A Year of Growth

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

How do you measure a year? How do you define its success or failure? Can you sit still long enough to absorb all that a year has brought you? How do you gauge the changes a year has made in your life? These are the questions that enter my mind in the final moments of any year. There are great moments, missed opportunities, days that we wished we could have skipped, days we wish we could experience over and over again, moments of deep pain, and times were we felt on top of the world. All of these moments are visible as I scroll through the photos on my phone and review all of the blog posts this year, but there is also a story we carry with us. Ultimately this was a successful and beautiful year. However, it was a year that stretched us unlike any year we have lived.

Yesterday, I told you I would share the full story of our 2015 before we entered 2016. If you followed every post this year, you know we traveled, read a lot, worked very intently and had many ups & downs. We wrote about many of the ups and quietly internalized most of our downs just as most people do. We try to stay positive and inspirational, which makes the down moments especially difficult to write about, in the moment.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

Every year we set a theme, 2014 was intention and 2015 was depth. In January, that word depth felt so real and like a cure-all for the stress we had at the began of the year.  

By about March of this year, we began meeting with a counselor weekly to make sense of our last year. I remember the first time we went together, I was scared to really be honest. We had a lot go in our personal lives, and I was afraid of being vulnerable. Now, after a few months, I am a huge advocate for the powerful healing counseling brought to our lives. We realized how much power we were giving to specific people in our lives and the anxiety it brought with it. I was allowing all of this to control me mentally and I was living with so much fear. Thus it was stifling me creatively which was making me want to pull away from here and many of the other things I really loved, but had become fearful of. 

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

It was long about this time our business advisor actively encouraged us to take a sabbatical. We were questioning everything and needed to reevaluate our work, our business, and our friendships. It was also at this time we took a trip to Arizona to see my cousin and then went on to San Francisco and Big Sur. That trip was a pivotal turning point in our year.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

There aren’t many times I go to new places that I come back with clarity in life. This trip was no different. A weekend in the desert was exactly what we needed. Then we went to Big Sur. You may remember our posts from this trip. Half of our trip was spent with Bota Box in an incredible hotel, and the other half was spent in the back of a Jeep for three nights. Somewhere in those three days in that Jeep, we lost service on our phones, and completely disconnected from the anxiety of social life. On the cliffside of Big Sur, the sun would set around 7pm, and the only thing that surrounded us was the sound of waves crashing and the fog of the California coast in May. We spent nights drinking beer with headlamps on and talking about what was ahead and what we were ready to leave behind. The quiet without the hum of the social world and our jobs was the best stillness I had felt in a long time. I contemplated ways to never go home. I hadn’t felt that lack of social anxiety in way too long. Somewhere overlooking the ocean, with unwashed hair, and layers of clothes because it was colder than we expected it to be we felt something shift in ourselves. There was a moment where all that had felt so heavy began to release.

It was at the end of that month we found out our life was going to change even more. At some point in our nights at Big Sir, our little guy came to be. Finding out we were pregnant was a beautiful surprise. It was also the most beautiful and amazing thing that could have come out of this year. We felt lucky and blessed to have so naturally had this moment happen and every day we are thankful for him. In only a moment our whole year shifted and changed from this cloud of negativity to a wellspring of hope. An entirely new journey was beginning in just the positive sign on a little test. 

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

Before we left for our 6 weeks off, we finished up our studio, tied up about four design projects, and prepared the blog to take a little hiatus of its own. On top of it all, we jointly were trying to wander through the extreme tiredness and strangeness of my first trimester. I look back and feel extremely thankful for Mike. He worked so hard in that time and picked up so much slack where I couldn’t and never made me feel incapable. I saw so quickly what strength there is in working together and between him and I. Owning a business as a couple is a wild ride, but all the trials of working together made thinking about kids a much easier task than I expected. I know I can trust him, and he knows he can trust me. It is such a team effort and so thinking about conquering parenthood feels like an incredibly rewarding challenge that we will begin in 2016. As we navigated those first few months together, it allowed me to relax and know we were going to be able to figure this out together.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

