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On the Common Thread Amongst Cultures and Living Brave

On the common thread amongst cultures and living brave

Show up. Be seen. Live brave. These words, written by Brené Brown, stare at me every day from my office wall thanks to a beautiful Christmas gift I received last year.

To say the past few months have been tumultuous would be downplaying the gravity of our world’s situation right now. There have been days of sadness. Of anger. Of fear.

Yet there have more often been days of beauty. Of gratitude. And of proven strength. After all, Brené’s words have done more than just stare me down…they’ve lifted me up.

Finding the common threads amongst all cultures

At the turn of the new year, I was fortunate to attend The New York Times Travel Show, a three-day event in New York City that brings tens of thousands of travel professionals and consumers together.

I went to the event looking for inspiration for my travel and tourism branding work, as well as for my own wanderlust, yet I walked away from it with much more.

More than 150 countries were represented at this year’s show. I spoke with people of different races, genders, and ages excited to share their landscapes and stories with me. I met a young South African photographer on his first trip to the United States. I chatted with travel representatives from Greece. I drew inspiration from print materials from the Caribbean.

I traveled the world in a day, consistently confirming the same idea: That no matter where we’re from, who we are, or what we do, we all occupy the same Earth and recognize that the pursuit of happiness is a journey that we need each other on.

And it’s a journey that’s been paved by so many who’ve come before us — people we can turn to for inspiration in times of self-doubt, of anger, and of fear, when living brave is easier said than done.

The sacred ground we stand on

I attended The New York Times Travel Show on behalf of the Finger Lakes, a region I’m incredibly proud to call home. It also happens to be a region where showing up, being seen, and living brave in the pursuit of happiness permeates our surroundings.

I’m blessed to live, work, and play on land that powerhouse women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and Jigonsaseh once filled — women who actively dedicated their lives to fighting for rights and peace that we so easily take for granted. Women who, when told to sit down and be quiet, showed up, who were seen, and who most certainly lived brave.

Their presence reawakens my spirit and fills me with energy, power, and mindfulness. Connecting with the power of the past, I am able to harness the strength of love, peace, and hope.

It’s these past presences and the stories they’ve written by showing up and being seen that people all over the world — no matter their culture or physical location — can experience, as they appreciate those who lived brave before them.

Show up, be seen, live brave

Personally, I’ll be traveling through this Women’s History Month with an increased awareness of the women who came before me, and an increased passion for following in their footsteps to inspire understanding, strength, and acceptance as we face today’s challenges.

Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever your cause…I hope you’ll join me in showing up, being seen, and living brave. The world needs our voice. It needs our courage. And it needs our camaraderie.

Making Time For You: Why Artist Dates Apply to All Creatives

Making Time For You, Why Artist Dates Apply to All CreativesA few years ago, I had the pleasure of working my way through The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path for Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. I say work because The Artist’s Way is hardly a simple, leisurely read — despite the joy you might find in soaking it in. Instead, it’s set up as more of a course, with ideas to try and tasks to complete along the way.

One of my favorite notions from The Artist’s Way is that of the Artist Date. As the author describes it:

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

Festive expeditions filled with mischief that spark whimsy and encourage play? If that doesn’t sound like heaven for the creative, I’m not sure what does. But what I love most about The Artist Date is its focus on using play to replenish our inner well.

Play as replenishment

As an artist, but more particularly as a creative, I’ve realized the importance of play more and more with each year that goes by. Our creativity simply cannot be fully cultivated in front of a screen or constantly focused on a canvas. Yet in a get-stuff-done society, play often gets neglected due to the invisible obligation we creatives seem to have to that which doesn’t stoke our fire: screens, emails, and other distractions.

Play, in its simplest form, is defined as “activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation.”

And the good news is, while the sandboxes and swingsets may have evolved into long nature hikes or robust novels, play is hardly reserved just for children.

Play is the fuel for when your tank is running on empty. It’s the invitation extended to external influences that bring our inner most creativity out. It’s the proactive approach to keeping our wells filled.

