Read our dozens of interviews with creative entrepreneurs and artists from around the globe - about their exciting, fun, sometimes arduous, and even challenging processes - creating work that impact their communities.
When Projet Inkblot reached our first reader in Brunei Darussalam, we were floored, but first we had to look on a map to see exactly where that was. So imagine our utter amazement when we were first introduced to the work of Chris Guillebeau, a traveling entrepreneur, New York Times' best selling author, and blogger, who as of a few weeks ago, completed his goal to visit every single country in the world that he had the ability to visit. That's 193 countries in total! Chris connects with audiences in far reaching countries daily (that most people can't even pronounce, let alone know how to locate on a map), and offers readers brilliantly simple advice about running a business, living authentically, travel hacking, and the art of non-conformity--which is exactly what his blog is called.It's easy to envy someone with so many enormous accomplishments under his belt, and not see it as being attainable for oneself, but the truly inspiring thing about Chris is how much he cares about helping others achieve similarly bold goals. He does it by being transparent about his process, vulnerable to his loyal readers, and being an optimistic, accessible, and encouraging leader. He also gives pragmatic and action-oriented advice that is easy for even the most fear-ridden person to follow. Reading his blog posts and highly personalized newsletters, it's impossible not to be invigorated by his infectious spirit.
We were lucky to catch Chris right before he took his trip to his last of 193 countries, Norway. We were hoping to uncover his big secret to success, but what we found instead was the story of just a regular Portland dude who stayed persistent, consistent, and focused throughout the years to yield the results that he is able to show for today. Below is a mix of our Q&A, some of our favorite resources from his blog, and opportunities where you can also become a cyber-mentee of Chris' (like us), and join his international community of nonconforming adventurers.
Did you have lots of people around you living unconventionally that you modeled yourself after, or who helped you identify the way that you wanted to live?
Not really, at least not the first part. I think you have to find people who see the world in a similar way as you. Fortunately, once you go looking for them, they’re not usually hard to find.
Was there a website, or websites that inspired you to create an online community for entrepreneurs and travelers?
No website, but I knew there were plenty of independent people out there who wanted something different. I hoped to contribute something positive that didn’t currently exist, at least not in the specific way that AONC became.
How did you know that online was the format that you wanted to reach the world and inspire people?
Well, online is the only scalable way. I used to live in West Africa and had a great experience working individually with people, but if you want to reach people all over the world, you need some kind of platform. That's what I love about blogging—anyone can connect with a wide and disparate audience regardless of geography.
I reached out to you personally and asked for your help in asking for help, and being vulnerable. You basically told me to fear not! Which was both a good and bad answer for me. Bad because I wanted you to tell me a magical answer that would kill my fear, but good because you were absolutely right. Did others give you tough love when you were just figuring out your direction?
I didn't mean it as tough love; I just meant you needn’t be afraid in asking for help. Most people are good and most people will provide whatever help you need, when you need it.
Are there ever periods where you don’t have sustained bursts of ideas and energy, which lead you to question your path?
Yes, and those are frustrating! There's no easy answer to this problem, but it does help to create a certain structure for your work. Knowing what you need to do but needing help getting started is a lot easier than not knowing what to do.
Deadlines help too: if I know I have to post every Monday and Thursday, I'll be sure to do so. If I know my book is due on a certain date and there are numerous people at the publisher who have scheduled time to work on it, I need to honor my commitment to them.
I have no employees and my team is pretty small. I do work with a couple of great designers and a genius developer. For the World Domination Summit, our annual event in Portland, we do have a growing group of part-time staff and volunteers that meets bi-monthly throughout the year, and then more often as we get closer to the big weekend in July.
When you first started out, did you have a target demographic that later changed as your work evolved?
No, I’ve never had a demographic at least in the traditional sense. Instead I have more of a psychographic, or people that identify based on shared values and ideals. They are all ages and backgrounds and come from more than 100 countries.
It seems like more and more people are taking the plunge and choosing to live ‘unconventionally’ now. What is special about our time where people are mustering up the courage seemingly more than ever before?