The day we left for Michigan was a good one. I was anxious to feel the water and breath the air of Lake Michigan and many respects to feel home again. It had been over 95 degrees for so long in Raleigh, and I was okay with the potential of 60-degree summer weather. It took a solid two weeks for us to let go of the stress of the shift in our personal life and the hum of our work life. Every day we would go on walks and slowly release all the stress we had been holding onto. Some were things we knew we had been and some were surprising things. There was a lot of anxiousness in those early walks, especially from Mike. We were both struggling with direction and Mike felt the brunt of this. Even before starting the summer, we knew our business model and life needed adjustment. In 2012 Mike joined me to create Wild Measure and test a business model he had helped to developed in the agency world. Mike and I were the heads of Wild Measure and we worked with a various amount of freelancers on large projects that ranged from $30,000 – $80,000 in budget. There was an extreme need for a middle market pricing between independent designers and full on agencies and our studio fit that. Unfortunately, it left me in an agency type of world, which I wasn’t a fan of but it did play on a lot of Mike’s strength. We created great work during these projects and with some great people. Before working together, Mike had left an agency job and turned down a position at Google to work with me, and I felt a responsibility to give this agency model a try. The only problem was it was leaving both of us as managers and directors instead of the creatives we had intended to be. We had plenty of design jobs coming in, but we were beginning to see a shift in the type of jobs were being inquired about. We saw less full brand builds and a lot more typography, social content stories, and photography jobs. Which didn’t have the big price tags of our typical projects, but they didn’t require us to hire freelancers, and they didn’t stretch on for months.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

Mike had long considered himself a designer and loves designing for interactive and directing a team. He enjoys designing for process from start to finish. Me on the other hand, I enjoy the initial meeting and visioning, but I am not into the follow through. I just didn’t want to be working on the same design projects for months. However, I had stuck with him through this, but I was finding myself creatively frustrated the longer we stuck with our method. We talked about going back to working separately, as I wanted to work on the blog, art direct shoots, consult with businesses, and do more type. These were all things that because of our day-to-day with the studio’s demands were all side jobs for me. Sounds crazy to say when you work for yourself to feel trapped doing something you aren’t 100% passionate about, but it happens probably more than anyone likes to talk about.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

At the end of our time in Michigan, we had gone on walks every day, and things were finally starting to become clearer. In the last couple of weeks in Michigan, we were itching to start the redesign of our site and model we had been dreaming up. We had thoroughly thought through the blog and where it was headed, and we had focused on making sure there wasn’t any confusion as to why we blogged or why we designed. We realized we needed to narrow in everything. Mike had started to feel ownership over his part in the company again, and it was incredible to watch the ease with him as this happened. We knew working seperately wasn’t the answer. Our best work comes from working as one unit so we knew building a model that supported that was most important.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

Before we headed back to Raleigh, we were scheduled to teach a branding workshop and speak on a panel at the Circles Conference in Dallas. We always enjoy attending conferences. It is so refreshing to connect with people who geek out about the little things you do, put faces to names of readers and people we follow, but even, more importantly, we love it because usually some real clarity comes out of our time at them.

It wasn’t till our last day there that that clarity showed its face again. We loved the conference, but, in all honesty, were disappointed with how our conversation went during our panel. We were asked questions about working with big name brands, instead of why we love to create. Sure there was a great pull quote or two, but we both realized how much confusion there was in what we did, who we were, and why we create. It was one of those moments where you feel like everything hits you like a ton of bricks and you see how the rest of the world views the frame you created for yourself either purposefully or not. Mike felt this feeling immediately while on stage, but I was still going through the motions of the agency model and speaking from our typical topics. In many ways, I felt pretty numb. Even after those six weeks, where I thought I had clarity, I was still not completely connected to our direction.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

