Motivational Monday: Holiday Cheer …

Edna Ferber Quote

I was talking with a few friends and they all agree that for some reason Christmas this year just does not “feel” typical.  It’s like putting on your favorite cashmere sweater only to find out that it’s too small, itchy & uncomfortable.  Something seems to be off and I am determined to figure out what it is.  This week, I have given myself a mandate – find your joy.  Find your bliss.  Find your inner Santa.

Whether it’s with families and friends or at the bottom of a mug of spiked egg nog, the mission is simple – get out of my head and get into the season.  I need the “holiday magic” – it’s better than any anti-depressant.  I am in desperate need of some “Christmas Prozac”.  So I am putting on my PJs, cranking up the holiday tunes and immersing myself in babies, baking and boozing. I figure one of the three should make this Scrooge McGrinch smile…..

[photo credit:  aubrie pick]

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Motivational Monday: Giving Back ….

Port of Oakland - edited

The above pic is Oakland.  It’s where I live.  Here is a little story on how I came to be an “East Bayer”.  You see buying real estate in the Bay Area is sorta like buying Berkshire Hathaway stocks – you spend alot to get very little but what you do own is worth its weight in gold.  Simply put, even with the combined incomes of me and The Partner, we could not afford to live in San Francisco.   So we expanded our search to include the “East Bay” which pretty much means Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville (sorry Richmond).  Eventually, we found ourselves in Oakland and purchased a fantastic 3-story loft in 2008.  While I went to the East  Bay, kicking and screaming I quickly came to be one of its biggest proponents …. or so I thought.

Melissa Davis, owner of Ruby Press PR, has me beat.  Not only is she a long time resident of Oakland (since 2003) she even moved the headquarters of her business to a historic building in downtown Oakland.  Her roots run deep on this side of the bay and it’s one of the reasons she is upping the ante by publishing a book all about Oakland aptly named This is Oakland…..

This Is Oakland

A photo-driven guide book to the city that explores all the wonderful nooks and crannies of one of the most underrated cities in America.  Well actually I take that last part of the sentence back since last year, The New York Times published a list called “The 45 Places to Go in 2012″ and Oakland ranked #5.  Did I mention that the city I call home fell nicely between London and Tokyo. And oh Oakland was the highest ranking city in North America: higher than New York City, Los Angeles or San Francisco. Booyah!

Enough with the bragging but in This is Oakland, Melissa explores all the wonderful businesses and people who make Oakland so special and unique.  With stunning photography by Kristen Loken, you get the sense of life and vitality of a city that at one time was on the brink…..

Miss Ollie


But all this awesomeness comes at a price.  To help fund the publishing of the book, Melissa has started a Kickstarter campaign.  During this time of giving, I ask that you look at her video and think about donating to her fund.  She has some amazing gifts for those who donate and honestly, many exceed the cost of the donation!  So open up your hearts (and your wallets) and help Melissa and myself celebrate the city we both call home!

[photo credit: port of oakland authority//kristen loken]

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Motivational Monday: Holidays…

Shaw Holiday Quote

It’s the beginning of December and I can feel the “bah hum bugs” starting to erupt.  One of the things about being the occasional stylist is that I find myself more often than not thinking about holidays several weeks if not months before they actually start.  Christmas planning started in September and decorating commenced in October in tandem with Halloween and Thanksgiving.  The poor kids that visited my house on Halloween were confused as they saw a house with split personalities – garland on the staircase, pumpkins on the stoop and a horn-of-plenty on the kitchen island.  It all read like a case of Hoarders: Holiday Edition and I am positive I may be the source of one child’s “decor PTSD”.

It all came to a head during Thanksgiving when I found myself in a post- turkey haze thinking about Valentine’s  Day decorations.  WHAT?!?  I am in a perpetual state of “holidaze” and it needs to stop for my creativity and sanity!  So I am front loading the blog up with some amazing posts on food, decorating, holiday gifts and some very special libation made exclusively for me by two fantastic mixologists (check by tomorrow).  In addition, I have a special holiday fashion feature I will be sharing to ensure that the man in your life stays on your nice list this year!

I am pushing hard to ensure that when Christmas does roll around, I will be all set and ready to kick-back and relax.  And that is what I wish for each of you this season, the opportunity to sit back and relax!  Cheers…..

[photo credit: courtney lake]

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Motivational Monday: Getting Clients To Share…

Robert Sterns Quote

Whether you are an architect or a designer, I think the above quote speaks volumes to what I do….

