THE SOULS: A Creative Playground

THE SOULS: Dream Girl Interrupted

BY IN The Souls

Suddenly, I realized I had lost everything.

My 15-year old business, my house, the familiar pattern of my home life…détruit.

It was like being pulled from a deep, cloudless dream and plunged into ice water.

But this isn’t about the past, it’s a story of redemption…a comeback. More. It’s about turning a terrible trauma into a platform for something better.

I started to think…there’s so much information about making it big, why not share some learnings from a bona fide underdog? And from a girl’s perspective too.

More than philosophies, they are lifesavers—anchoring us whenever we had doubts, just as they continue to sustain us as we move forward.

So dear friends, here is my top 10 list of lessons learned in building back a business.


#1 Foo dogs make the best new business dream team

Imperial Guardian Lions (AKA Foos) are believed to have mythic powers in keeping evil at bay. They have guarded the doors of imperial Chinese palaces for centuries.

Everyday, as I left for the office, I would have a quick pow wow with my two Foo dog statues. “Today we will call so-and-so…” or “Send positive energy to whose-and-such so we can win project X.”

In talking to the wonder twins, what I was really doing was giving myself a pep talk to tackle what seemed impossible. To eliminate procrastination. To overcome any lingering angst.

When you’ve been in survival mode, your first instinct is to eradicate anything that may create more distress. But the truth is, you have to pull yourself out of that hole in order to thrive.

Whether it’s a reclaimed belief in myself, Foo dog karma, or both, we’ve increased the business’s revenues, thanks to our daily new business ‘meetings.’


#2 Toggling between different projects grows your brain

In the rebuilding process, resources are your #1 concern—affording the right help and sometimes even in paying yourself.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer number of things on your checklist. Those endless work days, often accompanied by frustration and tears.

Fair warning: Once you climb out of the hole, you then have to climb back up the mountain, literally one step at a time. (Always start with a warm-up, or simpler task. Then your brain will be ready for the bigger ones.)

But as I clawed my way out, I realized that in bouncing from new business to invoicing to strategizing to copy writing, etc., etc., I was also sharpening my creative skills. And somehow, had adopted the ability to do things well and quickly—no longer second guessing myself.

I’m no scientist, but I believe my brain got bigger—or possibly, I was finally using more of my brain’s capacity.

The point is, you too have the ability to dive deeper. It requires determination and discipline, but know that you can’t fail. Your skills will see you through.


#3 Learn to push past your primordial instinct to feel safe

Fight or flight? In traumatic times, we all want to feel safe. And there is a point where safety feels like a hard won victory.

But soon after, you must regain your confidence, fearlessness and drive. There’s just no two ways about it.

At first, it’s really scary—having the net pulled out from under you is a memory that does not fade quickly.

Fight, not just for the status quo, fight because when you’re that close to the ground, it’s just as easy to stand up as it is to remain lying down. You risk nothing.

Fight, otherwise all that bad shit is meaningless. If you have to go through all that, you should walk away with the wisdom to create a better world around you.


#4 Flirt with Everyone

A witty woman is a treasure; a witty beauty is a power.” ~George Meredith

When I was a baby worker back in the late 80’s, many women interpreted being a strong business person meant mimicking the behaviors, dress and attitude of their male counterparts.

I chose to embrace my femininity, with flirting as a go-to tool. I’m an equal opportunity flirter. Men, women…doesn’t matter.

Understand, I’m not talking about seduction to get ahead (that’s a whole other rate card).

Flirting is another way of saying, “I think you’re special.” And who doesn’t want to feel like they’re the most wonderful person in the world?

The key is, you must be genuine, meaning every word you say—not coquetting your way through a conversation.

If you can express passion for your work, articulating with wit and charm, while embracing what’s important to your intended…everyone wins.

The other benefit is this: In contributing to someone else’s joy quotient, you immediately forget about your own woes. Plus the halo effect of seeing someone else made happy by your attentions will inspire you to fight another day.


#5 When everything comes together, it’s like hearing a symphony in your head

I don’t think we always use all of our senses when we create. We can see a project and critique its design cohesion, or evaluate a strategy to determine if it’s rational.

Without fail, when a project comes together—when design, messaging, strategy and originality are in harmony, it’s like hearing a symphony in your head—it has a certain rhythm, timing, and resonance.

