With the echo of my husband’s unexpected words "You are never happy anyway" still ringing in my ears, I was taken aback by the sight of a bitter and resentful face staring at me – could the person in the mirror really be me? I had seen the same expression on the face of the women of my family too many times before.
Who had I become and where had the bundle of joy I used to be gone? Had my mum undergone the same transformation? Could this be passed on to my then 3-year-old daughter?
I knew at once that something had to change. And fast.
My friends and relatives were wondering what was wrong with me. Hadn’t I already tried to follow a crazy dream and left a stellar marketing job to pursue an independent design career – only to run back into the safety of the corporate world after a crash course in the harsh reality of the creative sector?
Why could I not accept that the life I was living was the best I could get?
I had a beautiful family and a beautiful life in a beautiful city. And after my failed creative experiment, I had easily found another high-flying job in another high-flying marketing agency for another high-flying client… did I not see how lucky I was?
I did. I really did.
But I also felt like I was wearing a mask that didn’t fit me anymore, pretending to care about things I didn’t care about anymore. I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do but I knew how I needed to feel – I needed to feel more like my Self.
On that very same day, I looked at my life with an honest eye and immediately understood what needed to change. It did not take one single moment to change my life nor to understand what to change. On that very same day, I wished I could magic myself into a new me but all I could do was just to start to take the very first confused step towards discovering who I was.
It was time to find my supportive tribe
To be honest, I was so lost I did not know where to start. I went on a hunt for clues and inspiration everywhere I could think of – in places (I have always been sensitive to their transformational power), books (I quickly moved from self-development skeptic to self-development junkie!) and people (who and how had already ventured off the beaten path).
Early in my search, I stumbled across DrivenWoman and immediately felt that there was something very special in the coming together of women ready to share hopes and laughter, obstacles and tears. Those monthly meetings soon became an important part of my journey - sometimes a safe space and a new idea is all you need to pick yourself up again.
I had identified my problem, found a supporting tribe and committed to my journey. Then what? All hell broke loose and I fell in a roller-coaster of feelings (both good and bad), people (encounters mostly wonderful and always insightful) and tools (some resonating more than others).
I quit a career that no longer was true and adventured as an independent designer and artist.
This is how it looked on the outside...
I quit my marketing job and walked my way back into creativity – from having zero local experience or connections I was soon freelancing as a designer for renowned cultural institutions (such as the Design Museum and the V&A); and then became the founder and creative director of Immuto, an art collective now based at the Somerset House. Our debut sensory and immersive installation launched successfully in London last June and we are now being invited to bring it to Helsinki and Tokyo. And now I finally take my painting practice seriously and have enrolled in an accredited fine art training program.
And on the inside...
In hindsight, it seems evident that in the summer of 2015 I was imploding because I was forbidding myself to let my creativity out. However, I had to go through quite some bumps before I could understand, accept and act on this simple truth.
If I had to write it all in a few lines, I would say that I have learned and I am still practicing to:
1) Trust and act on my dreams
Baby-step after baby-step I have come to believe that if a dream comes to me again and again (despite all my best efforts to dismiss it as ridiculous or unpractical), it is because I'm meant to walk towards it. The dream may change as I progress, but the initial direction will prove to be the right one. I have also discovered that proceeding baby-step after baby-step is usually the best way forward and that obsessing about giant steps can be a form of self-sabotage.
2) Walk through my fears
There is a famous children riddle that goes at every turn: "We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it!". I have found it to be the same with my fears – they inevitably get triggered when I make a move towards my dreams and there is no way of getting over or under them… I’ve got to go through them. I now know that, if my fears go wild, more likely than not I am on the right track and I allow myself no change of plans.
3) Accept the cycle
I love the rush of adrenaline I get in the midst of action… so when things seem to get stagnant, I tend to stubbornly try to get things moving even when they cannot. However, when I look backward, I understand how every single pause I experienced was essential – to either recharge or realign. And so when things seem to slow down, I now check with myself if it is a call for me to rest or re-assess. And then I pray one of my favourite prayers "God, give me patience… but hurry up!"
4) Ask for help
I used to think that I should be able to figure things out on my own. Or that I should at the very least explore on my own all possible solutions before asking for as little help as possible. Somehow that seemed the right and honourable thing to do, like there was a special medal for the ones who asked no help. I have now learned that the real gold is in asking myself ‘Is there anybody or anything else that could help me with this?’ – as I gratefully set about making the next step of my journey as comfortable as I possibly can.
Three years ago I looked at myself in the mirror and decided that it was time to change. Today, I feel that with every new step I take I am just letting go of another unnecessary layer and that the true name of the game is not Self-development but Self-discovery.
I don’t know what is next, but I can’t wait to find out.
Fracesca Lando is a DrivenWoman member in London and founder of Immuto collective.