I pitched a project to a client last week and got the feedback that the design “didn’t quite feel like him,’ which didn’t strike me as shocking.  The pitch was based on what I thought was the ideal design for the space, but it was missing something critical; his input.  Schedules barred the client and I from having the critical “Come To Jesus” design conversation I tend to have for all my projects.  It is during this conversation that I take the initial talk we had about likes/dislikes couple it with a bit of psychographic data (I was a sociology major) and then assess how the client wants to really live in their space.

The issue is that often during the initial introductory conversation, clients have a tendency to tell me about their “fantasy spaces” — children with sticky fingers don’t exist,  pets don’t claw furniture and the daily chaos of life is kept at bay.  They exaggerate their budgets and under-estimate the time it takes to complete.  This conversation gives me a peek into how a client wants to live, not how they need to live.  It’s that second conversation where I really get the facts and come to understand their needs, their wants and eventually their dreams for their home.  This second conversation can be awkward, uncomfortable but more times than not reveals the truth on how I need to design their space to merge beauty with function with reality.

But to have the best design possible, clients have to (1) make the time to be present for this journey and (2) be open to this process because as I said, it can and often does reveal things clients don’t realize or want to admit.  As I said we didn’t have “the conversation” and the client  instantly picked up that he didn’t see those personalized  elements that spoke to him and how he wants to live in the space.  When he realized that he didn’t give me the opportunity to really dive deep with him, he instantly understood that what was lacking was ….well him.  We talked for an hour and I think we are back on track to getting him the space he wants and deserves.  At the end of our talk, the client said “I didn’t realize how much I wanted out of my space and how much I was taking it for granted that you would figure it out…”

And that is just it folks, I can figure it out with the right input.  As the quote states, design is an intimate process.  Think about it — when else do you allow a stranger into your home for weeks, months or even years at a time to essentially help you orchestrate how you will live?  I get up in your business.  I get to know dirty secrets.  I explore all the shades of what it means to be you in your most comfortable and exposed.  It’s an honor.  It’s a challenge.  It’s what I do for a living.

I don’t create fantasies.  But I do make dreams come true.

[photo credit:  courtney lake]

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Motivational Mondays: Smile…

Smile_Walter Scott Quote

My high school friend Tara posted this picture on Facebook and I was instantly flooded with emotion…..

My sophomore year of high school, I did something totally bold at the time.  I decided to run for Homecoming Court.  Having spent my freshman year trying my best to simply blend into the walls, I told myself I would make this year count and be more outgoing.  To my surprise and as well as much of the school’s I won a spot on Court.  Excited, I rented a tux, got a date and picked out my outfit for the parade where we would be driven around the field in a convertible.  At 15 this was the pinnacle of cool.

The day finally arrived and I was a nervous wreck.  When they finally made the announcement for the Homecoming Court to make their way to the driver’s ed range, I was  excited beyond belief.  Right before we pulled out onto the field, they slipped the sash over my shoulders and put the crown on my head.  For the first time, I left accepted by my peers and I was ready to party.  This was teenage equivalent of winning the lottery.   As the car rounded the corner, the chanted started.  It grew louder as I got to the stands where the majority of the jocks were in the front yelling “woot woot, get the f*g off the field…”  My heart sank and I fought the urge to cry because honestly, the only thing worse in high school besides being gay was being gay and crying in public.  So I did the next best thing.

I smiled.

I smiled until my cheeks hurt.  I smiled until I felt like I was going to cry from the pain of smiling, not the pain of being embarrassed for being gay.  I waved and smiled as we drove past and it was over.  I got out of the car, slipped the sash into my bag along with the crown and waited for the bus.  And I waited.  “Did they vote me into Court with the intent to embarrass me?  Do they hate me that much and why?”  Buses came and went, but I didn’t notice them because I was too busy wondering if I had the guts to walk into traffic and end it all.  I had never felt so low, so alone, so unhappy in my life. Eventually, I did get on the bus and got home.

I locked myself in the bathroom and I had a good cry.  I looked at myself in the mirror and saw for the first time is what I think was “me”.  I wasn’t the “fag” that they chanted.  I was Courtney.  I was smart.  I was funny.  And I spent the next 10 minutes listing all the things that I possessed.  And I smiled.  So I put on my rented tux that was a bit too big.  I put on my sash and the crown and smiled.  I picked up my date and we walked into the dance and I smiled.  It wasn’t because I felt amazing.  It was because I knew I had to do it.  I knew that I had to show up, no matter how horrible it was going to be at the dance.  I knew that if I didn’t go, they won.  I knew if I didn’t smile and show up, the me I saw in that mirror would never full mature into the me I am today.  I had to smile and “show up”.  So as the pic shows, I smiled and walked down that long aisle with my heart beating a mile a minute.  And when it was over I swore that I would never give another person the power to make me feel less than what I know myself to be.  Never. Ever.  I am me.  I am all the things I know myself to be and those things yet to come.