People have always been somewhat dissatisfied with traditional paths, but what's changed is that now there are far more alternatives than ever before. At the same time, there are also a lot more role models. Most people won't change their behavior based on something that an author or celebrity says—but when they see their friends, colleagues, or neighbors doing something new, some of them will feel personally inspired to make a change for themselves.
The $100 Startup is like a less cheesy, entrepreneurial Chicken Soup For the Soul, in that it uses so many great examples that anyone can refer to and feel reassured that the dream is possible for them. Was that book a one-shot deal, or will there be more like that to help people get their work off the ground?
I’m glad you liked it. I love writing books and hope to write many more. :)
What is one place in the world (that you traveled to) that you identified the most with, not necessarily culturally, but where you learned the most about yourself?
I like the qualification you included. Of all the places where I learned about myself, I'd certainly put Sierra Leone and Liberia (both in West Africa) at the top of the list. They aren't easy countries to travel in, but I had a great experience as a volunteer on a hospital ship. I continue to think of those places almost every day, even as I'm pursuing very different projects and doing different kinds of work.
Do you plan on setting new travel goals for yourself after you reach 193 countries?
Yes, but they'll be different. I'm not interested in revisiting all 193 countries or going to the moon or anything like that. What I want to do is work much more closely with our community of unconventional people from around the world. I'll keep traveling, in other words, but in a more focused way than before.
What is the single most memorable thing that a fan/supporter has ever expressed to you?
In different ways, people often express that reading AONC or The $100 Startup helps them to see that they are not alone. The first time I heard that statement, I knew I'd be doing this kind of work for a long time.
We first brought you Evita Robinson's feature interview to introduce you to the Nomadness Travel Tribe, TV series, and movement. Today we bring you juicy, profound, and practical advice from Evie Robbie--a list of insights that she picked up through the challenges and bumps in the road--trust her that it wasn't all glamour and adventure. For a community to grow and thrive as Nomadness has, the leadership had to be inclusive, forward thinking, and continuously churning out new ideas to follow the needs and desires of its membership. Evie explains her greatest lessons learned, how she fostered a groundbreaking world movement, and how she keeps her head on straight. What I love most about her insights is that it's applicable to any industry of work. Read on!
You can't do it yourself. Build a Captain Planet-like team!
The high council is the business end of the Nomadness Travel Tribe. Right now it's five people. We're the business end of everything, whether it's a trip coordination, to a tech guru, to the person helping me with research, to the person who helps with community outreach, everybody plays a part and was picked because of what they were naturally doing in the Tribe. There was a skill set that I'm weak at that they are strong in, and that's important.
My team has been amazing at helping me build the brand, manage the Tribe, manage the trips, and keep my sanity at the same time. I need my crew that I can spaz out to and I know that it stays in a safe space. We just all let it out, and we always feel better after.
Listen to your community, and your community will reward you.
We really listen to the Tribe and see where they would like to go on trips, and we start researching. I'm kind of obsessed with Airbnb at this time, because we don't stay at hotels. There's a family vibe in the Tribe, which is really the catalyst for folks wanting to meet offline for Meetups. It really augments in size whenever it comes to the Nomadness trips. I am big on finding a dope place. We find places that are reasonably priced, but we really zone in on the lodging. we want to bring almost a VIP experience to the average traveler within the Tribe, because Nomadness is a lifestyle brand. Our trips are pretty cheap. We haven't had a trip go over $400 for the lodging costs for a week wherever we are. We stay in some of the most beautiful places that they've ever been to in their life. We really pick the members' brains, start looking for lodging, start contacting these places, and set up the backend to get everybody there. The trips are announced by surprise. I give teasers out and from there we open up, and it's on a first come, first pay basis. The trips have become almost contest-like to even get into them. They sell out extremely fast. Our last two trips that we announced were to Rio in February, and India in March. We announced them at our one year anniversary party, and the place went crazy. We opened up buying the next day, and we actually sold out of India in 15 minutes, and Rio in 30. It's crazy.
Just get off your ass and START.
