There’s a number of things people describe being lost (temporarily or otherwise) when you become a mom: Brain cells. Sleep. Privacy. Time. Enjoying dessert at a slow and luxurious pace.
All of these things have slipped off my plate at one point or another. Yet the momentary loss of any one of them never had any earth shattering impact.
So it’s a strange confession to admit that, as someone who does creative things for a living, learning how to enjoy my own creativity has been one of the most difficult personal challenges I’ve faced as a working mama.
At the beginning of motherhood, I was already in survival mode and adjusting to my new normal, training myself to compartmentalize my life and mental energies into two parts: mom mode and work mode. Then, a few years in when I started to run my own business (to provide a “mom” benchmark, this was when my oldest was 4 and my youngest was 2), I suddenly started to feel a keen lack of something.
I couldn’t figure it out. Sure, I was running myself a little ragged (or okay, a LOT ragged), but I was attempting to balance it all — regular playdates and toddler dance classes on my mom days, and blocking off every other day for focused work: client meetings and designing and launching new sites — with some shaky success. And when I had a spare slip of time, I tried my best to work in some time for my business, styling fun social media posts, redesigning in-house collateral for project work, trying to streamline my onboarding system for clients.
Yes, it was busy, and in fact, occasionally crazy, but I was utilizing my time as efficiently as I thought I could, in order to serve my two primary operating modes. What could be wrong?
I found myself poolside in Palm Springs, attending the fabulous Designer Vaca, cracking open Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.* I hadn’t had any time, let alone mental space, to read much of anything recreationally, but I remember seeing some really good reviews, and it seemed like a safe choice for a few days away.
So blown away, in fact, that I followed up the book with a binge session of the Big Magic podcast, Magic Lessons, on the drive back down to San Diego afterward. Clearly, this is a book I would recommend to anyone who struggles with creativity or embracing their creative process.
As far as how it affected me, it dug deeper into my discontent than I was expecting and very quickly threw something important into very sharp relief:
My life was almost entirely based in creativity and being creative for other people — for my clients, for my work, for my family — but at the end of the day, I was drained dry. The most I could do is let the tank fill up enough to burn through it again the same way I did the day before, and the day before that.
I realized that any time I ever entertained doing something creative and fun just for myself, I quickly justified not following through. Not enough time. Not a practical use of my time. What’s the point? It’s gonna suck. Someone else will probably do it better.
What other people did or think didn’t matter one bit. Keeping myself happy, and sane, and fulfilled, was important. Because doing things that energized me meant I could be a better designer for my clients — and a better, more imaginative mama for my kids.
But boy, was it just what I needed to start pushing my path in a better direction.
I finished that book and left that retreat with notes and ideas, feeling inspired for what I could come up with next. Some of those things came to fruition. Some didn’t. Some started as one thing and became something completely different.
Knowing what fulfilled me on a personal level soon informed more nuanced thinking on what fulfilled me on a work and business level. And being able to enjoy my own creative pursuits translated directly into being able to relax more about my kids and enjoy their crazy ideas too.
We sacrifice a lot for what we love, and most of the time, we grit our teeth, smile, and roll with it. But a lesson we all learn soon enough is that, most of the time, the sacrifice doesn’t make us better workers, business owners, or parents…no, quite the opposite.
Maybe, for some of you mamas, what you’re missing is that creative self-care, too. So take up a hobby, learn a new skill, start reading more books, create art for the sake of creating art…whatever you have to do to fill your creative cup and bring your own Big Magic into the world.
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