Monica Luchak

work, work, work, work …

Category: Uncategorized

When I Grow Up I Want to Be an Old Woman

Oma

 

A song by Michelle Shocked

When I grow up I want to be an old woman
When I grow up I want to be an old woman
Oh, an o-o-o-o-old, an old, old woman…

 

 

I first heard this song when it played in a Kaiser Permanente commercial. After seeing the commercial I had to own the mp3. The lyrics really aren’t that extraordinary; but when I listen to that song the imagery and symbolism of that commercial plays in my head. It’s one of the best non-music video I’ve ever seen.

I heard this song again on Sunday while working. As usual, I had my iTunes up and set to shuffle. Everything from Broadway to classical, to old time rock n roll was playing when this song came on. It reminded me that it was Mother’s Day. I couldn’t help but take a moment and reflect on all the mother’s I’ve known in my life. My Oma, mom, mother in laws, sister in laws, aunts, and even my own daughter, they’ve all influenced and inspired me in one way or another.

The woman pictured above was always old in my eyes. She’s my Oma. She was born before World War I, survived the worldwide depression, Nazi Germany, World War II, escaped from behind the iron curtain, immigrated to a foreign land at 40+, and had to live a life she didn’t want. She was a hard woman and never told a happy story, but she loved me. She taught me things she thought I would need to be successful. She taught me to cook and keep house and never accepted just good enough. She’d say, “Moni, no man wants a woman that only does enough to get by.” She was old fashioned. Yes, I learned how to make a kick butt Rot kohl  and goose and my whites were dazzling and you could eat off my kitchen floor but I also learned that mediocre is never acceptable. She may have meant it in context of the domestic arts but it holds true for everything part of my life. Who could compartmentalize like that?

Oma has been gone now for at least 20 years but pieces of her go on in mom, my daughter, and me. Each of us received something different from her. She was a chameleon. She had to be.

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know a really old woman and I can say this with conviction, “When I grown up I want to be an old woman” too.

Party of One

MannequinAfter leaving my last employer, working on my own had a major appeal. I was enamored with the image of being a lone wolf. Working as hard and when I wanted. I felt I was ready to be a party of one.

Let’s face it, freelance/contract work is an exercise in patience with a healthy dose of endurance. Each day is much like the next. There are no weekends or standard work hours. It’s all about the deadline.

In the almost 2 years I’ve been out on my own the one thing I never thought I would miss is what I miss most, direct contact with people. I naively believed work would be enough. That’s not to say when I’m really, really busy I think much about people, but when I’m between projects, like now, I find myself missing human contact. I long for the messiness of interpersonal relationships, people to bounce ideas off of. Admittedly coming to this conclusion has been a bit of a surprise. I’ve always thought of myself as self-contained, independent. Seems I’m more of a people person than I thought.

So when friends and colleagues question me about their possibly going out on their own, I don’t try to dissuade them. Instead, I ask pointed questions and let them answer for themselves. Questions like:

  • Can you be alone?
  • Can you be flexible?
  • Do you have a sense of humor?
  • Do you have the ability to motivate yourself?
  • And stay motivated in adversity?

These are not by any means the only questions, but they are sort of a temperament test. I believe as long as I can be honest with myself and answer with certitude I’m on solid ground. The minute I start making excuses it’s time to reevaluate.

A question I’ve been asking myself lately is, “Should I maybe consider joining someone else’s party?” At least part time. What do you think?

Group of Mannequin

What do you think?

Sunny with Chance of Rain, and Rainbows.

ImageThese first days of January have been spent forecasting. Not the weather, but what I project/hope to accomplish this year. You may wonder what the heck is the difference between forecasting and making a resolution. I had to look it up myself in Webster’s dictionary. This is how I made sense of it; last year, 2013, I resolved to start a graphic design business. This year that business is up and running and I need to predict (aka forecast) how I think things will go in 2014.  In other words, I have to whip out my handy dandy crystal ball, stare intently into it, and hope beyond hope I get it right. Let’s face it the resolution part was a damn sight easier. Working it is the work.

I don’t get how other businesses do it and get it right. Forecasting is really an exercise in frustration. I find I have to reconcile my two personalities. The first, “I’m going to get 100 new clients and make a million dollars.” The other, “no one will want to work with me, I’ll have to dissolve, and live in a corrugated box.” Talk about opposites. Invariably the reality is somewhere in the very wide middle.