I don't really have blocks. I just start. I find with more and more people that I know that that's the hardest thing for them. You've got to just start. You can perfect it along the way. I always say the biggest disease that people suffer from is analysis paralysis, where they will sit there and analyze something and they don't move. I think the majority of humans walking this earth probably deal with this. Luckily I'm a risk taker. I'm also an Aries, and a very type-A personality, and we kind of jump head first and think later so I think it's very good that I'm at the head of this, because there is not something at the head of this that is going to think it to death. I have people on my team who are more analytical than me, and they are like, "Let's see how realistic this is." It's always about finding that middle ground, but I am by far the biggest thinker and the quickest jumper out of my entire team, and I like it that way. If it messes up, it comes back on me, and it will be alright at the end of the day anyways.
How to truly listen to constructive criticism and use it to your advantage.
I approach all disappointments as lessons. It's important to get feedback. It's important to get constructive criticism. I think one of the hardest lessons that I've had to learn this year is how to navigate a ton of opinions. Each member may have a different idea of what they want to see the Tribe turn into, and that may not be entirely aligned 100% with everything that we want to do, but there's got to be a forum in which you can hear back from the people to receive criticism. The key is to still keeping it so you're still in the position where you execute it, and it's still yours. I think finding that middle ground, and listening to people but not necessarily internalizing everything is good. Once you start internalizing everything and letting it get underneath your skin, you're going to start tweaks based on every elses' vision of your idea except for your own. That can be a very dangerous and damaging place to be in. It's important to get thick skin, and learn to deal with constructive criticism.
Getting through adversity means moving through it.
I had a particular experience this year that was very rough to deal with. The approach that the person used to get their point across was mean. It wasn't constructive, it wasn't divied out from a place of love and appreciation. It was just somebody spewing negative anecdotes all at one time, and it was very hard to handle especially because I considered that person close to me. There has been some rearrangements. You have to move with the ebb and flow. You have to be real with yourself. If something doesn't feel right in your gut, you got to trust your instincts and move with that. You have to figure out why. It's not going to be pretty. Friendships might end. I've had friendships made and end this year and that's just real. But you have to keep to the integrity of your vision and yourself. That's a big thing, especially for women because we're the more emotional oriented species. I may be sitting there and have to be super stern on a business email and I may be crying reading it. It happened at least twice this year. You have to play that fine line, and just be open to fucking up. You have to be open to falling on your face a little bit, and picking it up and have a sense of humor about it, and allow yourself the cushion to be able to know that you're learning. That's the biggest thing because I'm a perfectionist. We're doing a bunch of firsts, not just within ourselves, but within the entire industry. We're innovative. With that sometimes you're just going to fuck up, and you're just going to have to roll with it and fix it.
Figure out your priorities, and be honest about what they are.
My business is always first, because that's my child. Messing with it is literally the equivalent of somebody fucking with my child. I was actually in a relationship earlier this year. That ended by the summertime. What I found so funny about us interacting with one another was that he's also an entrepreneur. We used to defer our arguments if it affected our work at that time, and argue about it later.
You have to have people around you who get that. It is unorthodox. One of the things I say, and personal relationship-wise, the person that I get married to must be an entrepreneur. It doesn't have to be their all, but I want that passion, and I want them to have ownership of something. Those are the unwritten and unspoken values that you both share innately because you're cut from the same cloth.
Business is very much like a religion actually. If you want to talk about something that you have to have faith in, you have to bet everything on yourself, especially when you don't have much to give except for your idea, and your work ethic--that's faith.
Balance your physical, emotional, spiritual life with your business.
I run back home and cuddle under my mother every few months. It's funny because where I grew up Poughkeepsie, I used to be like "this place is so wack." Now as an adult, I'm really grateful for the place that I grew up, because I can get on a Metro North train and an hour and a half later, I am in a place that's just quiet. It's a safe haven that is a big balance for me. When I need to freak out and scream and cry and get it all out, my mother is the person that I turn to, but my team is also there.
Find a sustainable stress reliever!
I have to make sure that I take care of myself and get enough sleep. I have to work out. When I get a big stress build up, I'm one of those people where I'm just functioning off of pure unadulterated energy, and I need that release in a positive way. I can always tell when I'm teetering. I'm actually in this space right now because of the insane deadlines I've had recently, but I need to get back into working out. It's the biggest thing that keeps my mind and body sharp and helps release me. My sleep is better when I work out. That's a big thing for me. Also I'm a huge journal writer. Gosh, I just started my 17th journal. I have the last decade of my life on paper. That's my therapy.
