Sunday, March 9, 2014

Finding Joy

This post started off as "random thoughts" and became something...else. I write to know what I think, and it turns out I think a LOT about this subject. My apologies for its length, but I hope those of you struggling with finding joy in stamping will find some inspiration here.

At the center of our joy in stamping lies this deceptively simple question: "Why do we stamp?" For me, the reason boils down to this:


That's right. Even if nobody cares. Of course I'm thrilled when people care, and I'm fortunate enough to have a family and lots of friends who appreciate what I give them. I'm also fortunate to have you, my readers, who encourage me and keep me blogging. But I don't make stuff for accolades or to blog. I make stuff because the creative act makes me happy.

That it makes others happy is icing...not cake.

Several world religions teach that humans were made in God's image, and God is first and foremost the Creator. In other words, we were created to create. Psychology confirms this idea. Multiple studies show people who indulge their creativity through hobbies are often happier and healthier and live longer than people who don't give free rein to their creativity. I haven't read any studies about professional artists, but I know that adding the pressure of capitalism and competition to creativity adds stress and anxiety to the picture...the opposites of happy and healthy!

Take, for example, the stamper who thinks she needs to be on a design team. She applies and applies and finally gets on one. She's happy at first, but slowly loses the joy of producing under the stress of tight deadlines, too much product, too much pressure. Other parts of her life--family, friends, work--feel distracting and intrude on her stamping time. She loses that sense of balance we need in life. The design team work becomes disproportionately important in her life, and the whole point behind creativity gets dislocated.

It's a type of cognitive dissonance that often forms without our conscious permission, and it can lead to creative funk and loss of mojo, not to mention deep unhappiness.

Our stamper got what she thought she wanted, and it killed the joy. If you're not feeling the joy, perhaps you need to think about why you're stamping. Why are you investing time, money, and energy in this hobby rather than some other hobby? Why do you have to get published, or have 1,000 followers for your blog, or be on ten design teams, or enter twenty challenges a day? Why?

When we deviate from our honest why, we lose our joy.

Some people honestly want to turn their hobby into a profession. Nothing wrong with that...after all, if the Claires and Nicholes and Jennifers and Julies of the world didn't commit their careers to paper crafting, we wouldn't have Waltzingmouse or Papertrey or awesome classes or amazingly diverse product. And other people honestly want to be on design teams, to publish their work, to be part-time demonstrators, to teach an occasional class, to blog (*raises hand here*), or otherwise to stick their big toes into the profession of stamping without anything close to full-time commitment.

Find a level of involvement in the hobby that reflects your why, and pay attention to how you respond moving forward. What feels right for a few years might get stale or change over time. I know at least one stamper who happily submitted for publication for a while and then moved on when it got to be too much. I personally felt the need to shake things up a few years ago, participated on a design team, decided it wasn't for me, and quit. The whole experience from beginning to end was fun...because I paid attention to my feelings and realized I'm just not design-team material. I learned something about myself. It was all good.

Bottom line...figure out your why and pay close attention to it over time. Don't get caught in cognitive dissonance and go rabbiting off in an unhealthy direction for you. If you do go rabbiting off (and we all do, from time to time), stop and think. Redirect. Take care of yourself and forgive yourself for your lapse. Nothing you choose has to be permanent. Learn from it, and move on.

I find, even if my why is healthy and I'm not victim of cognitive dissonance, creativity is like a tide...it ebbs and flows. When it was ebbing, I used to become beset with insecurities and worries. Will it come back? Will I have fun stamping again? Ohmygosh, will I ever make anything but pretty (and expensive) trash?

When my productivity waned, I worried about having enough to blog about. I worried that the blog was becoming boring or uninformative. 

And speaking of blogging...my blogging why is actually quite different from my stamping why. I blog for two reasons: 1) because blogging connects me to other stampers in a positive way, and 2) it fits my personality. I'd never have started a stamping blog except several people at SCS asked me to start one, so even at its beginning, the blog was about social bonds. Creating a place where a few people with like-minded stamp addictions could come together to support and encourage one another seemed like a really awesome idea...and it is.

Pretty soon after starting, though, I realized that a blog was the perfect place to give expression to the writer, teacher, and humorist in me, as well as the card maker. I got hooked. Blogging fit me, and I fit blogging.