Thankfully, I have an amazing circle of close friends that are accomplished in their respective fields, marketing/reporting, development/partnering, advising/consulting, and accounting/financial. Over the years I’ve watched as they worked, successfully, in their respective fields and I’ve taken note. Now I’m going to use that knowledge and put it to work forecasting the next 12 months. Angela, Lea, Marla, and Terri, I sure hope I learned well. If not I’ll be picking your impressive brains in upcoming weeks.

Sunny with Chance of Rain, and Rainbows, translates into, Realistic Expectations, Occasional Set-Backs, and Successes. Secretly, I’ll be looking for the rainbows.

Where Has the Time Gone?

ImageI’m reasonably confident most adults have asked this question at one time or another. Hell, if you’re anything like me, you may be asking it all the time. For those that never ask, there’s New Year’s Eve. This one point on the calendar, and eventually clock, makes even the most clueless person, stand back and reflect on the passing year. This one perfect point in time, where people look at one another and ask communally Where has the time gone? I’m no exception.

To that point, I’ve been sitting at my desk figuratively flogging myself for not doing… anything this year. All right, that’s an exaggeration. I’ve done stuff but for the life of me nothing jumps out. I’ve come to the conclusion that this must be the danger of working from home. Time passes but there are no external benchmarks, nothing or no one to compare yourself to. Perhaps working from home, or for one self, is the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, though I fear I may not have mastered the esteem part of the pyramid, and just jumped to self-actualization.

So I sit here thinking and wondering if 2014 will be different. Then it happens. A recording of Baz Luhrmann reciting Sunscreen starts to play from my iTunes library. I haven’t heard it in quite some time and I feel like he’s talking to me. Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in. Maybe the universe is sending me a message either way it touches a nerve.

Sunscreen was attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, but actually it was written in 1997 by Mary Schmich, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, and derived from a speech given by Kofi Annan to MIT graduates. The words are clever, poignant, and most of us can identify with at least parts of it. So for those that have never read it or for those that have, but may have forgotten, here it is. For those that might want to see the original music video go to Sunscreen.

Sunscreen

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

I don’t know what 2014 will hold but bring it on. I’m ready.

Introvert=Invisible(?)

ImageAll my life I’ve been shy, or for those that prefer the politically correct term “introverted”. I know it’s hard to believe, but from my perspective, it’s not a bad thing. I’m not hold up in my home office, wearing pajamas, banging away at a computer. All right maybe I am, but I’m not dysfunctional. I do shower and change before my husband comes home.

To set the record straight, being an introvert is not some character flaw that needs to be overcome. Actually I think it makes me uniquely qualified to work from home and have my own business. I listen to people, ask questions, and communicate when I have something to contribute.

Recently a client asked me, if I’d ever won any awards. Awards? An introvert winning awards? That would mean I would have had to submit my work for consideration. I could never do that. Bring attention to myself? Ekkkk! That’s not to say I don’t appreciate recognition for a job well done, but when finished, I’m ready to move on to my next project and looking back seems all rather…
…unproductive.

Let’s face it I’m not a flashy, or flamboyant person. I’m solid, dependable, and I get the job done. I sound like a Ford F150 pick up truck. I really should go out and toot my horn, make myself visible, but how do I do that being an introvert? It’s seems like a contradiction. Is invisibility the result of being an introvert? Do I even want to be visible? I know I want my business to be visible, and my business is me. Right?

Hell, this is the trouble with circular reasoning, it keeps going around in circles.

How Deep Is the Well?

ImageI belong to a few LinkedIn Groups directly related to design and/or creativity. These groups have lively discussions on the direction of design, tools, portfolios, and fair compensation for work. Members of these groups run the gambit from college students to seasoned professions, like myself. When I have something substantive to contribute I weigh in but generally I monitor the contributions.

This week a creative person from Florida posted the following question, which got me thinking about my own creativity.

Creative Question! If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

I have identified myself as a creative person for most of my life. Actually, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t creative. (Painting, drawing, sewing, crafts, etc.…)

Growing up people always told me creativity is a gift. I don’t know about that. I never thought I had it a gift. I’m just your average person. Maybe I just didn’t value creativity because I didn’t know any other way. If it’s a gift my daughter has been blessed with it. If it’s not a gift I exposed and ultimately infected her with the same disease when she was young.