Keep believing, and have faith against all odds.
It’s interesting because we’re at that cusp. We’re at that point where everything is getting ready to blow. And I know it. And when you know it, it’s like ,“Damn, let me just be able to pay my rent this month.” I’m having these meetings with people who are professional investors, run things like hedge funds. Mind you, I’m not a business-person. I preface all of my meetings by saying, “I’m a creative that had an idea and moved on it. And it’s really cool, and it’s taken off.” I said, I am learning the business aspect of this along the way. Yesterday I just filed my first sales tax quarterly return. I said, “This is crazy.” But all of these things are just affirmations and confirmations that we’re going in the right place and the right way.
I haven’t heard one person, professional or not, say that this is a bad idea, or “you should really reroute.” If anything, I run into people who say, “Damn, I wish I could give you advice, but you are like ten steps of ahead of anything that I could tell you. Just keep going.”
Don't accept gifts from just anybody. Sometimes a gift is a burden.
Everybody says that my biggest issue with Nomadness as we look into funders and investors is not IF we’re going to get the money, it’s who we get it from. It’s almost worse to take money from the wrong investor than not getting the money at all. For Nomadness, I need someone who is going to be passive, give me the money and let me figure this out. We don’t need somebody who wants to to be part of every move and who we need to get clearance from to do anything. We need somebody who already entrusts in me and the vision of Nomadness.
Don't be an overzealous, undirected sales person.
These meetings that I’ve been having with people, I’m not pitching them. We talk about it, but I’m not pitching them. That’s the thing about me. I don’t want the second time that you’re meeting me in your life, to be me trying to sell you on something. Get to know me. I want that person 100% comfortable. You don’t go out on your first date with somebody and ask them for a million dollars. You have to have a sense of foreplay with the people that you want on your corner. And you have to let them know who they are.
Finessing relationships genuinely.
I actually got pretty pissed yesterday because I wrote something about the conversation that I had with this guy and somebody had commented on my Facebook page, and they had commented and said, “Success is only when they write the check." I was just like, you are missing out on a complete facet of building relationships. I really wanted to go in on this dude. If you do not feel or think that getting large amounts of money is not directly influenced by the relationships that you have with people, you’re insane. You are insane! That’s essentially what I really wanted to put in colorful language on my page to this dude. I’m like, “If I don’t know you, I’m not handing you two million dollars.” Flip the page, and if somebody is asking you for that money, what do you want to know about them? You want to know THEM. Not just their business or what they’re selling. That’s something that I think people disconnect on that they should really pay attention to. Sure it’s about who you know, but it’s also about getting to the guts of who you are, and being okay with that.
Keep living passionately, and the right folks will come to you!
I met with an investor last night, who was a really cool guy. The conversation went from professional to candid very quickly. He told me, “You have a way of making people do shit.” He’s like, “You got me to drive all the way from where I live to come meet you, and I only met you for 5 minutes a couple of days ago.” He just looked at me at the end of it and said, “You’re going to get everything that you want. Absolutely everything that you’ve put out here, you’re going to get."
Lounging in his Brooklyn-based home studio, smartly dressed, smoking shisha and rocking some vintage frames, Amir Mohamed (aka Oddisee) looks every bit the dictator that he sometimes jokingly imagines himself being. Hours away from embarking on an epic, month long journey to Sudan, Oddisee was kind enough to sit down with me, smoke some cardamom shisha, and wax poetic about navigating the industry while still producing the music that matters to him. Too often, I find that music heads don’t get the opportunity to hear the voices of their favorite producers in regular conversation. So here he is. Raw and uncut. And please, don’t mind the noise from the hookah pipe. I promise you. It’s not a bong.
For more about Oddisee, peep his website. Interview by Malik Abdul-Rahmaan
When I first met Meghan Stabile, I was amazed at how one seemingly reserved (emphasis on the seemingly), petite woman was behind one of the most massively growing, cutting edge, music cultures in NY. Founder of Revive Music Group, Meghan has been responsible for some of the ballsiest music mash-ups on stages all over the world as a show and festival curator. She's known mostly for revisioning traditional Jazz and hip-hop idioms in tandem. In the beginning, her ideas were highly risky concepts with sometimes high stakes involved, but through relentless work, she's one of the most reputable show producers in the city. That's why live musicians flock to her in droves, eager to play truly challenging and exciting music, but also to learn how to survive in an otherwise grueling music industry. With the increased frequency of producing Revive shows, as well as the creative machine behind The Revivalist(Revive Music Group's editorial arm), Meghan's deepest passion remains being an ally to musicians. To her, being a true ally means being pragmatic and honest in the deepest sense of both words.
