Can you handle two introspective, big picture, abstract writing posts in one week? Well buckle up because here comes another one. This goes hand-in-hand, right on the heels of Wednesday’s post. The ideas and thoughts and realizations of Wednesday’s post about molting really came to a head on a long drive through the canyon with The Beard right before General Conference. I think I started crying before we even got to the mouth of the canyon, and didn’t stop until we emerged from that autumn paradise. It was the good kind of cry, though. The kind that just releases everything, leaving you exhausted and clean and dry.
I talked through all my fears and realizations, and he listened and shared and helped. Do you ever realize something for the first time as it comes out of your mouth? There was a whole lotta that. Getting out of the house, seeing beautiful leaves and scenery, stopping for views and to breathe in fresh air, and being totally undistracted by phones and TV and a toddler (car naps ftw) just HEALED me. I still felt very brittle and fragile, but less messy somehow. More clear.
I emerged from General Conference even clearer, which was to be expected. I heard things I needed to hear. I felt things I wanted to feel. None of the immediate pressing issues that caused the breakdown were completely resolved, of course, but I finally felt equipped to face them again. I was going to emerge metaphorically with my head down and sunglasses on, but at least I wasn’t cowering in my room.
The next few days got lighter and brighter. I had plans. We made a schedule. I went slowly, carefully, so that I was aware of my feelings and thoughts. The molting process cannot be ignored, you see. And then suddenly it felt like I tore a really big hole in that tight, restrictive skin. I could breathe; I could see.
You know when Leslie is in a slump after the Harvest Festival? It goes SO WELL and then she can’t think of anything? She panics and stresses and blames others and freaks out and doesn’t sleep and tries to control everything. (Me as h*ll, by the way.) Finally, Ron locks her in a room and forces her to turn her brain off and sleep. When she wakes up she is refreshed, renewed, and returns with 1,000 great ideas. She’s rip roarin’ and ready to go.
That was me last week, and it felt like eating the most delicious bite of your favorite food – drawn out for several days. I felt a thrill. I felt satisfied. I felt comfortable and familiar. I felt excited and hopeful and fresh and valuable and best of all – I felt like Danica. I have the scribbled pages of legal pads and notebooks in every room of my house to prove it.
A few different things contributed to what I’m calling my Creative Retreat: the first was Reese having a nightmare at 4 am on Thursday morning. It’s rare and we were able to soothe her sad little nervous face back to sleep almost instantly, but for whatever reason I was just wiiiiiiiide awake. After trying unsuccessfully for about 45 minutes to go back to sleep, I decided to just get up and get some work done. The second inciting event was Reese puking the following morning. Terrified of the stomach flu that’s been making it’s vicious rounds in the community these last few weeks (including our extended family, with whom we’re basically always in contact), I immediately cancelled all my Friday plans and hunkered down for a day in bed.
I spent these two days as a sort of creative retreat. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I am and who I want to be. I took a lot of notes, made a shiz ton of lists. I browsed for ideas and inspiration. Created a new board. Texted friends and family about good and important things. Read and listened to uplifting things. I just completely retreated from the “real world” and used every second to think creatively.
Now, creative is not a word that has ever been used to describe me. I am a lot of things, but creative isn’t really one of them. But that’s the thing about molting – it’s creating a whole new skin, a whole new Danica. And I want to! I’m excited about it! Normally creating isn’t natural or easy for me, but this time it came naturally. It flowed, smooth and thick and strong.
I want to share this, even though it was very personal and humbling, because I really think it was a triumph. And because I wish I had done this a year ago. If you find yourself a burnt-out Leslie Knope, tired and disassociative and lost – maybe this creative retreat will work for you too. When you need to rejuvenate and restart and re-be-yourself – take a creative retreat.
My Creative Retreat
Get Ahead/Remove Daily Responsibilities
I think the biggest reason this was able to happen for me was because I made a strong effort to get ahead of all my work/chores/everything in preparation for General Conference. I had this strange epiphany that getting ahead makes it easier and more fun to ~stay ahead. My work was more fun when it wasn’t on a deadline. Chores felt like extra credit because I was doing them before they became gross or necessary. Removing the daily deadlines and requirements not only gave me the time I needed to dedicate to a creative retreat, but freed up so much mental space and energy. It’s hard to be creative when you just keep thinking about all the work you have to do. It’s easy to be creative when you suddenly have an entire day with nothing you ~have to do.
