Love in the time of COVID

I may already be suffering from a wee tequila head which has put my mood a few tics south of my usually charming self when my mother calls. “I just went to the store to pick up toilet paper and they were out.” she told me with a touch of humor and incredulity. This took a second to register. She laughed and went on to say that my father had called and asked her to pick some up, and the shelves were bare. What? Wait, what? We’re not in a major urban area. No one expected this little corner pocket town in the mountains to suffer from the coronapanic that is apparently spreading across our nation in seemingly direct proportion to the cases of COVID sufferers in each state. We laughed about it for a minute and decided that TP was probably the last thing on our minds if it came to that, she can always river wipe… yet this is our current reality. Priorities people. We hung up and I headed out to grab some milk on my way home. You already know where this is going.

Photo: Day of the Living Dead

It’s 3:00, not a busy time to shop, but the store was packed. Maybe early spring break shoppers? Mostly unfortunate because I try to get there before the crowds. I strolled down Produce grabbing arugula, basil, some garlic. Just what I need for the night. I got my milk, the shelves were plenty full. I see a sale of my favorite KIND bars, bought a few dozen. Grabbed eggs and out of morbid curiosity strolled down the toilet paper aisle. Empty. Are you kidding? It really was. Cleaning products are bare minimum, flu medicine down, tissues down. Forget about hand sanitizer. I walked over to self checkout and got so caught up eavesdropping on the cashiers talking about the store imposing limits on how many you can buy the next day when the shipment comes in that I forgot my damn eggs. People really have gone mad. Are we preparing for the zombie apocalypse? You’ll be germ free, but you’re gonna get hungry.

The reality is that whether it’s the media or our fellow humans, we’ve created our own nightmare. Do you hear that? We are doing this to ourselves. I understand it’s fairly easy to not get a twinge of panic when you hear other people are panicking. There’s probably some scientific phenomena that occurs in this situation. Panic breeds more panic, but let’s look at this for a minute. We all know the facts. You can’t possibly not know the facts at this point. We all have the map of the slow spread of doom permanently etched on our brains. It’s only killing those that would be hit hardest by the flu as well. You can have it weeks before you know you even have it so wash your hands- a lot. (Buy some lotion to counter the horrible dried hands that are happening here) Don’t touch your face. Social distancing, etc. So why the hell are people hoarding toilet paper? That’s insane. We’re hearing this everyday and not just because of our current “leader”, things have become like some loopy version of Upside-down Day. We’re living in an alternate universe.

So, as yet one more writer’s plea for sanity, let’s all take a deep breath. Really. It’s going to be OK. Remember that thing about love thy neighbor? Well, if you can’t muster love, for the love of all things good, have a sense of humanity. Be a decent human being. Do your best to not get caught up in this tidal wave of mass hysteria. Be reasonable. You will likely be inconvenienced, but not forever. Personally, I have coffee, wine and KIND bars. I’m set and will be happy to share my toilet paper if need be, and should a zombie actually show up at your door, feel free to comment below and tell me, I told you so.

To Niche or Not to Niche

That is the question many designers face. You are not alone. I’ve heard arguments for both sides of this dilemma. As a designer of 20+ years, I’ve often persuaded myself one is better than the other, only to swing back the other way again. Mostly I have been in the generalist industry camp, but out of geographic need rather than some profound decision. I live in SW Colorado, and have about half of my clients nearby in the region and then others much further away, but I serve numerous industries including outdoor, bicycle specific, tourism, development, restaurant, specialty food and cannabis. Fairly broad in scope. I’ve even had a client in securities! I had always intended to narrow down and niche, but new projects kept popping up and I never committed to one. I’ve had the benefit of being a part of both through colleagues and close friends. Here’s my thinking on each.

Camp Niche

I’ve gone to many bicycle industry trade shows and demo events. I have a few clients in this arena and have worked these shows on their behalf. I have also had the benefit of seeing up close and personal what a tight knit and veryyyy small industry this truly is, and more importantly how challenging it can be to break in to. My beloved has been in this industry practically since he started working and has stayed the course in it for over 25+ years. At this point not only are his many friends those who grew up with him in the industry but they are now running the companies or are the owners of many elite brands. He’s respected, a known entity as it were and his opinions are sought after. It’s humbling to walk through one of the big shows with him and watch how he laughs, shakes hands, jokes around, chats etc etc with someone at almost every booth. He will tell me this gal was PM for this brand then became this for that brand, but she used to work with this guy who is now the CEO of this company. You get the picture. That’s what following your niche does. It creates a close community that you can only get with time. Period. And it’s very cool. I’m always a little combination of inspired and forlorn after these events as it’s a piece of my direction that I truly feel I’ve missed out on. You get to be an expert in the industry and an expert friend to many. Win win. From this advantage, finding work becomes a much easier task. You simply don’t have to work as hard with business development. You have to stay relevant and current, but you have to do this regardless of your business approach.

Focusing your creative efforts in a niche industry creates a close community that you can only get with time.