As evidence of that, I approached her to do this piece because of this post on her Facebook wall that completely blew up and went viral:
In the spirit of the Facebook conversation that impacted hundreds of musicians, Meghan breaks down her advice further:
There are less labels out there, which means that you must fill the void.
I work with mostly "Jazz" artists. There are only a few jazz labels out there that are alive and signing artists. Traditionally--and still to this day--jazz departments have the lowest budgets, obviously compared to most other genres. Nowadays, budgets are even lower, and what used to entice artists to get signed to a labels, just isn’t happening anymore. If it is, it's extremely rare. More artists are becoming independent, because they have to be. More artists are putting out their own self-funded projects, just to get their names out there. It's either Indie or DIY. Labels are becoming extinct.
The music industry has changed, and you need to adapt.
The biggest reality check that musicians need is that we are no longer operating under the music industry’s old model, where an artist would get signed to a label, and the label would supply you with artist development, a person working on your promotional campaign, someone on publicity, another handling marketing, an art design department, folks running the studio, an executive producer. That's not the case anymore, so therefore artists need to adapt. The question is how, and what are we adapting too?
The myth of the manager—No, they will not do everything for you!
I get contacted all of the time by musicians asking for assistance and guidance. Some think the solution is getting a manager or agent. They don't need a manager at stage one or even stage five. The thought process that having a manager means that they are going to do everything for you is simply not a reality anymore. Managers and agents opt in when they see a reason too, mostly beyond what they are hearing. Even if you get signed to a label, you still have to handle the majority of the business yourself. Some managers are really great at taking on the majority of the work, however, my point is, it's a partnership that succeeds. Also, labels aren't always the solution to help you handle all of your business. They don’t always have the capacity or resources to develop you every step of the way like they used to. Either way, you must be more involved with the work.
Have realistic expectations when working with a manager.
For some, they have so many steps that they have to do before a manager is even going to want to come in the picture. If a manager is going to start from stage one, That potential manager has got to be in love with you--in love with your music, in love with you from the jump. They have to want to go through that entire process with you, through thick and thin with you. With that being said, as an artist, you have to be prepared to be on the same page with them; if they go hard, you must go hard too. Most managers will not take on a new client from stage one. You have to build yourself up, to where they take notice.
You need to build your work to a certain level before others are going to be able to help you successfully.
Artists/musicians have to build themselves up to a point where industry professionals are going to take them seriously. As an artist, you have to come already prepared and ready to work. It's very rare that managers or agents will sign an artist without there being some kind of buzz already. The other factor that they look for is whether or not you're going to be making them money at some point. If they love you, they will invest, but they are investing in your success, which is ultimately their success. Many managers are stretched thin in this business. For them to invest their time into you, they are going to want to know what they are going to get back in return--even if it’s eventually. That's how managers and agents work. It is their livelihood to work on your behalf, and they have to see the value in your product. It sucks to even say it like that, but that’s the honest truth in how folks in the business think about it. Not all are machines, but again, when it comes to business, their are few that are in it for the art, the creative aspects, and the passion. For some, this is their JOB. Find the ones that love you first.
Creating the album is not enough.
Many artists think that after they put their work out on itunes, everyone’s going to want to buy it, and that everybody is going to know about you right away. Absolutely not. There is a level of promotion and marketing that artists need to be savvy to. Even artists signed to big labels come up with their own marketing campaigns that's later carried out by the label team. The point is, don't stop at the launch; be a part of the master plan.
Treat your music like it’s your business—because it is.
Many musicians think that all they have to do is create the music, and the audience will come. But to even be relevant in this fast pace, factory-like industry, where product is being pushed every second, treating your music like your own independent label has become more of a necessity. Musicians have to understand that their music as a business. A lot of musicians don't even want to think about that--they want to worry ONLY about their creativity, and that’s the biggest mistake they can't afford.
