creativity leave


By Karly Siroky, Columnist
(980 words)

It’s hard to say when exactly she was conceived. Like many parents-to-be, our studio was eager to decide on her name. There were many scribbled in journals, recorded in voice memos and typed into Google Docs. But this one just kept coming around: karma.

A few weeks later, I took myself on an impromptu retreat, burrowing in at a hostel deep in the Yukon, up the road from an organic coffee roaster and a stone’s throw from steaming hot springs. I read voraciously, devouring Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing, taking notes on ethics and unorthodox practices of a “reluctant businessman.”

Most entrepreneurs seem to fall into one of these two camps: the planned and the unplanned. I was the latter. Despite being raised by a solopreneur father whose hard work put my brother and me through college,

I never once dreamt of running my own business. It just kinda happened. Call it immaculate conception.

So, we began making plans. The brand book was underway: color palette, typefaces and mood board. The strategy followed suit, outlined in pixels and ink: brand archetypes, marketing personas, the dos and don’ts. Our studio was developing its identity.

Photography by Laura Lowery

Right around that time, my brother and sister-in-law announced they were expecting. My family was overjoyed. My mother, seemingly the most patient but quite obviously first in line to hold her grandchild, was absolutely beside herself.

A few months in, during a quiet conversation on the sidelines of this prenatal familial frenzy, I shared something quite personal.

Mom, I know I’ve told you this before, but I will probably never have kids.

"However, I want you to know that what I’m doing is probably as close to birthing a baby as I will ever come. There will be morning sickness, there will be late nights and financial burdens. And, God willing, it will be with me for the rest of my life. To me, this is just as important as having a baby.”  

From that moment on, things were different. My mother believed me, and though she may never fully understand, she respected my decision. When we talked, she shared updates about my brother, and quickly followed up with, “How’s the rebrand going?” I felt loved and supported.

And then, the next nine months nearly killed me.

The website wasn’t coming together. I am my own harshest client, that is for sure, and it is a testament to my team that they did not abandon me during those quasi-hormonal outbreaks.

The logo continued to elude us. Pages and pages of sketches cascading from my laptop bag. Iterations scribbled in the jet stream as I flew here and there across the country. More late nights than I would care to admit, cross-legged on the kitchen floor of my friend’s apartment, willing the answer to come.

I forked out more money. I got sick, felt as though I were running on fumes, and began to question my intentions. Was I wrong to ever go down this road? What did we do to deserve this roadblock? We were at a creative impasse.

In the design world, wiser business owners than me will always tell you: never brand your own company. We did it anyway. So as the second trimester came to a close, we turned to a last resort: we outsourced. A colleague from Salt Lake said he’d give it a go.

The day his concepts came back, my finger hovered over the mouse with anticipation. I needed to know whether this life force still had a heartbeat, still had a fighting chance. In that moment, I felt as though the entire world were resting on that email. I clicked, opened the files, and there it was: our logo.

Like a fuzzy ultrasound, you could tell it wasn’t fully formed, but the DNA was there. It had our likeness. It had our bone structure. And most of all, it was alive.

We kicked into overdrive. The next two months veritably flew by. The website fell into place, email addresses hastily configured and business cards populated with our URL and phone number. Like any proud parent, I completed all manner of legal preparations: business license, tax identification, business checking account. I felt the pangs of the present, knowing our due date was near, yet anticipated the future with awe and desire. I began to inform family and friends, letting them know that all was well and our prognosis was clear.

Months prior, I’d committed to a separate journey of epic proportions.

I’d made plans to walk the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage trail traversing the length of Spain.

When I realized this trip was to fall precisely after the launch of our new brand, I cursed my misfortune. How could I possibly step away from my business the moment it takes its first breath? My contingency plans fell through, and I contemplated cancelling the trip. I was terrified. Terrified that during that time we would lose everything: all our hard work, all of our clients, and the foundation we’d worked so hard to build.

Then, I realized the irony. The universe is a trickster, you know, and this had been her plan all along.

As soon as our new brand arrives, I will be stepping onto an airplane, leaving the office for two months of exploration, restoration and solitude.

She knew this day was coming, and already made arrangements for us. She cleared my schedule, unplugged the phone, and set a long-term away message: Do not disturb. This time is sacred. The only thing that matters is the present.

So, on April 23rd, I will be starting a new chapter, one that requires more love and labor than I ever could have imagined. I will lose myself in this creation, breathless and humbled by the miracle of life.

On April 23rd, I will be going on creativity leave.

Karly Siroky is the founder of Karma, a brand strategy and visual design studio that helps nonprofits, small businesses and altruistic organizations place people and planet over profit. She and her team believe that good goes around. In 2013, Karly traded her corporate cubicle for the open road and remote wilderness. Her column offers a heartfelt look into life as a digital nomad, entrepreneur and servant leader of a creative team. Karly also serves as Lucia's design advisor, helping craft, guide and nurture our visual identity.