So I smile today remember those things of years past and knowing that I am the best me for them. And I smile also knowing that many of those folks have not aged well…..sometimes it’s the little things 🙂

[photo credit: tara graves]

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Motivational Monday: Power of “No” …

Maxwell Saying No Quote

I was uncomfortable.  It’s always awkward to write the professional equivalent of a “Dear John” letter….

Thank you so much for your inquiry.  After reviewing your design needs, I believe our firm is not a good fit for the services you desire…..

Holy Scooby snacks Velma, did I really say “no” to a prospective client that had money?  Am I really at the point in my career that I can so flippantly leave cash on the proverbial table?  Am I balling so hard that I can get the pick of the client litter?  Well the short answer to the above questions is yes and no.

Yes, I did say “no” to a design inquiry and yes I am hand selecting each of my potential projects.  But then I think everyone should be selective with whom they do business.  I look at it the same as dating … you wouldn’t date someone who you didn’t think a good fit for you, so why would you enter into a business relationship?  It’s not a matter of “like” as a matter of ensuring that you can develop a good long-term relationship.  In the past two years, I have had what I would several “hot and fast” design relationships where I enter into a business arrangement with a client that goes hard and fast, leaving me under paid, under appreciated and over worked.  It’s not a sustainable model for long-term growth for a variety of reasons but the most important ones being:

  1. Clients refer other clients:  Get into a cycle of attracting your not ideal client and it’s extremely hard to get out.
  2. Balance:  Those types of working relationships can only be done (and should only be done) on the rare occasion.  Make a business out of them and you risk burning out and ruining not only the business but yourself
  3. It’s Not Fun:  Work isn’t always fun but darn it, shouldn’t you enjoy it for about 80% of the time?  So why take on clients you won’t enjoy spending significant time with?

And thus I said, no to ensure I could keep saying yes to those projects and clients I found enjoyable, exciting and fulfilling.  To be honest, I am not sure I will ever get use to saying no but like the quote infers, you have to be ready to pass on the mediocre to leave room for the extraordinary.  So my friends, I am learning to pass up on the “design bread basket” of life and will continue to fight for the truly meaty design jobs.  Scary but way more filling in the end…..

[photo: source]

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Motivational Mondays: Discipline …

Discipline quote

Through high school and college, I was the master of discipline.  Up at 8am, class, work and an hour of fun with friends before hitting the books until 2am.  Rinse and repeat.  Upon graduation, I lost all that ….partly because I was adrift without a focus and partly because I was tired.  The majority of my life with the single purpose of getting out of the Midwest, getting into a good school and a decent job.

Done. Done. Done.  Then the cold finger of reality decided to give me a “life prostate check” and I found myself disillusioned with many aspects of my life, but especially my career.  Now what?

Fast forward to now and I find myself in a much different situation.  I lack the discipline because I fear the results.  What happens if I put all my eggs into one basket and I fail?  What happens if I find out I am a mediocre designer at best?  It fills me with dread and paralysis at times.  I sat at my desk last week agonizing over a presentation and honestly scared that I was presenting options the client wouldn’t like.  I decided to take a break and order Chinese food — procrastination ala  General Tso chicken — and as I cracked open the fortune cookie, the above fortune was waiting for me…..

There are moments when I wholeheartedly believe that the universe, powers that be, whatever you think are cheering me on.  How on earth could it be otherwise when you get a fortune that tells you to get off your arse and get back to work?  Well that is how I interpreted it.  Seriously folks, I can’t make this up and it is a wake up call to me to work hard like I did so long along in college.  Hit the mat hard.  Proverbially sweat it out every day even when I am tired, a new episode of The Vampire Diaries is calling me and a really good bottle of red wine would hit the spot.  Different distractions than I had a decade ago but still the same notion — they keep me from focusing on me being the best I can do in work and life.

So what I may not be the best designer in the world right now.  I need to get over myself and start repeating …”but you could be the best if you tried.”  And my friends is the true definition of discipline….motivating yourself to be the best you can and changing that internal dialogue into something more.  Something positive.  Something you want to say out loud.

Who would have thought Chinese food would have such a profound impact on my outlook this week.  And to think I almost ordered pizza……

[picture credit: Courtney Lake]

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