Do your research—What business are you in?
You have to think ahead of the game, and not just make decisions because you assume a certain outcome will happen, based on what you think you’ve seen happen for others. You first have to know what business you are in. You have to reflect on the things that you’re doing in that business, and if they are going to make you successful based on YOUR situation, and not anyone elses. There are multiple ways, many scenarios, and more roads than one to achieve success.
Be your own director: Take your work more seriously than everyone else.
You have to direct your own path. You’re the only one who is going to care 100% about your music and your craft. You may not know 100% how, when, who, or what--but you have to try. If you start at square one, or stage one--whatever you want to call it--then you're already on your way. No one is going to care about you more then you. That being said, you have to oversee everything on your project. Even if you are on a label and you have a manager, the reality of the industry is that everyone is stretched thin, and every project is important. Unfortunately, your project is not the only project out there that they're going to be dealing with. You have to push some buttons to make sure people are on point, but you also must be on point. The key to that is knowing at every level what is going on. Even if you have a team of people working with you, you have to be at the center of the decisions being made to ensure that the decisions are in your best interest. However, always be open to suggestions.
Get people to flock to you.
Once you have your shit together, other people will start to come in and want to work with you because they will see the value of what you've created. You don't have to chase people down. If you know your music will speak--then let it speak, and they will come to you. If this sounds like a contradiction from everything else I've said, it's not. You still have to do all of the work.
Be open to criticism, but also be aware of who you are dealing with.
It’s valuable for artists to seek advice and feedback, but more importantly, artists need to be open to the truth of both their limitations, and the realities of their environment. I once brought in a record to a label years ago. It ended up being a very successful record. At the time, this label didn't think so, then it blew up. Sometimes, that's the name of the game when you work with certain labels. On a label level, there are a few people who are the gatekeepers, and well--if they don’t get it--you may not get put on. Try a different way. Don't rely on a label as your end all and be all.
Find a balance between vouching for yourself and stepping back.
Musicians sometimes say, "I got the gig, I got the gig." That means they’ve gotten a gig that A) puts them on the road for a while and B) is their intro to the game. Often these gigs pay musicians shit money and for long periods gigging with the same artists. Most of these big gigs underpay musicians. Most musicians just starting out don't know or realize it until they've already signed on for the tour. Part of it is because they didn't know what they should be getting paid. There was nobody they could go to for advice, and they just wanted the gig. I'm not saying that if you are getting offered to play for huge artists, not to play. It's a great opportunity. You can't go in there with unreasonable demands either or you definitely won't get the gig, but at some point, don't feel you need to compromise what you deserve. You are making them sound amazing on stage and on their records. Your artistry is invaluable. They can always hire someone else that will accept the cheap check, but know that you don't have to do that. You must value your art, do the research on what’s fair pay, and negotiate when you can. It’s about finding that balance. The real gigs will demand real cats and you'll be happy in the end for not settling for anything less then what you deserve.
Business brainstorming is creative brainstorming.
I remember when my good friends Raydar, Jared, Lee and I used to sit down and come up with concepts for shows. We were in creative mode--using that other side of our brains. When it came down to business, it was a whole other story. Musicians especially need to be taught that you can do both, and through the act of doing it, you will start to deal with the business side much more comfortably. I think it would benefit musicians if they had more creative brainstorming sessions related to business strategies, like marketing. Musicians are naturally inclined to creatively problem solve, they have all types of crazy good ideas—and that can be applied to businesses. The key is to start seeing business in a creative light, because it is.
Things that you can start doing for yourself.
Musicians shouldlearn how to create strategic partnerships, and how to build a label around themselves. The tactical advice about acting as your own label is what artists need to put forth time and energy in learning. Again, that means understanding all departments, all divisions, all challenges you are dealt with, so you're able to not only understand what each thing is, but that you know how to engage each one separately, and together when needed. The time of becoming an entrepreneurial artist is NOW.
Be honest with yourself.