But no matter what a good fit blogging is for me, my creative muse goes on holiday sometimes, and the joy of stamping and blogging fades a bit. What makes Ms. Muse disappear? Not sure, really, but I do know that stresses in other areas of my life scare her off sometimes. At other times, she gets bored and needs me to shake things up a bit with new product or new techniques or maybe to try to get published or do some challenges or dabble in a different style. During these times, I have to seduce her back to my side, and eventually she does return.

Last fall, Ms. Muse went away, and she has stayed away for quite a while, largely because of stress and anxiety that has nothing to do with stamping. The joy wasn't there for crafting, not like it was when Ms. Muse was hanging around whispering in my ear. In the past six months, I discovered that this pin is very, very true.


Discipline and perseverance and experience got me through the last six months without Ms. Muse. I still produced pretty things (and a lot of trash you never saw, too), but the joy was...elusive. For once, I didn't get discouraged or upset by the loss of my stamping joy, which is proof that I can learn from past mistakes! Yay, me!

Instead, I suspected a natural ebb was at work, and not once did I think about sending all my craft supplies to the landfill or burst into tears because I couldn't make a sketch work, although I did bang my head on the desk frequently.

I chugged determinedly forward and trusted that things would get better. I trusted the process.


The results came even when Ms. Muse was away because I really do love the process of creating. And eventually the joy returned, too.

What, specifically, made the joy return?

That's tough to explain. Partly, it was that I trusted it would, so it did...a perfect self-fulfilling prophesy. Partly, I'm dealing with the stress in my life better. Partly, I found inspiration again. Too often, I succumb to pride and start thinking, "I do it MYSELF." Shouldn't surprise you, but that was my first complete sentence, spoken at the precocious age of 14 months.

But the truth is, it's all been said and done before. To tap into creativity, I find inspiration in the work of others and do my best work when riffing off of them.

There's an improvisational jazz metaphor in here somewhere....

A friend recently asked me to host a challenge. At the same time, another friend pinned a link on Pinterest that sent me orbital with inspiration. The combination of these two events had me stamping for joy again, reminded me that I'm truly happiest when modifying and adapting ideas that are already "out there."

Ms. Muse is back.

Your own path to stamping joy might be blocked by pride, too much self-criticism and perfectionism, too little confidence, a misdirected why. If so, here's what you can do to knock down those barriers and learn to trust the process.

  1. Revisit your why. Be honest with yourself. What do you want from stamping? Why do you want it? Is it healthy? Should you be going in a different direction?
  2. Make stuff. Lots of stuff. Don't be afraid of mistakes or of throwing them in the trash. 
  3. Try new things. Buy a stamp set in a completely different style. Try a new technique. Dive into a color you've always hated. Stir the pot. Even if your new thing fails spectacularly, you will have learned something. Then try another new thing.
  4. Rest. God spent six days creating and rested on the seventh. Walk away from your work when you need to walk away, refresh your mind and soul and body, and come back to it with a fresh eye. You might walk away for a day, a week, a month, or more. Take the rest you need to stay balanced. 
  5. Clean up. You may find your inspiration in the bottom of a drawer, forgotten and neglected. You may also find that getting rid of the trash in your craft area lightens your spirit and frees your creativity.
  6. Engage in community. Join a new crafting forum or re-engage with an old one you're neglecting. Go through your blog reader or subscriptions and ditch the ones you no longer find interesting. Go in search of new ones. Leave comments. Encourage others. An awesome way to feel better about yourself is to lift others up. Take a class; online ones are super easy and fit into any schedule. Connect with other crafty humans in meaningful ways. We are not islands.
  7. Remove barriers to play. If you act like every card must be blog-worthy or publication-worthy, you've forgotten that hobbies are about playing. Let go of expectations and standards, and spend time just playing. I bet you'll make mistakes, and I also bet you'll make some of your best work under the influence of play.
You'll get there, to that place of creative joy. You will. Eventually.

And that's all I have to say about that. What are your thoughts about finding joy in stamping? Are there things you do--not listed here--that help you snap out of a funk?

57 comments:

  1. Hear Hear ... I joined a Design Team because I thought I should but fell foul of the pressure to create robbing me of my creativity. Whilst I enjoyed it initially, exactly as you suggested, my joy disappeared little by little too, to the point where I started to feel I must be rubbish. Since leaving the design team and inherent pressures I have found a creativity that was different to my "BDT" (Before Design Team) and I am LIKING it!!! Thanks for putting it in to words that it's OK not to want what others think you SHOULD want!

