Ripples in the pond and finding solid ground…


It’s been really hard to decide what to write next, following the freakish, completely unplanned and totally unexpected success of my last post.

Honestly, I do not plan these posts. I just write. I’m not a writer, I’m more of a compulsive journal scribbler. I write every day in a journal and have done for most of my life, more as a way of ordering and settling my own thoughts and feelings than anything else, and when I write a blog post it’s usually just a journal entry that I’ve decided to make public and I write in exactly the same way; beginning, middle, end, post.

So when the last post went viral, twice, it was a complete shock and It’s taken me so long to post again simply because instead of just writing what’s on my mind, I’ve heaped all of this pressure on myself to write something important or meaningful.

It’s been nearly three months since the last post, so I’m just going to write this, tell you what’s been happening since my self value revelation, and see how it ends up.

I was going to write about what if feels like to have something you’ve put out into the world go viral, but let’s just say it’s overwhelming. It is also incredibly humbling to receive so many heartfelt messages saying “me too!!!”.

It’s safe to say that following my wake up call, there has been a knock on effect in almost every area of my life, most obviously in my work. As a freelance designer, I usually take on as much then a little bit more than I can handle at any given time. I rarely take days off and I almost never take holidays. I often work twelve hour days and sometimes over night. This has been down to an ingrained fear that if I don’t work harder than everyone else, I will lose out and not be hired again.

Not so any more.

Shortly after the train journey when the penny dropped, I had an email from a regular client to ask if I would be able to take on a large project and complete it in a few weeks starting immediately. I really love working with this client and it was a great job, but it would mean dropping all of my other plans and working exclusively for them for a few weeks and delaying everything else around me. So I told them the truth, said that I was fully booked and if they wanted me they’d have to wait two months. I also added that if the project was urgent I could take on half of it within the next month then complete the rest at a later date.

I was worried they’d turn me down and simply find another designer.

Instead they thanked me for taking the time to get back to them so quickly, told me that they’d be delighted to wait for me to fit them into my busy schedule, and then thanked me again for being so generous with my time.


Then it happened again. Another client got in touch to say that they would like to arrange a meeting about an upcoming project and could I begin work as soon as possible. Again, I could have managed it if I had given up my weekends for a month and a half, but instead I told them that I would love to meet them for a chat but that I wouldn’t be able to begin work until later in the year. Again, if it was urgent I could fit them in earlier. The same thing happened! They thanked me for fitting them into my schedule, we had a great meeting and now they’re delighted that we’re going to be working together.

I told my business mentor about this in our last meeting. She asked me how it felt, and I told her in all honesty that I felt like it should have been a bigger deal but in reality it just seemed like this is how it should be.

I always felt that having the opportunity to work is a privilege, and I still think it is, but I now see it as a give and take situation. I work better when I am well rested and well prepared, not pushed to my limit and under extreme stress. I used to think that I was only good enough to deserve my job if I worked at the very limit of my endurance.

And here’s the thing… now that I believe in the value of the work that I do, and I am giving myself realistic timescales to work within, and earning a realistic wage, my work has stepped way up a level.

Clients now feel lucky to have me, but if I don’t deliver and deliver well, then they’ll feel let down and not hire me again.  I feel more valued and I work better because I have more time, the client feels glad to work with me and they get a good result that’s had all the time it needs to be completed.

I used to think that being self employed meant that I wasn’t able to get a “real” job with a steady salary and a predictable income. I thought that I had to take whatever jobs were offered to me and be grateful for the opportunity. I kind of see why that was important early on when I was finding my feet and building my client base, but I think it’s about time I became a bit more selective about what I’m willing to stress out over.

It’s not hard to see where that idea comes from. When you’re self employed people have the most ridiculous ideas of what you do and who you are.

Here are just some of the things people regularly say to me when they find out I’m self employed.

  • How much do you actually earn?
  • Can you sew on this button/fix this zip/adjust this hem for me?
  • I’ll tell all of my friends about you so you can sew on their buttons/fix their zips/adjust their hems for them.
  • Will a tenner cover it?
  • Do you have to do all your own paper work then?
  • And can you manage that all by yourself?
  • Seriously, how much do you earn?
  • Are you sure you know what you’re doing with all your paperwork, it’s really quite complicated isn’t it?
  • That thing you made looks really professional!
  • Make some posters and I’ll put them up in the office.
  • Are you really earning enough to get by?
  • It must be nice having so much free time.
  • You earn HOW MUCH???
  • I suppose folk will pay for anything these days….