You can start to recognize the signs of greatness when you see an idea reinforced by the power of three—when three seemingly disparate points come together and validate your concept, coupled with a strong instinct of knowing you knocked it out of the park.



#6 Be polite to everyone

People can be so frustrating…the little loves. All mink coats and no manners!

I’ve had clients and employees who have so mightily puzzled me, that I’ve spent many restless nights trying to figure out why.

But no matter how often I’ve thought through or discussed someone’s brand of “crazy,” I just ended up in the same place where I started—no answers, more questions…and a headache.

Here’s the thing, most people are doing the best that they can within that moment. And when things go haywire, it’s usually a combination of pressure points hitting them all at once (e.g., it’s not just about the work).

That may be cold comfort, but in lieu of an answer (or satisfying an internal sense of justice), if you can remember it, you’re halfway home to turning that moment into a fading memory.

Whatever town you work in, it’s too small to leave a situation unresolved. I can’t tell you how many times, years later, that I’ve had to work with that person again (or work for their company).

You don’t have to like everyone. Just be gracious.


#7 Counter each road bump with a positive action

In the early days of rebuilding, just the hint of things going wrong would raise my anxiety level. Then fear would kick in.

What is the best antidote to fear? Hope. Where do you find hope? In taking a positive action.

So I created a new habit. Anytime something would go astray, I would allow myself a few minutes to be bummed, but immediately thereafter I would take a positive step of equal weight to the issue at hand.

Didn’t win that proposal? Immediately contact another prospect…and so on.

Just the momentum of taking action will distract your brain from wanting to obsess on your fears, but more importantly, it often negates them altogether.

Next to the Foo Dogs, this is my biggest new business tip. And bonus: This type of thinking will carry itself over to how you handle the other issues in your life.


#8 Anything worth doing starts with tell me a story…

These days, everyone talks about applying storytelling to products and messaging, but what does that really mean?

Stories, the best ones anyway, are generally a combination of three elements: Access, narrative and disclosure.”  ~Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair Magazine.

Storytelling starts with authenticity. You can’t ‘trick’ someone into a story with fancy marketing that satisfies some market analysis report.

No. It has to genuinely resonate as being true.

You must create a Flashbulb Memory—when all elements define, not just the event, but one’s emotional connection to it.

Start by thinking of yourself as a Pop-a-pologist (pop culture anthropologist) with an ability to time travel, as a child’s imagination travels.

Breath life into a product by touching on one’s instinctual memories of love and home. Articulate its legacy by moving backwards and forwards throughout history’s timeline.

When you access someone’s feelings, true belief follows—it’s the only thing powerful enough to change human behavior.


#9 Surround yourself with people who will keep faith with your vision

No matter how loyal someone may be, when they’ve lost faith in your vision, they’re done.

Just like when that old-school turkey thermometer pops out, often times it’s too late to salvage the situation. The bird is overcooked. Not even extra gravy will help.

At that point, the best thing you can do is part on the friendliest terms possible. Faith isn’t a gift you can give.

Any startup will tell you that you must find people who believe and who will stand by your side and fight for that belief.

It takes a lot of heart, a never-say-die attitude, the ability to happily project hop, and sometimes even a blood oath. I have been humbled by the people who trusted that we would make it, and at times, their belief sustained me when I had doubts.

And it has made all the difference. We never would have made it without them.


#10 Give yourself and those around you time to dream

When you fight the good fight, that means you’re fighting for SOMETHING.

It takes a lot of mental, emotional and physical energy to create from the ground up, so if you’re going to put in the effort, it must be worthy.

And it can’t just be a philosophy you talk about. You have to find a way to put it into practice every day.

Our purpose is found within our love of storytelling and unbridled creativity, but no matter what your ambition is, people need time to play, experiment and dream.

In our industry, persistently putting the creative process on a quick timeline, with restricted resources and/or pummeled by group-think, is a recipe for mediocrity or worse.

It’s a big ask given today’s currency (speed), but your purpose (or your Why) is also what makes you distinctive from everyone else. It’s your voice, your differentiator, your unique niche in the marketplace. To learn more about the Why, check out Simon Sinek’s Ted video.

It’s your job as keeper of flame to ensure you never loose sight of the reason why you love what you do.


7 years ago / Comments




I’m the creator and founder of several Portland-bound companies—from the old Curiosity Group and Scout Creative, to the newly spun off Crush Creative and its sister company, Foto Crush (our stationery and photo card product line). The Souls blog series is based on my love of all things creative.

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