    Kathyk

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  2. Well said - all of it! We each have to find the reason we're happy doing what we're doing, and not worry about how others achieve their happiness. I can't wait to play along with your challenge!

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  3. Thank you writing this wonderful post! I see some undeniable truth in here!

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  4. Love this post. I definitely need to revisit my why.

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  5. Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed reading it, so much of what you said touches everyday life. There is so much pressure on women today to do better and reach higher and in all the rush we forget to stop and smell the roses. What you have to say is so important, keep it up.

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  6. Boy, oh boy, did I need to read this! I'm feeling the rush of my stamp room again! Thank you, Susan. Really...thank you!

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  7. Loved this post! Thank you. Actually, I've been enjoying playing lately - experimenting with stencils and it's been fun. Too often I find myself playing catch up - working to the deadline of someone's fast approaching birthday or worse, one that has already passed. And when that happens, I don't experiment as much. Also, I sometimes find myself thinking that I spend too much time on the internet looking at other people's creations rather than creating my own. I really should remedy that!

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  8. thanks, susan.
    well stated, as always.
    you are so right, and it is often helpful to remind ourselves that this is our hobby.
    we are having fun!
    marty

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  9. Thank you for putting into words and explaining what I never could. I've been making my own cards for 30 years, everyone says I should sell them, get them published, etc. etc. etc. Nope, not interested. I make cards because I enjoy playing with paper and glue. That's all, nothing special, just something I can spend hours doing by myself. I'd like to say it's cheaper than therapy, but that's debatable. If no one ever commented on my cards or never said thank you for a special one, it still wouldn't matter to me. I'm just doing what I love to do and am so much happier for it. Love your pin on the definition of create. That one is a keeper, I'm still laughing out loud thinking about it.

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    1. I agree! Joan --- you said it all so well. Thank you, Susan! I went to bed with a big smile after reading your Sunday post =)

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  10. An extremely insightful, helpful and thoughtful blog post....I couldn't agree more with you on so much. Our creativity is definitely a reflection of our Creator. I thank Him so much for giving me this creative outlet of card making, I get so much joy from the creative process and from the results! And the ripple effect of joy keeps spreading out when the cards are received! I've said "no" to opportunities in the card making arena simply because I know the deadlines and pressure would rob me of this God given joy. Thank you, Susan!

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  11. Fabulous blog subject today. I think many of us fall into this "trap" of wanting to do it all (DT, published, etc.) and sometimes Ms. Muse disappears. I'm at this point in my life right now where my blog is nearly non-existent and I only stamp maybe once or twice a month-if that. My personal/business life has taken over and while I miss the creative part of it, there are days I'm ok not doing it. I"m thankful that Ms. Muse reappears at times like today and I find joy in what I love to do.

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  12. Susan, I always read every word you post. Your words are as much an inspiration to me as your amazing creations. Now, I don't always comment...real life has a way of coming between what I want to say, and the time I have to say it. But most of the bloggers I know who read your blog, don't just "read" it. Your words need attention. They are always important to us. So we ponder them. My crafting joy is ever renewing. The act of creation. The satisfaction I feel when something feels "done." The smile I (hopefully) bring to others. A part of me is in everything I make, which is as it should be. So thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Blessings always to you. Bev

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  13. Yes, yes, yes! Wish I could express my thoughts as well as you do! I feel like I should reread this post on a regular basis!
    I also spend more time looking at other blogs than creating which seems wrong but I have a hard time leaving posts unread in my reader. By the time I am caught up with all of them I often have no more time to make cards. If you have any advice for this obsession let me know...

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    1. Purge your reader? Or set a timer and limit reading on days you want to get stuff done. I'm not sure. If you figure it out, maybe I can apply your fix to my surfing of Pinterest.... Keep me posted!

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  14. Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

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  15. I really like this post. I make cards because I love doing it. Thanks to you, I discovered that my style had a name - CAS. Before finding your blog, I was a bit dissatisfied with my cards because I didn't understand my own designs. I am on one design team which is all I could ever handle. I like it because it has caused me to branch out as a cardmaker and try new things. That's why I enter challenges - to stretch my creativity. I get frustrated. But I remember what you said in an earlier post - it's only paper. I can't tell you how much that simple sentence from you eased my stress level. I read your blog because you create beautiful cards. And I read your blog because you provide amazing clarity re the creative process. I always learn something from you. My joy in making cards has thus far never left me for long - maybe a day or two at most. I'm happy plugging along, making my simple cards with no particular talent. But I do find joy in doing it. If the joy were to leave, I will follow your advice for sure. Thanks, Susan.