The Artist Date: Your recurring appointment for play

As last year came to a close and a new year started, I went on a bit of a personal mission. The objective: Inspiring as many of my clients, colleagues, and friends to make the appreciation of time a priority, and to make the most of every minute we’re given.

This comes in many forms: Presence in the company of others, courage and braveness in our own work, and, perhaps most urgently, vigorous insistence on incorporating play into every day.

I want to encourage you, my fellow creative, to make time for yourself by adopting your own weekly Artist Date. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant affair — for me, my Artist Dates might include going to the museum, visiting galleries, taking nature walks, getting out on the ski slopes, browsing an antique shop, or taking a couple hours to walk through the library.

The most important thing is that you’re taking time for you.

Selfish? Hardly. When we take time for ourselves — time to play and enjoy the wonders of the world around us — we are able to be more present, courage, and brave in our relationships and in our work.

After all, I’m much better equipped to create inspiring designs for the travel and tourism entities I work with when I’ve actually explored their towns, dipped a toe into their lakes, and had conversations with their community members as I dine in their restaurants. Likewise, I can take on the Bristol Mountain Ski Resort brand in an amplified way when I’ve actually got out and experienced that downhill thrill, the lights that brighten the path at night, the piercing cold hitting your face, and the purity and freshness of the air as the chairlift climbs.

Call it play. Call it an Artist Date. Call it a mind break. No matter what verbiage you choose, I urge you to put an appointment on your calendar for each week, making time for yourself.

Your creativity is counting on it.

What will your first (or next!) Artist Date include?

Time Flies — Here’s How to Make the Most of It

Time Flies -- Here's How to Make the Most of It

Sometimes, it seems all we have to do is blink and a whole month has passed. This feeling is especially strong when we turn the calendar to August, and the countdown to fall begins. Back-to-school sales and pumpkin spice lattes complement the earlier sunsets to make us feel like yet another summer has passed us by without notice.

I’ve been feeling it lately, no doubt. The thought that’s consistently finding its way into my mind is this: “So little time, so much to do.”

It can be said of my work. Of my painting. And of my play.

But I’m also a firm believer in the idea that thoughts become things — and this is one thought I’m not willing to let become reality.

The intersection of structure and flexibility

In order to get everything done, I need a schedule. But…I also need to be able to live in the spur of the moment.

Possible? Yes. Easy? No.

One of the big keys to my flexible structure is setting up a weekly agenda, including all of the projects I have to do, appointments I need to keep, painting time, and time for fun. I carve out a few hours for most tasks or events.

Seeing it all laid out eliminates my overwhelm at housing it all in my head, and also serves as the first red flag if there’s more than I can possibly do in the time I’ve given myself.

The truth is that you can’t always predict what might come up — and it’s often the “quick” tasks that end up taking longer than I anticipate. Don’t book up every minute. The calendar will fluctuate. It’s that flexibility that allows for spontaneity.

And when there’s just too much to do? That’s when prioritization takes center stage.

The power of prioritization

Let me start with a quick story here. A few weeks ago, my lavender bushes were in full bloom. I quickly ran out and picked one bunch, put them in a vase to let them dry, and told myself I’d go out later to pick the rest.

Well, I sat back down at my desk to get back to work, and work led to the next thing, which led to the next thing. I’m sure you can see how this ends: I never picked the rest, and now I’ve missed their prime.

Had I prioritized my to-do list that day and in the days that followed, I would’ve realized that picking the lavender for a few hours was more pressing than laying out design concepts for an October project.

We often talk about productivity when it comes to work, but many of the same problems and principles apply equally to our work, our passions, and our play. (Some of us are lucky in that in many ways, those three things overlap daily.)

So when it comes to some of my summer play goals that I have yet to make good on — like taking a Learn to Ride wakeboarding class at Roseland Wake Park — or my summer work goals — finishing the winter brochure for Bristol Mountain — I know that I have to pull in the power of prioritization.