**If this means waking up early, staying up late, or saying no to plans or obligations – do it. Not for a whole week or anything, just a day or two will work. Get your hustle on to free up as much time as possible. It’s worth it.
For a creative retreat you are really going after some monumental change and vision. You’re not gonna get that if you do everything exactly as you’ve always done it. Ideally you will completely retreat from your life – physically, mentally, emotionally. If time, money, and toddlers weren’t factors I think the best possible situation would have been for me to go to a new city and get a hotel for a day or two or head to a cabin (but with wifi? idk). Obviously this isn’t a reality for most people, and that’s ok. My creative retreat literally took place entirely at home.
It’s more of a mental thing. By getting up at 4 am and “retreating” to my living room while the world slept around me, I was mentally removing myself from my normal, everyday life, even if it was unintentional at the time. Another thing I noticed from this creative retreat is that I resisted the urge to turn on the tv in the background. I spent time reading and listening to music and browsing Pinterest and reading blogs… I wasn’t bored. I just mentally committed to the tasks at hand. Yeah, Reese spent a lot of time watching Youtube on the iPad, too (hey! She was sick!). If you can set up some type of way to engage your kids or avoid plans, that’s how you can manufacture your own retreat.
Get Your “Molt” On
You kind of have to be ready and aware of what needs to “molt.” You can probably do that without having a month-long meltdown like me. Before you can think about your big creative remodel, you have to clear out all the crap. It doesn’t have to be negative, although it might be. Basically you need to know what you want to change. How does Point A look differently from Point B? Here are some things I thought about/made me feel awful/induced crying that also really helped me to launch into a productive creative retreat:
- Things that I feel embarrassed about or ashamed of
- Stuff I avoid – people, situations, obligations.
- Reasons people don’t like me or don’t want to be my friend
- Ways my blog doesn’t look, sound, or perform like I wish it did
- Things I wish I could change
- In what ways do you wish you were more like someone you admire?
- Preventative measures that would preclude future breakdowns/mistakes
- Areas that have remained unchanged for years – I truly believe everything should be improving most of the time, even if at an incremental pace
- Criticisms I’ve received – constructive or otherwise (be gentle with yourself and don’t put too much stock in these. But usually they hurt because they’re slightly true and something to improve upon. Just use it as a starting point.)
- When have you been your very best? How were you different then?
- What keeps you from going after that dream? From achieving that goal? From losing that weight? Identify road blocks.
- The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up helped SO MUCH. The fact that I did the KonMari method in the weeks leading up to this made my creative retreat possible.
This step should probably also include identifying and unfollowing people and accounts that make you feel bad, indulge the parts you want to “molt,” or otherwise don’t fit with who you want to become.
Find Your Mentor
I don’t mean your boss or a cool professor who you meet with once a month to review your personal progress. I mean someone who is equal parts inspiration and goals, who you can learn from on your own. Someone you genuinely admire, and who you’d like to be at least pretty similar to while still maintaining your own identity. You want to pick someone, or a small group of people, who you (secretly)(in your wildest dreams) think is your best self on steroids. Honestly this person should be either a “celebrity” or fictional, because I think it takes a lot of the comparison pressure off you. They don’t need to be perfect, and they shouldn’t be the exact mold of who you want to become. This world doesn’t need shot-for-shot remakes. This world needs YOU.
Pick a person or two with whom you really identify, and who you truly admire. Remember that they are either fictional (unrealistic) or a real person (not perfect) so you need to pick and choose the parts of them you want to emulate. Research them, follow them, learn about them, take notes! Figure out how they became that way. See how you can become more like them. If it’s a blogger – go through their archives, scour their site. If it’s a “celebrity” – follow them, read their books. If it’s a real life person – talk to them, email them, ask them questions. Write down or save the information you like – everything that makes you feel more creative and illustrates the picture of who you want to be.
For example, I spent nearly all of Friday watching videos and reading posts from The Alison Show. I’ve always been a casual fan and liked most of what she’s done, but this reinvention of myself has shown me how much I truly admire her and what she’s created. When I discovered her a few years ago it was abstract and not relatable to me, although entertaining. Now I find myself loving the idea of throwing parties and events, making courses, helping people feel awesome, and having a lot of unembarrassed fun. I think her dance videos and crafty stuff is cool, but that part doesn’t really apply to my reinvention, and that’s ok. I just tried to absorb as much of the stuff as I could that made me go “Yeah. H yeah. I want to do that. I want to be like ~that.”