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    1. You must keep your muse very happy, Sheila, for her to stick around so much! And I've seen your work...your phrase "no particular talent" simply isn't true.

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  16. Oh was this ever timely. And brilliant. Thank you!

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  17. Thanks for the perspective Susan. Much appreciated . Read every single word.
    So true. So well said!

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  18. So true Susan, I have been making cards now for 18 years and , you sum it up well..it just makes me happy!

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  19. This is perfect and spot-on for me. Thank you so much for putting all those intangibles into words. :o)

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  20. Card making brings me such joy ..... and I think that a lot of that joy comes from making RAK cards. Seeing a request for a card shower for someone who is ill or needs a lift of some kind keeps my mojo going strong. We are made in the image of our Creator ..... so I agree with you that He instilled in us the joy of creating!

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    1. You're so right about RAK cards. Pretty soon, I'll give everyone another chance to shower Jonah. Hope you'll find time to join in!

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    2. Susan .... I'll look forward to the opportunity to make another card for Jonah! What a difference you are making in the life of this sweet little fellow and his family!

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  21. Susan, yours is the only blog I read on a regular basis. Insightful posts like this are the main reason I keep coming back. I love your CAS creations and often wish I could stop with so little on the paper. I also enjoy your way with words and look forward to what you will give me to ponder on any given day. For several years life has intruded on my stamping time and creativity. Still I have come here and found joy in your words and cards. Thank you. Slowly I am returning to my stamp room, cleaning, organizing and at times, stamping. And on the days I don't feel like cleaning or creating, I come here to read, admire, and enjoy. Thank you so much for sharing yourself and your creativity, as well as many wonderful truths about life.

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    1. Thank you, Kathy. That means a lot to me.

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  22. I love this post! Thanks for sharing!

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  23. Wow - were you in my head?!?! You nailed my issues straight on! It's been months since I created a card out of joy. I had to create a few for a DT a couple of weeks ago and it seriously was like pulling burlap through a fine tooth comb to get them done. Not only that but late last year I decided to quit the company I sold stamps for & sold almost all my stamps. I just was so burnt out from it all. I did buy two cute sets a few weeks back so I believe my muse is starting to peek out from her hiding spot again but I'm not tempted to make any cards yet. It will come with time. :)

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  24. Fabulous post, Susan. My work keeps me out of my craft room for long periods of time but I discovered that when I made time, I was overwhelmed by the clutter. While I haven't finalized new plans, just knowing I will change my space has made me want to get crafty. I even picked up some cross stitch projects that I haven't touched in a dozen years and have ideas for some cards floating around in my head. I love to CASE ideas and my Pinterest board is oveflowing!

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  25. Thank you, Susan. I've been confused by my loss of interest in making cards. I knew I was making cards for others, but didn't like them. You've helped me understand my feelings. I hope you are right and the desire returns after a bit of time off.

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  26. Oh this is sooooooo good!!!! I laughed out loud at the banging of the head quote...and got tears in my eyes somewhere after that. This can be applied to our lives in all sorts of ways. Our journey isn't in a straight line so we need to be flexible and adjust!

    I often say that I have great joy in the process EVEN when the outcome is a flop, I have enjoyed the process. That's what keeps me coming back to my craft table. I took on a bit too much at the end of last year. I made some really good things and some things that weren't so good but I didn't feel peaceful. I have promised my family to never do that again!!!! So I have learned and now I just need to see if there needs to be more trimming.

    Thank you for these good thoughts written so well. I have been pondering since January and you have given me more to think about!!!!

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  27. Well said. We all need to be reminded of WHY we create. I've bookmarked this post for continued inspiration.

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  28. Wonderful musings and sage advice, Thank you, Susan :)

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  29. Your 7 suggestions are wonderfully helpful. I will print them out and place them nearby to reread often. I also hope the joy will return. Thank you, Susan. Hugs and smiles!