The questions I ask myself at this stage are:

  • What’s important to me?
  • What can wait?

When I stop thinking that everything needs to be done yesterday, it becomes incredibly apparent how much room we have where we think we don’t. Picking the lavender on that July afternoon couldn’t wait — timing was everything — but working on the project I have three months to complete could.

(It’s often in prioritization mode that I’m also able to realize what’s not important and what I might be able to cut entirely. Remember this: By saying no to one thing, you’re saying yes to something else.)

Like a good calendar, priorities will shift. Your time is a direct reflection of your priorities — are you spending it in a way that shows your priorities off how you’d like?

Set your intentions + let the universe assist you

It’s much easier to prioritize when you’ve first set your intention(s). At an annual retreat earlier this month, my friends and I each began the weekend trip with an intention. That intention guided everything we did in our short time there, so we could each walk away fulfilled.

Setting an intention is like building a lighthouse. You can see it; sometimes you can feel it — but you know it might take some time to get to. And that’s okay.

I often try to force certain things — a design project, for example. But when I set an intention, prioritize, and give it to the time it needs, I find the universe kicks in to lend a hand.

Suddenly, I have materials, ideas, and time at my disposal that I didn’t have before, and projects, events, or even time off becomes less cumbersome, awkward, and stressful — and whatever I’m up to often ends up better than I could’ve imagined.

Write out your list. Name your intention(s). Prioritize. And most important: Drop your concern over what other people’s expectations of you are. It’s the only way you can truly align your time with your priorities.

We Can Change the World (Yes, You and I)

We Can Change the World (Yes, You and I)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

The above is a quote we’ve all heard. It’s a quote we’ve all, at one point or another, most likely been inspired by. But most of all, it’s a quote that only a few in this world really take to heart and act upon.

Let me back up.

A few months ago, I was out for my morning walk with Banks when I ran into a neighbor who was also out with his pups. As always in our friendly Finger Lakes neighborhood, we stopped to chat. What ensued was an engaging conversation with a very low-key, humble guy. This is notable, considering what he does: He’s an award-winning, worldwide director who produces documentaries like A Closer Walk (on the global AIDS epidemic, 2003), Not My Life (on human trafficking and modern slavery, 2011), and more, and he was just gearing up for another trip to Europe for work.

When I got back to my house, I watched some of his clips. I was astounded. I purchased and dove into the full Not My Life documentary, and could feel my heart clenching. How could human trafficking and slavery be so rampant not just abroad, but right here at home in the US — and how could I not know?

Becoming aware of the world around us

The director I met that day is Robert Bilheimer. He produces his documentaries around the world in order to create awareness of issues that matter to him. Not My Life is a roundup of several stories — stories of women and children in countries like Ghana, Sudan, India, Guatemala, the US, and more — who are modern-day slaves in one way or another. He’s rounded up incredible support to create important pieces of work, and in this words, he’s changing the way the world is, one story at a time.

As my heart stayed tight that day after watching Not My Life, I couldn’t stop thinking — thinking about the issues we face in this world (those that we know about, and don’t), but more importantly, about how easy it is to think that we can’t make a difference.

After all, you are only one person. I am only one person. I am only an artist. I am only a mother. I am only a business owner.

But here’s the thing: Robert Bilheimer is “only” one guy, living in a small town in New York’s Finger Lakes.

You have the opportunity to change the world (yes, you)

For you, it might be education. Or clean water. Or animal rights. Or the environment. Or cancer. Or homelessness.

Consider the cause that speaks to you the most, and go after finding a way to make change. It doesn’t have to be money — there are so many ways to give. Your time; your skills; your presence.

We’ll all make connections with people at certain times in our lives and though we may not know it in the moment, there’s a higher reason for it. I didn’t meet Robert on his morning walk that day for nothing. It’s all about being aware. Aware of the world. And aware of the opportunity.

