism.

It’s not all bad though.  Just look at this gorgeous stone we’re getting for the counter tops:


I have to admit, I drove all the way out to the suburbs, and am a teeny bit disappointed they didn’t give me a hard hat to wear in the warehouse.   But this slab is amazing, and worth the missed opportunity for a hard hat selfie.  Maybe you can’t see it from my iPhone pics, but the stone is satiny soft, and glowing with magical powers.  I can’t wait to see it installed and share with you!

Never Work For Free

As someone working in a creative industry, it just about sets me on fire to know that day after day, designers and other creative professionals are exploited without shame.  For some reason, creative work is not valued among non-creatives, and it is accepted as totally reasonable to them to ask for free services.  Case in point below:



< Insert string of angry expletives here. >  The people posting the ad had enough money to buy a new construction home in a wealthy area of Chicago.  They have a budget for an entire house full of furnishings in the “modern luxe style” but ZERO for the professional help they want to put it all together?  Instead, they are preying on students who need portfolio projects in exchange for real compensation for their work.   Sorry, but no thanks!  An experienced designer would charge tens of thousands of dollars in time alone for the work it would take to handle a project of this scale.  4,000 square feet is HUGE, and specifying furniture, accessories and logistics takes weeks of detail oriented work!

I urge anyone who sees this type of ad who is need of building their portfolio to stop and think about what they are doing.   People who ask for free services usually get them because there is always someone wiling to do the job.  But when you agree to work for free, you perpetuate the culture of creative exploitation, and actually make it harder for others to be fairly compensated.

Creatives, do not undervalue yourself!   The commercialization of the internet has created a world of writers who are asked to create click bait content for bigger websites in exchange for exposure.    Anyone with a laptop and a few software programs can pose as a graphic designer.  And while it’s nice that technology has made it easier for more people to pursue their passions, the competition has gotten out of control.   It’s tempting to take a job that promises to build your portfolio, but you do NOT want to work for people who do not value you and the work you do.  Would you ever go to the dentist and ask for a free root canal?  Would you dare to tell your nanny that she is lucky to wipe your kid’s butt in exchange for the experience?  NO.  You worked hard to get your education and training, why are you going to give it away?  I know you have bills to pay, but taking on a commitment to someone who doesn’t care about your bills means you have less time to find work for someone who does.

When people agree to work for “experience”, they are sending out the message that asking for free creative services is acceptable.   Professionals who have invested years and money into their educations, equipment, and reputation are often overlooked by those in favor of someone with less experience who can do “the same job for less”.  I encountered this when planning a wedding and lamenting over the costs.  I now am so happy I decided to hire a professional photographer to document my day – she was worth every penny!

But I need to build my portfolio!

I totally understand that everyone has to start from somewhere, and that place is usually the bottom.  But there are other ways to develop a body of work that you’d be proud to show other people without totally screwing yourself financially, and stripping yourself of personal integrity.  For instance, find someone you know who has something you want, and offer a trade.  My good friend is a working professional photographer who has traded services with other creatives in order to build her portfolio in the direction she wants to grow.   The difference with a barter is that you initiate the trade, you set the terms, and you gain something that you value and otherwise would have to pay for.

Another option is to take (or keep) a job that’s not really what you want, and create the work you want to show on the side.   This takes a real commitment to your craft, whatever that might be.  Another friend of mine started a natural beauty line in her kitchen.  Six years later still runs it our of her apartment, all in her off-hours while working a day job. Every day she gets closer to making it her full time job, but for now it is her passion and her patience is paying off.

If you have a passion for something, you will find a way to bring it into your life.  You do not need anyone to tell you they are helping you by letting you work for free.

To those new homeowners, you get (and deserve) what you pay for.   When you seek out an inexperienced college student to handle an important and life changing project, you will  likely get student quality work – even if that person is talented.  Many interior design students may work while in school, but entry level positions usually entail working in a resource library tucked far out of sight of any client.   Their interaction with contractors and vendors are limited at best.  When you are not willing to pay a professional, you are also sending out the message that you are not seeking someone with high standards for professionalism, integrity, and accountability.   You are saying you don’t place a value on the experience of the designer who has solved countless problems in the real world, and you don’t care whether or not they have an extensive network of other contacts built up over years in the industry.   And that’s a huge mistake.   And you deserve to make it if you’re asking someone to do valuable work for free.

My views on this issue are nothing nobody’s heard before.  You can learn more about the struggles of being a creative freelancer at Freelancers Union, as well as what you can do to help make change.  It’s a great resource for the independent creative to learn about their rights and how to navigate difficult situations that arise while doing business.

For everyone out there navigating this type of situation, stay strong!

The End Goal is Never The End

During these last few months I have really been thinking hard about what I want, and what I need to do to get it.  I waver back and forth between finding a mentor to guide me for a few years and taking a leap of faith to go out on my own.  Currently, I’m straddling that line with freelance work.  I’ve taken the steps to register my own business (no easy task with the way Illinois government offices are designed to provide confusing information), but fallen short on actually starting.  In a way, I see this blog as a step towards my goal of total creative independence, but I have days where I’m unmotivated, or question what my purpose is.   And then I remember – I specifically set out to have no purpose so that this project could evolve along with me.