I’m not even joking.

The questions about how much I earn are the most common. Can you imagine asking that about someone else’s job? Can you imagine meeting someone at a party or in a bar, finding out they’re an engineer or a sales assistant or whatever, then asking them the highly personal question of what they earn? I guess it comes down to people not knowing what industry standards are, plus the whole mystery surrounding creative industries and just plain curiosity, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just rude.

I think the one that pisses me off the most is the “that looks really professional” comment. To be fair, my own parents have said this to me, and I don’t think people mean any harm in it, but it shows a real lack of understanding of what self employed people do. The fact is I am a professional, the problem is that I’ve only just realised it!

So far everything had been lining up in support of my new found self worth and respect for my work, then just a few days ago something else happened.

I’d applied for another “thing”. I’m applying for lots of “things” right now, and this one wasn’t a big one, and it wasn’t directly linked to my work but they’d asked me to take some of my work along to show them.

They didn’t get it.

They so didn’t get it. I took along my portfolio of photographs of my work and Gilda and her wooden doll, one of my favourite pieces, and they had a good old patronising smirk at every single thing I showed them. They “played” with Gilda chucking around her from person to person and talked about how “sexy” her stockings were and how “clever” I was.

It was like fucking Mean Girls.

I’d realised about twenty minutes before the dolls came out that I didn’t want to be involved in this “thing” I’d applied for, but seeing these people making fun of me made me feel weirdly calm. I knew for sure that I didn’t want anything more to do with them.

I was really keen to get a critical appraisal of my work but this was just plain old school kid mockery, so I packed up Gilda and zipped up my portfolio thanked them for their time and left, absolutely certain that I really was fine with it and for the first time in my life, someone not respecting my work didn’t bother me one bit.

Gilda and her wooden doll
Gilda and her wooden doll

Even a year ago, that sort of experience would have broken me. I would have kept my portfolio shut indefinitely, I would have hidden all of my work from my sight and brooded over how horrible those people were to me and how I didn’t deserve it, then wondered if maybe I did because maybe they were right, then I would have brooded some more. This time, for the very first time, it was shrugged off the minute I left that room.

It actually felt good! It’s easy to feel good about what you do when the people around you are praising you and backing you up but it feels amazing when you can still feel good about what you do when you’re being ridiculed.

So what I thought might be a little change in perspective has ended up being massive shift.

And, getting back to the blog post, it’s been amazing to know that so many other people have struggled with the same things. It’s also connected me to some really amazing new people, blogs, Facebook pages and general goings on. I’ve had literally hundreds of messages and it’s been very difficult to reply to everyone personally, so if I haven’t yet replied to you please know that your message has been read and that it means the world to me.

The full impact of the response to that last post is still too overwhelming to write about so maybe at some point later down the line. For now, I’m going to sign off and say thank you.

63 thoughts on “Ripples in the pond and finding solid ground…

  1. really interesting second part or continuation to the first. You are great at putting into words what a lot of us have struggled with. Good Luck – though i’m sure you don’t need it!!

  2. It’s very empowering to find discover your own value and the boundaries we need to set for ourselves and that it is ok to say no. Congratulations on all of it. Your writing comes from your heart and your thoughts resonate with so many of us. Good luck on all of your projects. Your creations are awesome and I hope to own one one day!

  3. Brilliant piece – again spot on and I’m sure there will be many more ‘me too’s’!

  4. You put into words what many of us can relate to. Thank you for your eloquent description of your evolution as a creative. Perspective is key and you will help a lot of people. You’re helping me, thank you.

  5. Thank you for another empowering piece of writing. Your last “viral” post was the piece I discovered and it had an effect on me as well. I’ve been taking myself more seriously as an artist and part of of this is feeling empowered to say “no.” No, I will not donate original children’s book illustrations to your beaver dam benefit auction in Montana. No, I will not feel like I need to reduce the price on a large installation, especially when I’ve put in over 20 hours on grant writing alone. No, I will not sew your button on/hem your pants/offer sewing tips for free. No, I will not donate work to your function and watch it auction off for a quarter of its worth just to “get my name out there.” No. No. and No. I used to think that if I had a generous heart as a creative person that this generosity would come back around. Sometimes it does. Sometimes you need to just get your foot in the door and dump a huge amount of effort into something. Sometimes…. but not every time because you have to be the one to hold your own self worth so others will also, otherwise you are a doormat and this is bad for the rest of the creatives when people start assuming we’re ALL a bunch of doormats.