Leslie Knope is my fictional one. She’s also helpful to me because many of her drawbacks are also mine – overbearing, steamrolling, overwhelming, obnoxious, self-righteous, etc. But the good stuff? Working SO hard. Caring SO much. Giving thoughtful and personalized gifts. Throwing kicka$$ parties. Having a reputation.
Find your “mentor.” Spend some time in your creative retreat dissecting this person and using them as positive inspiration. It can be things as simple as what they wear or as complex as how they’ve handled adversity. Whatever you want to emulate, notice.
Immerse Yourself in Inspiration
Reese was sick and sad, so I snuggled into bed with her on one side, my notebook on the other, and my laptop on my knees. I spent literal HOURS on the internet browsing basically everything. Pinterest is actually a super insightful window – I have spent years randomly pinning things I like. Friday I went through probably 75% of my boards. You start to notice trends of all types – things I didn’t realize I loved, things I tried hard to like because they were trendy, cool things that don’t really fit who I am, things I’ve outgrown. I edited ruthlessly and created an entirely new secret board which I creatively named “New Danica.” It has everything that looks and feels like the Danica I want to be, so there’s quotes, outfits, master bedrooms, artwork, product collages, makeup looks, everything. I also edited my boards ruthlessly, which felt awesome.
Create a new playlist with songs that make you feel like the ~you that you want to be. Cut things out of magazines. Online shop/browse. Check out a variety of different blogs. Google things. Search your Instagram Explore page and hashtags. I think I watched 30 different YouTube videos spread across 5 or 6 different topics. (Everyone should watch Alison’s How To Be Awesome series because it just really fit and directed my whole creative retreat vibe.) Follow blogs and Instagram accounts that inspire you!
You will know if you’re on the right track if you’re feeling super motivated to wear a cute outfit tomorrow or reorganize your pantry or call a friend or sew something. This step should make you feel energized and excited to be the new you.
Read a Self-Help Book
You had to know I was going to recommend that you read a book, right? I read #Girlboss in under 24 hours right before this creative retreat started. It spurred the whole thing, honestly. There are a billion self-help books out there. You just need to find the right one for you. My shift has gone from fashion and snark to helping people and building something useful – #Girlboss was the perfect book for me to read at this point. Do some research about self-help books. Ask around, read reviews, check Goodreads. Here are my recommendations:
Maybe you want to read something that will help you grow your small business. Maybe you’re in need of help in your marriage or with your kids. Maybe you’re experiencing a spiritual/existential crisis. Maybe you’ve lost your identity or confidence. I guarantee you there is a self-help book out there that could change your life for the better. Take the time to invest in yourself. Reading a self-help book is such a good way to have your own creative retreat.
Make an Improvement Plan that Excites/Scares You
It can’t stop here. Taking a day or two to sit on your couch and drink Diet Coke and browse Pinterest is literally the best. Despite Reese being sick, Friday was an incredible day for me. I took so many notes and wrote down power words and made a mood board and found inspiration for my blog design and style revamp. I felt like a completely new woman. But a Pinterest board doesn’t do all that much. You’ve gotta make a plan.
I found a few free ecourses to help me meet the goals I have for my blog. I subscribed to some podcasts that came highly recommended by creative and self-employed women I respect. I requested a few books and audiobooks to continue this reinvention. I wrote out some goals and tried to get as specific as I could about the steps and when I would accomplish them. I filmed a makeup video and started learning to use iMovie, even though the entire time my brain was screaming “YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING!!!” I did it. It scared me and it was exciting. That’s how you know this creative retreat is working.
I have a long way to go. I don’t have all the puzzle pieces of that girl I want to be put together. Browsing the internet for an entire day can be a total waste of time, of course. But I’m here to tell you that after a hard year, a hard month, and a hard week all stacked on top of one another – I was ready to reinvent and rejuvenate. This so-called creative retreat allowed me the space and freedom to disengage for a while. Just long enough to catch a vision of what I want, what I can become.
I may not seem to be changing, or you may notice a revolution in me. But I have found a way out of this silly spiral and I’m emerging with fresh breath and renewed energy. I’ve got plans and ideas and a stronger sense of self-possession than I think I’ve ever enjoyed before.
Thanks for being there for me, guys. I really mean it. Your support, friendship, and kind words have meant more to me in these past months than you have any way of knowing. I love you guys and hope to become a better version of me that bugs you a little less. I’ll still bug you. Just… less.