Both of our creative lives have not been all about medium but more about cultivating the creative mind and soul.  Granted one can be more adept in one medium than another but it’s the creative mind/soul that will not be squelched and will find a way to express it’s self.

When my daughter was young she asked me where my ideas came from and how I kept coming up with new ideas. I’d not been asked that before and didn’t know how to explain something unexplainable? The best I could come with was a descriptive a metaphor.

My creativity is a deep well and when I need inspiration I reach into that well with my bucket and draw out ideas. Sometimes the well bubbles and churns with ideas and others I scrape the bottom, but I’ve always been able to pull out something.

Silly metaphor, maybe but it’s the best way I’ve found to describe how it works for me. It might explain why, when a client asks for a design I’m generally able to give them several more concepts than they aniticipated.

Do I worry about “the well” going dry? Sometimes, but I’ve learned to take care of my “well”. I don’t poison it with emotional garbage.  I’ve learned to separate my professional/commercial art from my personal art and the two seldom meet.

I’ve been lucky and have made a decent living using my creative mind and over the years the mediums have changed/evolved. Bottom line, medium is merely a vehicle for creativity to escape and if you protect your “well” the medium will be of little consequence.

Self Reflection

ImageYears ago when I was in school, my English teacher assigned our class an exercise, write a 250 word essay reflecting on who we were and our lives. At the time I rolled my eyes and thought, “what a load of crap”. What does a teenager have to reflect on? I hadn’t lived enough to regret, and I’d lived too much to chronicle all the petty schoolyard slights. As I remember it, I wrote about my hopes and dreams. When you’re young it’s good to focus on hopes and dreams.

Fast forward to today, self-reflection is a more productive exercise. I recognize it’s an opportunity to look at where you’ve been and hopefully figure out where you’re going.  Which makes me ask, why is it that thoughts of self-reflection always seem to come to the conscious mind in the wee small hours of the morning? Lying in bed wide-awake studying the ceiling thinking, “Am I doing all I can”? “Is this the life I envisioned all those years ago?” 3:00AM is an odd time to have a crisis of direction. Hell at this stage of my life it’s a little late to be wondering if I took the right path.

In all honesty, I’ve been lucky.  Over the years opportunities have presented themselves and I consciously either availed myself of them or passed. Sometimes I chose wisely, sometimes not so much, but each time after reflection I felt I learned something. Now I find myself wondering do I still have that sight to see opportunity when it knocks?

Maybe, that’s where I need to start. Over. God knows I’ve started over numerous times.  I’m not talking starting totally over, just being more strategic. Keep what’s working and jettison what’s not.

The very first thing I need to do is stop judging myself. People tell me I’m a talented artist/designer. Wait, why do I need people to tell me this? I’ve been doing this for quite some time. I am a talented artist/designer!  Yes, it’s finally time to really believe that and move confidently forward with my design business.

I’m not some pawn others move around a chess board. It’s time for the queen to break out.

Better Mouse Trap

ImageIt’s been a year since I left my 9 to 5 job for a freelance career. To be honest, I didn’t leave my 9 to 5 job to start freelance career, I left because…

…well let’s just say I left for very good reasons, which became really apparent.

For months I’ve searched the job boards and posting for another job. Turns out so were millions of other unemployed designers. It was a shock to learn I needed to be 25, with 15 years of experience and willing to work for $8.50 an hour.  Somewhere in those years while I was working a 9 to 5 job, growing older, getting experience, talent, dedication, and commitment had become… passé.

I’m not complaining. Well all right, maybe a little.  Let’s face it, I’m not 25, but I’m not Methuselah either.  I’m current; I know technology so why doesn’t someone want to hire me?

Not going to go there. If I wallow too much in the “poor me” I’ll never get, over, around, or under this age barrier thing.

Noooooo, I’ve not invented a time machine, or found the fountain of youth. I’ve found a way to work where people don’t care how old I am, just if I can get the work done. It’s called freelancing. The clients I’ve been able to find appreciate my professionalism.  They like that I make deadlines, keep them posted on progress, and invoice promptly.  In other words, Customer Service. Who knew there was such a dearth of freelancers doing this bare minimum? 

Recently a client emailed me and was lamenting on some other freelancers he was working with and wrote; “Oh, creative types – why can’t they be more dependable like you?” That one statement made me realize there are many talented people out there and I have no problem competing with them on that level. Where I have the competition beat is in dependability. My clients can count on me.  It may not be sexy but I’ll take dependable all day every day.