    I was saddened to hear about your “thing” meeting and the subsequent actions of the group. I often ask myself, “would these people be treating/making assumptions about/looking down on a lawyer/architect/doctor? What if that group tossed around their physician’s stethoscope in the same way they tossed around your work? It’s laughable, I know. I have been called a “shop girl” and an “alterations girl” (I was a clothing designer, 12 years). I’ve been asked “Did you write this book, or just illustrate it?” (I was a children’s book illustrator, 14 years) I thought I had to educate every single person I ever felt slighted by, and that just made me feel bitter. I think I’m finally at a place in my life and creative work where my hide has finally thickened — those callouses a direct response to irritation.

    My response to this kind of thinking is to remain an enigma. A smart, responsible, hard working enigma. People’s attitudes towards creatives stem from a lack of understanding and a belief that the work we do is “easy” or “DIY.” In the end, all I have is my work ethic and the end product’s value. I don’t have to explain myself and I certainly shouldn’t have to shore myself constantly.

    Lastly, many of us in the creative class who are women will always do battle with this fact and the assumptions around “hobby and crafts” vs. “art and design.” Because I work with my hands doesn’t make me use my brain any less, nor does it relegate my art to “women’s work.”

    Thank you for your work, your words and your time. I hope the ripple effect continues to spread.

    1. Thanks Amy! You’ve completely hit the nail on the head, far more succinctly that I did! My new mantra for any situation where I need to deal with less than respectful people is ” I am a smart, responsible, hardworking enigma” 😉

  6. Living the Dream! Your process is fascinating, and encouraging. If you can do it, well, maybe I can, too. I am still finding my own niche and riding the roller coaster of doubt and joy. My companion doesn’t see my passion as “real work” but I keep at it, and have learned to (mostly) ignore his chauvinism/old school ethics and forge on! Thank you.You are an inspiration.

  7. You, my dear, are awesome, and just what I needed to hear. I’m a potter, and I’m only just starting to believe in what I do. Yes, others can throw on the wheel better than I can. Yes, others make more delicate pinch pots, or whatever. But no one is me–and that’s my superpower. Thank you for sharing this, and for inspiring others–like me–who are just starting to see their own worth.

  8. Absolutely yes, totally agree and thank you very much indeed for putting that across so well. I LOVE your work. It’s individual, whacky, completely original – and may it always be so. Your words have made my day (and I hope it continues for the weeks and months ahead too) . Wishing you the best of everything for the future.

  9. I found your last post under freshly pressed and it was the look on the dolls face that made me read the post. Glad I did. I too needed those words. I loved this post too, and Gilda – she is wonderfull. Her face, how she holds her doll. She sits there and she speaks to anyone that looks att her. Absolutly lovely!

  10. I am so grateful to find artisans like you. I am just beginning my journey into creative self employment through my craft and am realizing that, although my creativity as an architect in the building world was always praised and seen as an asset to my professionalism, the same creativity applied to a handcraft is seen as cute and quaint. My toys are meant to be played with, and as such fall a little farther away from art and a little closer to homemade than yours, but I make them to introduce children to beautiful things. Like small child appropriate pieces of art that their little hands can explore and touch and use and abuse and know that they are being given something worthy of time and effort and respect. Reading your posts has helped me to begin to articulate that I don’t want to just make toys. I want to make functional pieces of art that inspire young minds to be curious and to appreciate the quality of a well made item. Thank you for your candid honesty, it is helping me to become more honest with myself.

  11. Good for you! I didn’t read your last post (but will definitely do so now!), but I’m so impressed that you were able to decide you needed to make some changes, and stick to that when you had to! I was an entrepreneur for 4 years, and I know the pressure to take the work when it comes in, because you just never know when you’ll get more. So glad that you are at the point in your life when you can recognize your worth and be peaceful about turning down things that aren’t healthy for you. What a sad moment for those folks who didn’t recognize the worth of the objects you create. I think they are fabulously beautiful and poignant… it makes me so happy to look at them and notice all the tiny details that make them perfect. You have so many admirers… don’t let those who are clueless get you down. We all have too many of those folks in our lives. 🙂 Love to you!