Part of my problem is that I’m always looking to others to determine what I want, and using their accomplishments as a scale to measure my own success.   Of course I’m never going to feel good about how I’m doing if I only look to others how they are now, and ignore their process along the way.   I am trying to remind myself in moments of frustration that everyone at the top had to start from somewhere, and the most important thing was that they started.  Easy, right?

The below quote has lately been popping up all over the internet in various forms, and I think it’s applicable in so many ways.

Image via Pinterest

I am majorly guilty of spending way too much time on Pinterest and Instagram.  What starts out as something that is fun and inspiring, usually leads to me sinking into a black pit of despair.   My life and accomplishments are not picture perfect, and therefore unworthy.  It doesn’t even matter if what I see online isn’t what I wanted for myself.  Someone else has it, and now I can see that I don’t.  Sigh… 

My career path has taken many twists and turns over the last few years.  Some of it has to do with the fact that if something is not in line with my end goal, I find it hard to continue on that path.  Some of it has to do with the fact that I made incorrect assumptions about how I would feel and what I would learn while pursuing certain opportunities.  I was lead starry-eyed into a hot young design firm, and killed myself trying to fit into their mold.  It wasn’t me.  It wasn’t right.  Generally, my fight or flight response defaults towards flight, and I flew.

So here I am, attempting to stick with something I decided to do, even if I don’t exactly know what that fully entails.   Below are some key points I’m trying to remind myself of daily.

  • Small triumphs still count.  Why do I have to wait until I’m world-famous to feel like I’ve had a successful career?  Can I stop for a moment and feel good about how I handled that client meeting last week?  Can I be proud of the hard work I do on a daily basis?  Pretty sure the answer is yes.
  • The end goal is never the end.   Thinking only about the end goal is often enough to stop me in my tracks.  I imagine this state of perfect satisfaction once I achieve X in my career.  But that imagined state is just a snapshot, and not the full picture.  What happens when I get what I wanted?  Experience tells me I’m going to want something else, and the cycle will continue.  I have to be ok with how things are in the present, and if I’m not, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my priorities.
  • I can appreciate what others do without being convinced that I should do the same thing.   This is a huge one or me.  Earlier this week, I listed to the FOMO episode of Andy Miller’s Creative Peptalk podcast.  It was perfect timing for me, as I do tend to see other successful creatives, and feel pressure to do as they do.  What’s great for someone else is not necessarily great for me, and vice versa.

I’d love to hear from others – what are some key things that helped you through a turning point in your career or personal life?


Finding Authenticty

Here I am, trying to document a great hair day in the reflection of a dirty window.  I agonized over whether that was the right coat to wear.

Last week, I walked into a meeting to discuss a new opportunity that I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted.  I’ll spare you the boring details, but it would essentially put an end to the flexibility I’m starting to enjoy and get used to.  On the other hand, I could learn a lot and grow from the experience, and so maybe it’s a fair trade.  Whatever happens isn’t really the point right now.  I was more excited to find that the people I met there seemed to be my kind of people, and couldn’t be more different from what I’ve come to expect from this industry.  Meaning no drama, no celebrity ego, just good, hard work and respect for others.

The obsession with making it is something in this industry that has really started to weigh on me heavily.  I’ve talked before about the Instagram starlets, and Interior Designers are generally very caught up in that world of projected success.  The fake it till you make it mentality controls all of our lives and social media feeds.  Just last night, MJ suggested that I start a completely separate Instagram account for my professional life, so that people aren’t being fed pictures of my cats, cupcakes and selfies.  And while I get it from a certain perceptive, the thought of how much work that will be exhausts me.   The pictures I post document my life and who I am now; I’m not good at portraying a life that I don’t actually live.  I don’t even know how to go about it.

I made the decision to change my career and join this community because of the person who I was, and I was trying to protect and nourish her: a sensitive creative type who happened to fall into a mismatched career path due to a bad economy.  At the time, wearing a corporate costume and working 11 hour days as a paralegal was killing my body and my soul.  I made the decision to follow my true spirit and chose interior design as a way to have a practical career that allowed me to be creative.

But now I’m facing a different challenge.  Instead of not being “corporate” enough, I worry now that my clothes I wear aren’t trendy or fashionable enough.  Should I rearrange the plants on my shelf for a better looking “Lazy Sunday at Home” shot for Instagram?  Do I need to geotag my pictures every time I go someplace hip and new?  I’m feeling yet again an immense pressure to look and be a certain way that isn’t authentic to me, and I’m finding it hard to hold on to or even recall what it was that led me here in the first place.  I am once again falling into the trap of becoming obsessed with how I present myself to others to the point where I end up presenting nothing.  In real life, on social media, even here on this blog.

Everyone is trying to be the next big thing, and it seems the process of getting there involves pretending you’ve already made it.  Where are the people who don’t know what they are doing?  They may admit it to your face if you ask nicely, but on social media they’re so excited to show you their latest big project.

Can we all just stop?  Can we go back to being ourselves and wear what we want and say what we think?  Can we admit what we want and not lie about what we have?