So, the time has come to let go the ambition of finding another 9 to 5 job. Close that book but open an entirely new one. Take all I know and have learned and put it to work for my clients and yes, me. Be a missionary of customer service in the design world, but not just give it lip service.  This could be my better mousetrap. Only time will tell if “they” will beat a path to my design door.

Thanks Dad!

ImageShould someone still celebrate Father’s Day even when his or her father is no longer around?

Mother’s seem to have cornered the market on the parental recognition/celebration front. Statistics show people spend 41% more on their mothers for Mother’s Day than on their fathers for Father’s Day. Does that mean mother’s are better or is it just they’re better at PR and marketing?

My generation’s mothers were often viewed as the power behind the throne. Dad was allowed to look like he was running the show but inside the family it was pretty clear who kept the trains running on time. Within the confines of those four walls even dad would acquiesce to mom by saying, “Ask your mother”.  That one statement has been the butt of many a joke. It could even be said it’s a national punch line. “Go ask your mother” seemed to illustrate a perceived avoidance of responsibility or just simply the recognition that dad didn’t have clue.  Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you think I’m down on Dad’s I’m not.  I respect the institution and the job. Talk about thankless. For years they are regaled to behind the camera, at the grill, or away at work. Kids hardly acknowledged dad except for Father’s Day or when they needed money, a human ATM.

You might be asking yourself, what does fatherhood and Father’s Day have to do with work? Well, my father taught me to work and my work ethic. Those lessons have served me well, even to this day.

Dad was big on personal responsibility and self-reliance. Being an older father when I came along he didn’t have the patience for excuses. He expected me and my brother to do what was expected of us. No questions asked. Like many rebellious children, I didn’t always meet those expectations.  My life has been a series of nontraditional choices. I went into the military and then work. I didn’t just want to work but I wanted a career. I don’t doubt dad would rather I had gone a more traditional route.

Sometimes I find myself wondering if dad wanted me to be a “traditional woman” why did he raise me so nontraditional, for the time. He taught me things, girls of the time didn’t learn. He taught me to change a tire, and my oil. He would talk to me like an equal on historical and political topics. He held me to the same standard as my brother, and in some things higher, like driving.

It’s been about 14 years since dad died and when he died I’m sorry to say we were not on the best of terms. You might call our relationship an armed truce. Even though he’s gone, I still think of him often. There were a lot of hurt feelings but time heals over those open wounds. I know he did the best he could, in the context of the times. So this Father’s Day as before, I feel the need to say, “thank you dad”. Thank you for making me, me. I don’t know if you meant to make me this ambitious, compassionate, driven person but I salute for it, along with all the other fathers who quietly and thanklessly give to their children.

Rain Delay

ImageWhat is it about a rainy day that makes one pensive, maybe even a little restless? Who knows, maybe this restlessness is rubbing off onto me from my dog.  Poor thing hates the rain. She associates it with lightening and thunder.  I can see it in her eyes, she anxiously anticipates that flash of light and the clap of thunder. Expecting something bad to happen even though it doesn’t. Sounds like some people I know.

I’m starting to think, this restlessness may be more resentfulness. After all, the rain has forced me to stop and rethink my day. I hate that. I had a busy day planned. I wanted to do some yard work, wash those doggy nose prints off my windows, get the floors mopped and do some grocery shopping. Now, all that will have to wait for another day. Knowing there is “work” stacked up, like airplanes at Dulles, would make most grown ups antsy and grumpy.

I want to point out, I wasn’t always like this. I still remember a time when a steady summer rain like today just made me feel safe, sheltered, and at peace. (Despite being “cooped up” with my little brother. Sorry baby bro.) I would sit in my room, or under the protected patio playing dolls or reading and listen to the rain patter on the roof. God I loved/love that sound. As a child, subconsciously I just knew and accepted rain was nature’s way of renewing it’s self. It was a break, a “time out” from the things that needed to get done, like floating rafts down the creek, building huts of field grass, climbing trees, skipping stones, and playing kick the can until you couldn’t see the can any more. I wonder, why I can’t embrace this “break” as an adult?  When did I lose the appreciation of renewal and just looked at it as annoyance?

I recognize, if I want balance in my life I need to rediscover those things I innately knew when I was a child. I need to work on peeling away the decades of stain, varnish, and paint that are layered on and reveal the original wood beneath.  

So, just for today, I’ll embrace this “rain delay” in my life.

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