  12. Wow- I’m so glad a friend passed this article along to our incredible Facebook group of creative handmade business owners.

    This SO hit home for me with something I’m going through right now!

    I, too, used to aggressively people please (more like “client please”) and make custom artwork for clients and the cost of my own time and sanity and sometimes for next to nothing in payment. The stress and pressure of it all was never worth it. I’d lose precious sleep over it and time with my kids. This worst part was that I knew it was my own fault. I ended up feeling like I was cheating myself and would feel this horrible sting of bitterness for not choosing to just let the “great opportunity” pass by. I was so scared I would be missing out.
    I knew it was my choice to charge what I charged and to agree to whether or not I would take on crazy projects when I really needed to rest and spend time with family or when I was in the middle of my absolute busiest season.

    When I bite off more than I can chew, it always drains me.

    I’m at a place now where I’m doing a serious evaluation of what I am willing to work on. I am trying to get comfortable with the idea that, yes, turning projects down may disappoint future and former clients. But I need to value and respect my time and my work and most of all myself. To be grateful for opportunities and at the same time be mindful and use wisdom to guide me in my choices.

    Thank you so much for this! Feels good to be validated.

  13. love seeing you holding your power with such grace as the mantle of maturity circles and settles with a wry rustle of humour on your shoulders

  14. Well, you’re obviously not a professional until you’re employed by someone of authourity, a boss person, like, who can approve your worth to the world. Preferably a male one.

    Alternatively, if you hire someone to do your lowlier tasks, then as their boss you are also more professional.

    /irony off

    Isn’t it curious how that works out in people’s minds? And yes, I get that kind of stuff from my parents too. I design and build some home improvement with my own bare hands and they praise my husband while I’m getting the stink eye for falsely trying to steal his glory.

  15. Once again a wonderfully thought provoking post. I LOVED hearing about your successes — that you now feel you can manage your own world and work progress and still succeed. Lovely! Obnoxious people are all over the place, talking with thought or understanding and being smug about it. We all know of people or organizations like this and we also know where they rank on the ‘human being’ scale!

  16. Ah I’m so glad to see another post from you. I was one of the ‘cryers’ from the last post, it really hit home. Hearing how that process has progressed with you is really interesting, and makes me feel hopeful. I think there’s a few things you make me think about
    – not working from a set work location – working from home, or having some element of being portable – when I worked in my last job, in an office, no-one asked me to help them or work outside of work. Now I work at home, and work using an extension of my persona, I am simultaneously seen as being available 100% of the time, but not ‘at a real job’ any of the time. Every single person I know treats me like this (husband included, he doesn’t mean to, but it happens)

    – your point about always needing to be working, always needing to try really hard. I am interested in the progression from that to being confident in the quality of ‘normal’ output. I would love to sit down and just ‘do’ and be content with the level of ‘average’ performance. I don’t want to project onto you or be presumptuous but I almost get a sense that this is where you’re getting to? (forgive me if I’m wrong)

    The box for comments is so small I can’t re-read what I’ve said, so I do hope it makes sense!

    Thank you so much for sharing these things – you can see just how many people you’re touching! It’s really pleasing to see a nice fellow human becoming happier and more confident so I really wish you all the best. Your work is beautiful, and you deserve every success!

    Kate x

    1. Hi Katie

      Well, I’m not quite taking my own advice yet, as I was working until 4.30am and I’m going back into work at 11am on a Sunday, and last night was massively stressful getting everything finished, so not quite there on the just “doing” yet. I’m actually not content with an average performance, I’d rather spend time on an excellent performance than working my arse off on a hundred projects and giving a barely scraped together performance. Although, like I said, I’ve had a couple of hours sleep and now I’m on my way back to work, so not really taking my time as much as I’d like, but that’s just the way it is sometimes.

      I think a big part of the progression from taking everything I could to being selective came firstly from burning myself out to a point where I couldn’t carry on as I was. Now I think it’s down to maturity and a little bit more financial stability. I could never have been so selective when I was starting out and trying to make ends meet every day.

      As far as working from home, I’m currently waiting for my new studio to open and I’m working in a spare room and going mad with all of the same things you’re experiencing. I just don’t know how to get around it. It’s not just other people assuming I’m 100% on call and 100% free, I have massive issues with distractions so this is really not the way for me to work until I can develop a bit of self discipline.