Before we headed to the closing party, Mike and I had plans to meet up with our friend Helena Price for tacos. Before dinner, we had about 45 minutes to relax in our room and get ready for the night. Just as I was ready to rest, Mike simply asked, “do you feel like our panel was good?” Without a whole lot of thought, I said, “no, I felt it could have gone better, and the conversation was pretty dull.” He cut me off and said, “no, like did you feel it was good for us as creatives?” and I said a little frustrated and confused, “well I don’t know I guess it wasn’t ideal, but I thought we sounded articulate at least. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to talk about, but you can’t always get the questions you want.” He responded “me either.” From there we recounted our feelings and thoughts about the conference and what we both had taken from it. Mike felt more than ever that we weren’t clear about what we wanted in our career and who we were as creatives. I was beyond frustrated that we had just spent six weeks figuring this out, and I thought we had a direction. Then he asked me, “What do you want? What do you want to be known for creating?” In all honesty, I hadn’t asked myself this question in a long time maybe since beginning the blog and my business. I had been focused all this time on growing a design studio, doing projects, paying bills, and in the meantime, I somehow lost touch with what I wanted. During our time in Michigan I had been more focused on getting Mike on track, and in the meantime had never given myself the room to figure out what I wanted.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

As we continued to talk we realized from the beginning; it was my blog and my company that Mike was joining. Which without us verbalizing it meant I was the founder, and I had to set the vision that guided both the blog and studio. Once we said that out loud we both realized why there had been so much frustration. I didn’t or for that matter know how to set a vision, and he was looking to me to set a vision. It was more or less a version of the blind leading the blind. I had found it easy to go through the motions of business and work. I hadn’t asked myself what fulfilled me, made my heart race, and made me happy in my work. What we were doing was along the lines of what I wanted because I was working for myself and working as a creative, but I didn’t realize that it still was far off from what I really wanted. As I sat there in that hotel room in Dallas, I felt like he had just opened up a part of me I had suppressed for quite a while. I began telling him all the things I didn’t want. I told him I don’t want to be doing full brand builds, I don’t want to build websites, I don’t want to be creating print materials. Then I told him what I did want to create more of. I want to create type and become way better at it. I want to create smaller parts of larger campaigns with brands we love. I want to art direct shoots. I didn’t want to work on any project that required us to hire freelancers and remove ourselves from the creative work, and I want to spend days creating with my hands and less with my mouse. I wanted to help other entrepreneurs and creatives to chase their dreams. Those were the things that brought me fulfillment. It was the first time in years I had really acknowledge what I really wanted and gosh it felt good. 

In that moment we both felt as if we finally had come to a point of full clarity. We wrote down what we wanted to create. Everything fell into four categories. Type, Image, Web, and Consulting. We wanted to take the guess work out of our work and make ourselves more accessible in many ways to a varying amount of people. We decided we want to share our story better and consult more. We wanted to simplify everything.

After franticly writing down everything we met Helena for dinner. It was a great dinner of celebrations, and her one recommendation was to read the book Essentialism. So on our drive back to North Carolina, we read it cover to cover. We knew we had to focus on the new direction and remove anything that created clutter whether physically, emotionally, mentally, creatively, spiritually, and beyond. We rewrote our whole studio plan and offerings. We simplified everything and began dreaming in a more focused and clear way than we had ever before. It felt that the last 2 years had prepared us to make these decisions.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

Returning home we made the decision to start working on these new shifts in the blog and studio, but we knew we had a baby on the way and a pile of work to finish for Q4. In the past, we would have pulled a lot of late nights and hunkered down until we redesigned everything. Instead, we decided to give these ideas space to breathe. At this current moment, we have 75% of the new blog and studio site designed but won’t be launching till Spring 2016 when we return from maternity leave. As much as I want to start with everything right now, I couldn’t be happier that we are waiting. Living essentially has given such peace to us as creatives and entrepreneurs and allowed life to seep in far more than it has in the past. 

Our time away didn’t just bring clarity to our work it also brought clarity to our personal life. Between getting away to Michigan and reading Essentialism, we realized what mattered in life and how much control we have given to situations, people, and experiences. We both realized how much we valued our families and how much relationships affect us. The one thing I learned more than anything is that just because you have moved past something in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to allow those people back into your life. Forgiveness and letting go of hurt doesn’t directly correlate to being friends or having the same relationship with those people. I also realized that there are times and places to step away from situations to protect yourself and that that is 100% okay. Essentialism helped me feel more confident in pruning my tree of relationships and leaving only those that brought joy, clarity, and betterment into life.  

