Photo by Karly Siroky

By Karly Siroky, Columnist
(930 words)

There are two types of people in the world: those who let their dogs snuggle in bed with them, and those who relegate them to the floor. The former results in dog hair on the sheets. The latter is an example of boundaries.

In my dream world, I am the latter.

When I envision my perfect day, it begins with greeting my furry companion, whom I always visualize laying on the floor near the foot of my bed. His ears perk up, and together we head downstairs. We make tea, check the news, and start our day. We work till 3pm, at which point I turn off the iMac, and we head out snowshoeing. We spend the rest of the evening cooking an elaborate meal and relaxing in front of the fire. I do not think about work till 7am the next day.

Those are boundaries.

Here’s the reality:

As much as I would like to think I have the willpower to deny those beady, brown eyes, my MacBook joins me in bed more nights than I would care to admit.

In fact—it’s here with me now, resting atop flannel sheets after whispering to me from a shelf across the room: Wake up, Karly. It’s time to create!

The computer glasses helped, till they broke and fell to the bottom of an unwritten checklist for self-care, probably right under: Take a mental health day. Now, the blue light burns through melatonin, my steady, circadian rhythm a faint drumbeat of the past.

To my credit, it could be worse. Early on as a freelancer, a colleague introduced me to the concept of a hard stop—the proverbial timecard. You punch in, you punch out. From then on, I began enforcing a strict Do Not Answer policy: On weekends, and at 5pm on weekdays, I do my best to turn it off.

I deeply admire my colleague who, upon returning home from work, puts his phone in a box built from balsam wood.

The thought is tempting.

My team members, however, know that’s only a façade. Frequently, my name will pop up in their notifications at 9, 10, 11pm. Honestly, I’m more protective of their time than my own. “Do as I say, not as I do,” I tell them, encouraging them to take care of themselves as I continue burning the candle at both ends.

Technology helps, and hinders. A year or so ago, I finally created an official work email address, effectively separating messages with mom from contracts with clients. I have different calendars for social and work obligations—in a single click, I can uncheck a box, and all of my responsibilities as a business owner disappear.

However, they are never completely out of mind.

If I were ever to misplace my $7 notebook-of-the-month, all my dirty laundry would be laid bare; financial forecasts and triaged to-do lists scribbled beside relationship ruminations and recipes, all churned up into a foamy stream of consciousness as untamable as whitewater.

Humans are blessed and cursed with being creative 24-7. There is no software nuanced enough to track the gestation of an idea.

Sometimes it takes months, sometimes it takes minutes. Sometimes it works ahead of schedule, sometimes it requires a change order. Sometimes a light bulb flicks on, and sometimes you must lock yourself in your office.

Yet, we have the power to control our minds. Like any muscle, it must be targeted, toned and exercised. We must train it to perform when needed, and rest in the interim. Meditation. Mindfulness. My dad says he conjures up an image of windshield wipers—unwanted thoughts are simply scraped away, revealing a flat, empty color field of 18% gray. “It’s the most neutral color in the light spectrum,” he says.

Photos by Karly Siroky

One of my favorite places in Seattle is the Ballard Locks. It’s simple really: Boats go in, boats go out, the water level rises, the water level lowers. Over, and over, and over again. It’s soothing. Like clockwork, thick, heavy ropes are tossed ashore, folded around metal cleats, securing the vessel in place as the bell rings and the monstrous metal gates draw to a close.

The design process is fluid. How could you contain something as wild as water? And yet, we must.

There is a time to close the doors, and a time to open the floodgates.

Keep them closed and the water grows fetid. Let them drain and creativity cleanses and replenishes itself.

Work-life balance is always easier said than done. Despite building a lifestyle out of working on the road, I still have much to learn about the importance of rest days. Do I give myself a week off between projects? No. I schedule Phase Two the day after we finish Phase One.

Like I said, I’m no role model. But the first of twelve steps is admitting you have a problem.

Two weeks ago, I finally went in for lab work. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me I’m a workaholic. Even so, I felt exhausted—more so than usual. She called me back the same day, “We figured out why you’re so tired.” I was diagnosed with mono and iron deficiency.

There is no cure for mono. You simply have to scale back. There is no vitamin or supplement for creativity. Our bodies must create it for ourselves.

So that day, my doctor wrote me a prescription for permission—permission to rest.

Am I the perfect patient? Hardly. But I am learning to boldly state to the universe: this is where I draw the line.

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.