Start today

The first step is allowing yourself to be aware. The second is putting yourself out there. The third is believing that you can make change.

There’s no shortage of causes to care for in this world. But don’t let that overwhelm you, as I have before.

After all, I am one woman, living on a dirt road in a small town in New York’s Finger Lakes, who is finding out how much impact we can all have. Our digital world is an ever-shrinking place, where social media and email make it possible to extend our reach beyond any geographical borders.

Where will you start? What will you change?

PS — A great place to start: Join me in supporting Robert’s work.

Quality over Quantity: A Mantra

quality over quantity

Have you ever gone car shopping, picked out a car you really like, and then, as if out of nowhere, suddenly started noticing that car everywhere you go? Or maybe you just put a book on your to-read list, and suddenly it’s showing up in your social media feeds and at the checkout line at the grocery store.

Maybe it’s something else entirely — but it’s as if once that something is on your radar, you can’t seem to escape it.

This happened to me recently. When the calendar turned to January and I dove back into business after a few weeks of family, friends, and fun, a phrase came to my attention.

Quality over quantity.

Soon, I became hyperaware of the phrase, as if the universe was sending me a message — on repeat. After just a few days, it solidified itself in my mind as a mantra that’s helping me get 2016 off on the right foot, and I couldn’t help but share it with you.

Where quality wins over quantity

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard this phrase. Perhaps you’ve even used it to guide some of your decision making before. Age-old adages are persistent for a reason: They make a difference. Here’s how I’m letting “quality over quantity” lead me in the new year:

Choosing quality over quantity in clients and projects: The core of my business is serving other people. There is nothing I love more than articulating a business’ brand through the perfect blend of color, typography, and texture so that it speaks to their ideal audience. Yet if there’s anything I’ve learned in running my graphic design business for over a decade, it’s this: I simply cannot do it all. With that in mind, I’ve taken the road of choosing quality over quantity in the projects and clients I take on. What that means: Having to say some hard “no’s,” but surrounding myself with work and people that truly light me up and make being a woman-owned business all the more gratifying.

Choosing quality over quantity in design: One of the most powerful ways to convey a message through design is with the use of white space. This never fails to amaze me: How much we can convey by using less. I apply the same principle for all of my design elements. Fonts, colors, shapes, and textures that carry a greater quality when it comes to evoking emotion will be more powerful than a page filled with a greater amount of elements, even if they’re each beautiful.

Choosing quality over quantity in relationships: Much like my approach to clients and projects, I choose quality over quantity in relationships outside of my work, as well. I am incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful husband and two grown children, my best friends, who inspire me every day. The same goes for friends: While I absolutely love meeting new people and learning from others, I choose quality over quantity in how many people I let into my life, knowing how much I value my quiet time for reflection and rejuvenation.

Choosing quality over quantity in hobbies: I am a designer. But I am also a painter — perhaps first and foremost. While there are many things in this world that I would love to try, I most certainly approach my extracurricular activities from the viewpoint of quality: What will add the most to my life, offering the creativity, balance, and adventure I desire? While painting has always been at the forefront, this past summer, this manifested in the form of serene days floating around the lake in the Adirondack guide boat that I can call my own.

Choosing quality over quantity in followers: I love having a blog. An Instagram feed. A Facebook page. An email list. These are all essential to my business and in opening a door to my community. But what happens when you start building social communities is that there’s an overwhelming emphasis on numbers. Yet for me, a small group of engaged readers and followers who won’t hesitate to hit “reply” or tell me what’s on their mind is more important than cracking a certain milestone in digits.

Forget the numbers game

More. Enough. Two words that often get us into trouble. We always want more, and we rarely ever have enough. Yet the funny thing is this: Once we begin placing the emphasis on quality over quantity, while it often means physically having or mentally choosing less, we often feel more full. Full of love. Full of happiness. Full of gratitude.

Where, in your life, will you allow quality to overtake quantity — and ultimately fill your bucket up more?