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  30. Susan - I always read every word of your 'blog musings' but this one I read several times. As others have commented, you are right on the mark with having JOY in the creative process not the outcome. However, that sometimes brings joy also. I also have had friends and family members state that I should sell my creations. I tried that only once and hated it. I am a bit of an OCD person so every flaw was so obvious to me that I would remake the card. In the end I became frustrated, tired of dong the card again and again, and in spending way too much money on that one card.
    There are a couple of statements you made that really hit home - "But the truth is, it's all been said and done before. To tap into creativity, I find inspiration in the work of others and do my best work when riffing off of them.“ I do so enjoy using creations by other people. I adapt of course but I did start to feel guilty about this and thought I should come up with my own designs. I feel more at ease with myself now as I know that there are others out there doing the same thing. The other comment is - "Nothing you choose has to be permanent. Learn from it, and move on." This is such a useful statement to follow. Often we forget that we can change our minds.
    Thank you so very much for your thoughts. You always give me something to mull over.

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  31. Well said...Thanks so much for all of your insight into what we do and why...

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  32. Well said! (Oh, ha, the comment before mine said the same thing. We must be right. :)) I make a lot of pretty trash, and I mostly do learn from it. I have days where NOTHING works, and days I make many pretty things. And walking away almost always works for me.

    I like to try new things, but I have a short attention span and get very frustrated if I can't get it to work in 1 or 2 attempts. But looking and playing are big influences for me, and I just keep plugging away. Stamping makes me HAPPY! :)

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  33. Wise words, Susan ... it's always good to be reminded to find joy ... in all we do and in all we have. Thank you! Anita :)

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  34. Wonderful post, Susan...and as others before me have said, very timely and hit the mark! I am thankful that I discovered your blog a while back, and thankful that you enjoy writing it! Hugs, Lynda

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  35. Terrific post and I have to say I'm pretty good about recognizing what I do for what it is - release. But I recently had an epiphany. I only recently started using high quality cardstock (I'm cheap) and would feel like I needed to "save" it for people who would "appreciate" it. But realized recently that I am the person who most appreciates it as stamping on it is just soooo wonderful and therefore it should be used. And then when I am done with my masterpiece, I mail it off not worrying that the recipient will recycle it. As you are fond of saying, it's only paper.

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    1. That's awesome!!!! I have been guilty of similar!

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  36. Are you my conscience? (Said in my best Dori voice) You are so on point with this post...a much needed smack on the back of my head. :) Thanks, Susan!

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  37. Just a fantastic blog - totally agree -xx

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  38. So well said and thought provoking, also. I always come away with something to think about when I stop by your blog. Thank you for blogging and being so generous with your time.

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  39. Susan, that was the most fabulous post!! I read the whole thing twice. It's why I follow your blog! It made me feel so right about how I view my card-making.

    I'm printing out your seven points at the end and posting them on the bulletin board above my craft desk - they are perfect reminders about how I want my craft process to be.

    Great point about the on-line courses - I did the one on stencils and it totally revitalized me and helped me find a whole new technique that I really enjoy!

    Thank you!

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  40. Thanks Susan. Your post feels like a cyber hug to me. I read it again and again. Would you share your path of getting onto the design team and making the decision that it is not for you? The broader question is: how did you know it wasn’t for you until you worked as a design team member. I can’t help but wondering how I can decide if my goal is unhealthy or unrealistic if I have not achieved it. I worry that if I quit too soon I will regret that I didn’t try hard enough. At what point should we let go and move on because it is an unattainable goal? To me it is an extremely difficult question. The harder I try, the more self-criticism, frustration and unhappiness will result; but it is just equally sad to learn that the goal has not been achieved. It will then lead to more blood and sweat which does not necessarily transform to success. Isn’t it a vicious cycle?

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  41. Thank you for putting my jumbled thoughts into coherent words. Your post really helped me clarify my scatterbrain!

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  42. Beautiful! I love that I really could apply this to so many other areas in my life. Thanks so much for sharing :)

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  43. This is one amazing, well written post and one that came right when I needed it. Thank you for writing it!! :)

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  44. I agree with what you said about design teams. I was on a sketch challenge design team for 6 months. At first it was fun, but some of the sketches that we had to create a card for had me baffled and thinking outside the box (which is actually a good thing). By the end of my term, I was more than ready to move on. Would I like to be on a design team again? Yes, but not at the moment and I would prefer it to be a sketch challenge design team. I rely almost exclusively on sketches to make my cards and enjoy the challenge of making the sketch work with what I have on hand. I don't make a card every day and some days I might make as many as 3. When I find my mojo missing; I turn to pinterest and SCS for inspiration and the sketch challenge blogs. I enjoy making cards and do it for me but it's great that when a birthday comes up, I can pick a card from my stash and send it off.

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Thank you so much for taking time to comment!