What Inspires Us: Creativity, Success & Vocation

by Grace on March 8, 2011

Tristan and I started this company two years after we met. We spent the first year working in Charlottesville, saving up money to travel together. I worked as a personal assistant and in restaurants hosting, waitressing and bar tending. Tristan renovated houses, worked for a local recycling company and did some part time computer work for hospitals in DC. If I can give us credit for anything it is that we are both excessively stubborn and hard working. When we hit our savings goal we packed our bags, quit our jobs and took off. This was literally one week before the recession hit in September 2008 and there was something very odd about living out of our backpacks and car as people around us lost their jobs, homes and life savings.

Months of traveling together during this time solidified a common truth for us. Our jobs, whatever we did to make a good living, needed to be connected to our passions. Mary Oliver said she was always careful not to get a job that was interesting, because if she did she would become interested in it and therefore have no interest, passion or energy left for her writing. That may end up being our future. Maybe trying to pack creativity, success and vocation into one ‘job’ is a young person’s dream. And I cannot deny that the pressure and stress of trying to run a business does take a toll on our creative energies- but I believe it’s worth it. If we did not give our everything to this project, this company, I know for certain we would look back and regret it.

With all this in mind I’m presenting a pretty esoteric topic for our ‘What Inspires Us’ this post. It’s the common struggle of trying to balance what you do out of love and passion and what you do to survive and maintain. The quote ”Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, attributed to Confucius, seems to touch on what we’re getting at here. You can bring love and passion to whatever you do, in the spirit of Stills “love the one you’re with”, but that is different from doing something you cannot help but bring your passion and your full self to. However it would be incorrect to think if you work at something you love you will always be happy doing it. In the ongoing pursuit of happiness, I suspect your odds of achieving happiness are much greater when you’re immersed in what you love.

We have days in the studio where we work really, really hard and it feels like work. The positives for a multilayer poster are printing out with hairline streaks in them. Not fun. The new tape is ripping off emulsion from the screens, rendering them useless after one print run. Not fun. The design you’ve been pouring hours, days, weeks into suddenly reveals itself as a total mess and a waste of time. Not fun. The third layer in a five color print didn’t have enough transparency and dried much darker than expected, requiring two additional layers to be designed and printed in the final 24 hours. Really not fun.

It’s like running, rowing, or whichever form of exercise you choose to torture yourself with. It hurts like hell, you don’t want to be doing it at the time and you’ll probably be sore afterwards but you feel so much better when you’re finished. So you get up and do it again the following week. Because deep down, you love it.

One of our biggest struggles at the moment is making time in our lives for things beyond work. In our off hours we try to envelop ourselves in good media and inspirational stories. From TEDtalks, to podcasts, to good books, we try to drown out the inevitable self-doubt and fear of starting your own business with wisdom and faith. Our good friends Jim & Cat, who are expecting a beautiful baby girl any day now, told us they felt the same pressure years ago and set aside one day a week for themselves where they don’t do any work. I understand now in a way I never could when I was younger why so many traditions and religions set aside a time each week for rest and gratitude. It helps you keep the balance.

Two other friends of ours who keep a beautiful balance of work and passion are illustrator Holly Camp and her husband Kevin Gallagher. Kevin has made time to hike both the Appalachian Trail and The Pacific Coast Trail, which was enough for Tristan to say “I like this guy” before they ever met. The amazing time lapse film Kevin made, ”Green Tunnel“, of his journey along the AT  just made it into Backpacker Magazine’s website. We are incredibly stoked for him and hope that even more good will come his way in the following months.

Green Tunnel from Kevin Gallagher on Vimeo.

When you are invested in your work it definitely makes it harder but it seems like either way you’re going to struggle, it’s just either going to be at a job you truly love or a job you make the best of and tolerate so later you can do what you really love. Tristan and I don’t believe one way of working or living is superior than the other so we are not firm footed in either camp. But we do find inspiration in the struggle and passion in our own processes.


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