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

Mike and I also had some very real conversations about our relationship with the church. We felt like we needed time away from that part of our lives. It has been a hard and strange shift to not have that weekly ritual in our lives, since we both grew up in the Methodist church all of our lives. While up north we attended my dad’s church (he is a pastor) and that felt welcoming, but coming back to the city we just don’t have the desire to return to having that kind of community in our life for now.

Those eight weeks away from Raleigh changed both of us in so many ways. It was eight weeks of doing a lot of growing both for me physically with a pregnancy, but for both of us emotionally and maturity wise.

I honestly never thought we would walk away from those weeks as a new people, but we both did. We came home as better people. We came back with such clarity and perspective in life. We knew where our business was headed, where the blog was going, and we knew we would be preparing for one of the most important jobs in our lives; being parents. We cared a lot less about the things that had seemed so monumental. When you have a purpose, a lot of other concerns and silly things fall away in life. Coming home with a purpose left me with confidence I hadn’t had in a long time.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

After returning home, we did some more travel to London for a babymoon, Charleston, New Orleans, Austin, and Houston.  After we had tied up with travel after Thanksgiving, we found ourselves back home with a dwindling to-do list of work and time to focus in on what we needed to do in preparation for becoming three. We have spent a lot of time reading, working on the new design, blogging, working out, cooking at home, and doing house projects. We spend time with our neighbors, call our families, and enjoy lunches out at our favorite places, but we aren’t doing a lot of social stuff. Instead, we are enjoying our time together with just the two of us. We feel so thankful for this time of finding purpose and clarity in life. Life feels as if it has more room for us just to be and pursue a life that we feel we desire and feel fulfilled by.

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

The other night as we took the dogs for a walk, we talked about this time last year. There was a lot of anxiety and pain in our hearts. This year, there is calm, an understanding of what makes for a good life, and what just gets in the way. We feel at such peace with where life is and, even more, peace about bringing a little one into our lives in 2016. We have SO many exciting things planned for 2016!

So as we close out 2015, I know I gave the year the word “Depth” at the beginning of the year, but now, looking back on 2015 I would give it the word “Growth” instead. Depth breads growth, just as the deeper a tree runs its roots into the earth, the more it grows and the stronger it becomes. That was our year. We were tested like never before, we dug a little deeper, and we asked the hard questions. Here on the other side, we are all the better. 

A Year of Growth | The Fresh Exchange

Looking forward to 2016, we are dubbing it the year the year of “Patience.” We aren’t going into the year with expectation. Starting the year with the birth of our first baby, while also thinking about making significant changes to our business are both exciting things, but also things that leave a year of unknowns ahead of us. We know that one thing will be true; we will need patience. We will need patience with each other, with ourselves, our little guy, our business, our families, our finances, our decisions, and with life. Nothing is to be rushed. We will have faith it all will come at the right time and fall into place just as it should.

I know this was long, but I wanted to recap this year for you. I wanted to be open about the last 12 months of life that sometimes get missed between blog posts. I felt like there was no better time than the end of the year to share what this year has meant to us. Transparency is so important in this space and this year taught us that. A blog can make those writing it seem as if they aren’t human and that things are perfect and pretty, and many times they are, but we are human, we fight, ask tough questions, and we feel pain. We also feel hope. And we are hopeful for this coming year.

Cheers to 2016 friends! It is going to be a good one.

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16 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. We have been feeling many of the same exact emotions this year — good and bad — and this just solidifies how we are not alone in having a year of exhausting yet beautiful growth. Wishing you, mike and your little one a wonderful new year!

  2. Thank you for your honesty in reflecting on the year. I think it’s very easy as a creative to get stuck doing something that you may be good at, but find little joy in. It’s hard, scary work to stop, evaluate and make a shift. I really respect what you’ve done to grow this past year. Thanks for sharing the journey so that others can benefit from your wisdom.

  3. Loved that you shared all of this. I will definitely pick up that book, Essentialism. Being a pastor’s daughter myself, there are many times when I want to drop it all and run away from it. I’m glad to hear your faith still echoe behind your posts though. I hope you guys have a fantastic year!

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