Camp General

Let’s cross over and look at the other side of this. In my case, living in a remote part of the state and not close to any major urban area, getting started was effectively taking any and everything I could. I met a lot of people and built a solid reputation for being very creative and excellent and what I do. I have used this to push the referral network out further and over the years have touched quite a variety of types of projects and businesses. I know a lot of people in a lot of different industries that don’t necessarily cross over. This is where being a generalist gets interesting. One core value of my work is the unflinching belief that what I learn and do in one industry can feel very fresh in another. You become a mini expert in a lot of interesting fields, maybe a little bit of a know it all. That’s fun, but you also see something working really well over here and wonder why it’s not being done over there. SO you get to bring that to the table. For example, when you are involved in a conversation about driving tourism in a market and you can speak intelligently about events or things that are happening in a market segment that tourism might want to target, that makes you somewhat of a expert from afar. This helps. Because of my work in the bicycle industry, I can speak knowledgeably to the tourism board about what might appeal to this demographic. Like Camp Niche, this too takes time but gives you a different set of skills that are quite valuable as a creative professional. I don’t have the vast network and therefore biz dev can be challenging at times, but I can honestly say to someone that I’ve design identity systems and marketing materials for almost any industry they throw at me, and for some clients this is important to them. We creatives know that the same principles of design for one industry apply to the next and having direct experience in designing a logo for a realtor without having actually done that prior may not be as challenging as thought if you are good at what you do. Yet it’s helpful sometimes to show that you have, or certainly that you have worked in very corporate fields to very trendy fields and can swing either direction. We are natural thespians after all.

One core value of my work is the unflinching belief that what I learn and do in one industry can feel very fresh in another.

I’m certain that I will continue to swing back and forth as long as I hold a mouse and a pen. There are aspect on each side of this that I really love, and now the challenge becomes how to blend the two. If this has hit a chord with you, please share your thoughts. I would love to hear other opinions from a creative professional POV.

Continue reading “To Niche or Not to Niche”

Negroni Afternoons and Working Women

Forget Mad Men, what about Mad Women?

I did something today, I don’t often do. Well, I don’t often do when I’m home in the middle of a work week and am having a very task oriented kind of day. I skipped out of the office at 3:00 to go have a late lunch and cocktail with my beloved, and I’m a little shocked at myself. Which is exactly why I should do this sort of thing every so often. So why does that make me feel a little bit guilty? Sometimes little indulgences are just what the doctor ordered, we’re told. We read how important it is to find life balance. We hear about investing in one’s wellbeing. Note I didn’t say health here, I meant wellbeing. Get out of your rut. Do the unexpected. Etc etc. In short, don’t be such a busy body and rigid in your thinking. Which leads me to wondering what is the root of such regularly scheduled rigidity? Even the word is painful.

As a woman, who owns her own business, and takes pride in how hard she has worked all of her adult life, being rigid in your thinking is exactly what you have to do to get it all done. I’m a regular Get ‘Er Done kind of gal. Raising children and owning a business are both full time jobs. Now squeeze in regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle and your daily 24 are used up. My kids are grown now, and I have found a little more me time. Still, I get up every morning and go into my office each day and put in a day of work, and if I don’t have current client work I find ways to keep myself busy. Clean the office, organize files, etc. What I don’t do is take more me time when I have it. Why do we do this to ourselves?  

Perhaps there’s the fear that if you don’t demonstrate constant dedication to whom I don’t know, you may not be taken seriously. This is a fear some of us women professional types dance with. Some of us are better than others, depending on the day, and I suspect depending on your age. How rich it must feel to be so cocksure every day! I aspire to that confidence! And yet, there I was, sitting at a bar at 3:00 having an afternoon Negroni no less! What a wonder. I’m a regular Mad Men type of creative, and I see what the hype is all about. Being naughty is fun. Maybe even makes you feel more creative and more a BOSS. Being naughty is most assuredly a loose term, as I imagine there are many for whom this is a regular event. For me, it felt like I was busting out of something. 

I was raised to be career oriented, yet I was surrounded by women who were not. They worked hard, but not at a career. I feel like I’m part of one of the last generations that has toed the line between growing up to be a wife and mom and growing up to kick ass in the work place. I don’t see this as a struggle for many young women today and I wonder if that’s accurate. I see much bravado and confidence with young men, perhaps to their peril. Confidence is great, but you still need experience and only time will give you that. Are young women as confident today? Do they struggle with decisions between the two? I’m certain it’s not as black and white as this, but in general terms where is the collective mindset. From all outward appearances it seems women are on track to truly kicking ass and that makes me very happy, because I know women are truly capable of great things!

In the spirit of all working women who are amazing, I will go to work tomorrow and will jump in to my day as usual, but I will do it with an eye towards the benefits of breaking a cycle and seeing old things in new ways. Try new things. Be bold. Be a little outrageous. Own your world and your career. To be clear, I’m not telling you to drink in the afternoon, I’m simply reminding us all that ruts don’t benefit. They certainly don’t enhance the creative process nor do they make you feel like the bad ass you are. You have nothing to lose by being a better version of you, and pushing yourself in new ways — even when it feels a little naughty.