I love symmetry and balance. I have a gallery wall in my living room with a collection of nautical art that has circles, squares, rectangles, and ovals all perfectly balanced with a large picture in the center. It looks a little like this:
I spent hours measuring odd shaped pictures and hunting through my collection to find a balance of shapes that worked. Knowing the whole time that it would drive me NUTS if it wasn’t balanced in terms of size, shape, and location.
This same compulsion leads me to have a first draft of most of my patterns that looks like this:
It makes me laugh every time I open a folder on my computer to work on a design I was “stuck” on and I find the same layout: Center motif, four corners. It never fails. You’d think after years of doing this, my natural inclination to lay out patterns in this 5 grid would go away, but I just created another one last week and left the draft in this familiar pattern. So I began to wonder why and realized that need for order might assert itself for a few reasons.
I think my affinity for symmetry and balance is more intense when I’m under stress. I have (yup…) 5 years left until I am a full-time pattern designer, so right now there’s a bit of chaos in my world as I move toward this transition. While it’s a positive move, it is still stressful and I think my obsessive need for balance stems from that stress.
Yes, that familiar 5 layout is also perhaps the most logical way to lay out five elements, but I really think our brains try to put things in order and the more we are surrounded by order the more comfortable we get with it. That’s the struggle I face as I make this transition. I have carefully planned my transition and I think that obsessively ordered plan is influencing my design. I might be trying so hard to get an orderly career change that my brain is ordering everything – even the things I don’t want to be ordered (like my patterns).
Fortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time because I’ve put a plan in place to give myself a little freedom and breathing room so I’m not compulsively, obsessively working on “the plan”.
1.) I have a plan in place. It’s written down, posted, and evaluated on a monthly basis. It lists all the things I must accomplish in the next five years to successfully wrap up my current career and living situation and a separate list of all the things I must to do begin the next chapter in my life. Having it written down and seeing my progress makes it seem not quite as overwhelming. The evaluation of it makes it seem more possible because I can actually see the progress I’m making.
2.) I have learned to give myself permission to play. Not every activity can be goal focused and as an artist it’s important for me to experiment with new techniques and methods. It gives my brain a break from trying to figure out all the changes I’m facing. When I open up the “stuck” file and find a very orderly pattern, I know I need to take a week off and just play with new techniques. More on this in a later post.
3.) I keep myself firmly rooted in the present. Balance is about being present and focused on what is right in front of you. Yes, there’s time to dream, but there’s also time to enjoy the magic of being creative, relish the success of a decades long career, anticipate the excitement of a new venture – and enjoy all of those moments without thinking “what if” or “how”, without having to map out the steps toward meeting some distant goal.
4.) I honor the past and am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. I truly believe life works out the way it is supposed to – I think you know when you’re on the right path and you know when you need to change direction. I believe all of your experiences prepare you for the challenges you face. I trust that life is preparing me for this next chapter.
5.) I challenge myself to be better – not perfect. There are days I’m just too exhausted to do anything to further the attainment of my goals. That’s OK. As long as I’m learning something new, taking care of myself, and rolling with the inevitable course corrections that come with life (no matter how well planned) I am doing the best I can. My best is good enough.
So if you’re facing career change – or some other life change – remember it’s not all going to fit together neatly despite your best efforts. If you give yourself permission to experience the change and make course corrections as needed you won’t need the order quite as much. The chaos can be beautifully organized, but you also need to experience the chaos so you don’t get stuck being orderly all the time.