      Hopefully when the new studio gets finished I’ll get over all of this!

      Take care,
      Johanna x

      1. Ah I don’t think I explained it very well – it’s not settling for an average performance or settling on an average level so one can take on more, it’s more the feeling I get that I have to be absolutely busting my guts and pushing myself to an unhealthy point of obsession, and I wish to be a bit more confident that I can just ‘do’. I’m all for striving to be the best I can be, just need to find the balance where I can admit that it’s ok and be happy with more I produce. But reading it like that it is at a stage further back in the evolution you’ve explained here and in the previous post.
        Kate x

      2. Ah, right. I know what you mean. I think the obsession comes from two things (for me anyway); feeling that if I didn’t work really hard and take on everything that someone else would get the job and the “break”, and secondly, not really being clear about what I really wanted to achieve so taking on everything in the hope that one of them would be the right one.

        It sounds from what you’re describing, that you put a lot of pressure on yourself.

  17. That’s an interesting list of things people say. Recently, after starting what I feel to be an open-hearted blog, one of my oldest truesr friends says to me, “I won’t read that. I’ll wait until you have something published, that’s when you’re really a writer”. The ignorance of others can at times affect the value with which we see our craft, unfortunate but true.

  18. Warmest wishes from Australia! I just discovered you – to my great delight! You work is moving and inspiring. I work as a professional storyteller in Melbourne, just about to tour Ireland for a couple of months telling stories, listening to stories and researching stories. I play with many mediums as part of my creative process and have been more and more drawn to making puppets and dolls. Thanks for sharing your beautiful work with us all! Niki X

      1. Thanks! Yes – I will let you know for sure – it’s very tempting….Scotland is having a storytelling festival while I am on your side of our beautiful blue-green planet….hard to resist! 🙂

  19. Oh, find your blog is one of the finest coincidences I’ve had.
    The first think that came to my mind was “his dolls remind me the Armando Reveron dolls”. It express emotions to me.
    Then I start reading your post and I felt that I had to leave you a comment. Thank you for your honesty and your beautiful words. You’re a natural artist, because you create with your hands beautiful words and beautiful dolls.
    I really enjoy every single word you wrote, and I perfectly understand what you feel. People can be ridiculously bad with what they say, maybe because they don’t understand that “a hobby” can be the most wonderful life style, or they’re acting like “responsible adults” and forget the joy of life.
    You go on, we need more people like you, with dreams and the graceful to share it with the world.
    And thanks again for your work. Have a warm hug from Venezuela.

  20. Hi there, I’m afraid I missed your viral post and only just found a link to this post today, but I wanted to say thank you and although I am no where near your ability, Gilda is beautiful, I’d like to think of myself as an artist and a professional. I’m bookmarking you and going to find the other post later for a bit of bedtime reading, I hope you get to see this comment, you have so many already, but Thank you and GO GIRL.

  21. I just discovered your blog because after a week of feeling gloomy about my own work I was wandering around WordPress (where your blog was recommended) Perfect timing, your words echo my thoughts about many things and your work is exquisite.

  22. I love your blog, and “it feels amazing when you can still feel good about what you do when you’re being ridiculed” so resonates with me, I get the same from other women when they find out that I am doing my own housework and write blogs and do yoga, I too used to feel bad but yesterday a woman made a stinging remark and I felt nothing 🙂 not good not bad it is as if her words did not mean anything to me.

    1. Doing your own housework, writing blogs and doing yoga sounds like an awesome way to spend your time. I can’t imagine why anyone would have a stinging remark about it.

      1. Doing house chores is looked down upon in middle class India and yoga and blogs are thought of as good for nothing activities again in middle class India 🙂

  23. I love how you keep it real, and how un superficial your style is. I’m working on my blog too, so let me know if we can help each other out constructively. I like to exchange ideas, and constructive feedback with fellow bloggers as much as I can! I believe feedback is everything..

  24. I happened across your blog and love your stories. They resonate for many in the need to appreciate ourselves, value ourselves, etc. Hope you write many more posts and wish you nothing but success! Xoxo

  25. Sólo me gusta la muñeca, el blog, es extenso y no entiendo el significado de algunas palabras, claro que el castellano es muy amplio y rico en ese sentido… Bien, y veo que los comentarios también son extensos… Me quedo con la bella Gilda.

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