Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Confessions of a Recovering Workaholic

I used to hear people say things like "Life isn't all about work," and I'd say "Yeah! Time to play!" only to look down and see 67 new emails in my inbox, along with my quarterly payroll tax bill shooting me an icy stare. Or, on the rare occasion when I'd be out with friends (with BlackBerry glued to hand), I'd frantically try to bust out a few work-related memos between conversations, or suddenly come up with a new design or marketing idea followed by a mad dash to the bathroom, where I'd email myself a note to review in the morning (or, more likely, later that night). Before a trip, I'd obsess on all the days I'd be missing work and/or spend several sleepless nights making certain I had everything in place for Kari to hold down the fort while I was away, to the point of dreading the trip so much I'd end up in tears on the ride to the airport.

To be fair to myself, sometimes you have to sacrifice a certain amount of pleasure for work during tough economic climates. The fashion industry has been turned around by the recession, and no one has been hit harder than small, independent businesses. I've watched many of our most successful boutique accounts close their doors over the past year, along with fellow designers (and most recently, our beloved dye house), while consumers flock to Forever 21 and H&M for poorly-made and mass-produced - but inexpensive - versions of the latest trends. For those of us affected, when the sales slow down and the bills pile up, working 80 hours a week to try to make ends meet and keep a once highly successful business afloat seems like the only solution.

My love/hate affair with over-working, however, came well before the recent recession. In fact, it began as a child, when I'd start to feel guilty mid-hopscotch because I could have spent just a little more time on the fur detail of my crayon-colored kitty drawing. In college, I spent twice as long studying as my roommates, and skipped spring breaks to focus on whatever extra credit projects my professors happened to be offering. And once I started my clothing line, the work compulsion just grew and grew, like a relentlessness weed in a garden full of bright yellow flowers (flowers that I, of course, didn't even notice).

On June 13th, I lost my ex-husband/best friend in an incredibly tragic way. I've lost quite a few loved ones in my life, but this was the first loss that paralyzed me to the point of losing my ability to function. After the initial grieving period, work seemed strangely insignificant. I realized - for the first time in my life - that many of the cliches about life/work to which I'd always rolled my eyes were true. I reflected on how our society ingrains in us from birth that success in career defines an individual's "greatness," and in the end, how sad that is. Whether or not this was some great epiphany I'm still not sure, but something major shifted in my way of thinking, and so far, I've surrendered to it.

Over the last month, I've traveled to see many of my oldest and dearest friends and taken the time to give my weary, fried brain a long overdue break. I camped in the back of a truck on top of a mountain and warmed my hands on a sparkling campfire (in 38 degree weather). I released some of my ex-hubby/BFF's ashes into a crystal-clear lake at 10,000 feet. I dipped my feet in the ocean beside towering cliffs and watched the clouds move over my head. I stared at stars for hours. I went on a random late-night adventure in San Francisco and laughed so hard my stomach hurt for days. I took a day trip to Wisconsin with my amazing boyfriend and let myself sink into the sand under a warm, golden sun. I read books, for the first time in years. I even allowed myself, for the first time ever, the decision not to produce a full collection this season; remembering that the overwhelming stress from fabric delays, canceled orders from closing stores, and nights spent tagging rather than sleeping, should never take the place of the pure adoration I have for designing and creating art. It's time, I told myself, as I felt the breeze brush against my face, to trust in the universe, take pleasure in my creative abilities rather than concentrate on business-before-creative-flow, and open myself up to whatever comes my way. For real.

I've never been the type of person to say "I don't know." But there is something to be said for accepting things as they come, and consciously choosing to follow a path of blissful uncertainty. I'm realistic enough to know that one event, life-changing or otherwise, isn't going to instantly erase an entire lifetime of doing things a certain way, and I know there will be times where I slip right back into my role as Champion Workaholic. At the same time, now I'm aware of the need for balance, and have overcome the monumental guilt that engulfed me for so many years when I allowed myself the time to work at living, rather than living to work. I've also graciously accepted the fact I don't know what the future holds, and that there is no point on making myself sick with stress trying to find out. In the meantime, I'll do my best to figure out how to pay my bills and deal with the responsibilities of running a company - but not at the expense of missing out on life's simple pleasures.

Joseph Campbell said "Follow your bliss, and don't be afraid. Doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be." Can you imagine, if each of us woke up every morning with this in mind to guide our day? What a wonderful world that would be.

With Love,

All Photos taken in July 2010

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