I know many musicians who would never take any of this advice. They are left field--creative geniuses who won't do any of this stuff. It's just not part of their thought process. I wish I could say there are many managers, agents, and label people who will be there for you from stage one, from just hearing your demo, and who will want to go hard and fight for you. I hate to say it, but they're not out there. If if they are, there are very few, and they are stretched thin! This is a calling for more people that are willing to take risks, follow their passion, and not just the pay check. Sounds unrealistic, but I've lived it. Be honest with what you want at the end of the day. Who are you? What is your purpose and what do you want? How do you want to effect people with your music? What are you trying to accomplish. Once you have answered that for yourself, then all else falls into place with the work ahead.
When I first met my dear friend Salama McGrier, I was struck by two things: her inimitable sense of style and the loving and lively rapport she shared with her then seven year-old son, Kahlil. In addition to working a day job, I learned Salama was a talented seamstress, specializing in artisan leather goods, having honed her skills at the Fashion Institute of Technology and through numerous internships with reputable designers. We hit it off immediately and effortlessly eased into a close-knit friendship. I soon joined the ranks of Salama’s comrades as another chica in a long line of women to call themselves an auntie to Kahlil, now ten years of age. I’d always admired the way Salama prioritized her passion for creating beautiful leather clutches, bags, and accessories with the great care, respect, love, and quality time she gives her awesome son. As Kahlil told me, "I think the stuff my mom makes is really nice and that she shouldn’t stop making them. When she does her leather work it makes me want to continue drawing." Recently, Salama and I got into a conversation about the challenges of balancing daily life as a single mom, working to pay the bills, and grinding it out in her studio; creating one beautiful piece after another. As part of our Creative Resources series, Salama offered her guidelines on the ongoing process of balancing your creative aspirations with the joys and challenges of being a mother.
Create a Spiritual Practice
“Regardless of your religion, spirituality, or whether you’re agnostic or an atheist, it’s vital to create a sense of peace that you can return to internally when life is challenging. Be it through making time to run, do yoga, or meditate or whatever it is - it’s essential to have a spiritual core. As a mother, you’re constantly multi-tasking; much of your energy goes to your child. It can be really difficult to be present. It’s one of the biggest challenges. When I wake up in the morning I feel like I have two brains working simultaneously – one is for my child and one is for my career and me. It’s almost like my brain is a set of Siamese twins - if one is lacking, the other suffers. I’m always thinking of how to make full use of my time. I wake up like, ok, I have to get all of this work done but then I have to think, what’s for dinner? What’s for breakfast? Are his clothes clean? Did I check his homework? Does he have snacks for when he gets home from school? So the challenge and opportunity is to always make sure I’m keeping both sides of my brain alive and healthy. Fortunately, I'm a member of theSGI Buddhist organization and a leader in my district. I have my Buddhist practice and my Buddhist community, which I can always depend on to rejuvenate me when I’m struggling and reinvigorate my sense of purpose. It’s really important that we moms - and everybody really - have some type of spiritual center. It has nothing to do with religion, it’s about having a place you can turn to to keep you sane and centered.”
Allow Your Children to Teach You What You Need to Learn
“It’s hard to see your child struggling and you definitely see how kids struggle with their peers and studies in school. Like me, my son is very bright and very artistic. At the same time, he sometimes struggles academically. For me, it was the same. I used to have really low self-confidence due to my struggles with academics and so my art suffered. It was really hard for me to complete a project. I knew I could do it - but I was so afraid of not succeeding. Yet, when I would finish something, I would blow my own mind. Since I’ve had my son and have helped him deal with his fears, it’s made me realize I’m still dealing with my own fears. Helping him has caused me to address and confront those fears, which I’ve only recently been able to conquer. For example, I had a sewing machine for 14 years. I had only used it once and I never sewed a complete garment or bag on the sewing machine. I was afraid of it because it reminded me of academics…it felt alien to me. I always sewed with my hands because my hands were moving with my body…I had full control over it. With the machine, I had to trust it, have patience, and learn it. With Kahlil, I would notice that he didn’t have patience learning new things and then I realized, wait - I don’t have patience learning new things. It’s a simultaneous learning experience when you have a child and it’s a beautiful thing. You can pretend you don’t see that, but if you choose to look past that and only see their flaws, and not how it’s reflecting back to you, then you’re missing out. Children are a new opportunity. Having a child has really pushed me. In the last ten years of my life I’ve become really strong. How can I tell him to pursue his dreams if I don’t? It’s really important to become those role models for our kids. How can we tell them to go to school if we’re not continuing to educate ourselves? Sometimes people can feel like well, I can’t pursue my dreams because I have a child but your kid will eventually leave. You have a 10 year-old kid? Remember when he was in your stomach? That was just a minute ago. In ten years he’ll be gone and then what are you going to do? You don't want to be in a position where you're clinging to your children because you didn’t pursue your dream.”
Introduce Your Children to Activities That You Enjoy and Feed You Creatively
“Ever since Kahlil was as young as four years old, I have been taking him to cultural and art events. We go to art galleries, or to see live music and I think it’s really important for his growth. I don’t just mean going to the Museum of Natural History, which is great – I mean that it’s also important to take children to more intimate creative spaces. They can explore and get a feel for the different kinds of people who are around and for the environment...I’ve often taken him to shows where friends of mine are having openings or performing. It sends him a message that it’s important to show support for people in your community and to support the work of your friends and peers. It’s a win win situation for both of us because it’s something that I enjoy doing and draw from for my own inspiration. I’m bringing him into my world and making him a part of that instead of keeping him separate and I’m allowing him to form his own opinions about that world. It also gives him a respect for what I do. This past weekend I was part of a craft fair at 3rd Ward. Kahlil was a huge help with setting up and preparing. He understood why I was working late into the night to makes sure I had enough product. He's also not afraid to share his passions with me. Kahlil loves anime [Japanese cartoons and computer animation] and he’s gotten me into that. I wouldn’t have known about that world had he not introduced me to it and so we’re both sharing our lives with one another. I started sharing my interests with him early on and that made him more apt to share with me so now that’s a ritual, we’ll watch anime together on the weekends and it really inspires me visually, in terms of my own art."
Use Your Resources
“Don’t wait for your friends to ask, ask for help. It can be very challenging as a mom to ask for help. There’s a stigmatism that people are just dumping their kids on other people. You don’t want to impose or feel like you’re asking for a handout. It can be hard, but you have to ask for help. The thing is, is that people are more prone to want to help people who are helping themselves. If people see you actively working on your art, business, project, or career they’re going to be more willing to support your efforts. Some women will substitute their dream for their child but you have to be careful that you’re not using that child as an excuse. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It can be a natural thing that can happen. I don’t think anyone has to give up their dreams because they have a child. You have to reorganize your life. You have to believe that your life is infinitely expandable. I don’t care how old you are, you can always start a new career but you have to push hard for it. I know that’s not easy. Sometimes I want to just lay in bed and evaporate [laughs] but then I’ll see a women with three kids who is grinding and that puts things in perspective. Don’t be afraid to make requests of the people in your life who love and support you. You don’t have to carry all of the weight alone. People will help, but you have to ask."
Take Small Steps Daily
“If you’re working on a project or feel like you need an artistic outlet, just do one small thing a day. Those little things add up; some days I would feel like I didn’t do anything. Then I look back and I can see how much those small efforts I made paid off. You set the intention and things start coming towards you. I knew I wanted to work with leather. One day I was walking home and I found a bag of leather remnants, which I took home. It turns out there was a husband and wife who had an upholstery store across the street from me. They saw me one day looking around in their garbage for more leather and they said, ‘you know, we have tons more to give if you’d like some.’ I ended up walking home that day with two industrial garbage bags full of leather which I’m turning into amazing tote and clutch bags. The point is, is to get started. When you have a child, you really start to think about how you’re spending your time. I remember thinking I had no time before I had a child and now I realize all of the time I actually had! You have to cut out all of the things you’re doing that are not serving you. When I started to make more time to do my art, I lost the desire to drink just to get drunk or to spend my time in ways that weren’t beneficial and I was way more happy and satisfied in those moments. I would say to moms, just start today. Just do a little. In order to be a great parent, you have to be a great person and you have to be happy with yourself. You can’t be your best if you’re not happy with yourself. I think it’s really important to take care of yourself. Do little things that are special for you. Nurturing yourself is very important. If your art is what nurtures you, it has to be a top priority.”