Balancing Acts: Being Your Own Boss

Introducing Featured Artist: Joan Rekemeier

by Lisa Cadigan

Magic for Brooke

Joan took this photo at a benefit for Brooke Healey, a four-year-old girl from our home town, who has been diagnosed with a rare brain tumor called a DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma). Funds raised at the benefit go toward helping Brooke’s family with her medical expenses, as many of them will not be covered by insurance. To learn more about how you can help, click on the photo.

“YOU are not the BOSS of ME!”

This is a zinger my children launch at each other with some frequency. Occasionally, they will fling it at me, at which point I have to remind myself that although it is my job to guide them, and I do expect them to follow our household rules, they are absolutely right.  Regardless of what I am asking them to do, they always have a choice as to whether or not they will do it.  Each choice offers its own set of consequences, but the choice is theirs.  This is a lesson I hope to instill in them early. Ultimately, we are all our own bosses, responsible for an infinite number of choices every day, large and small.  It’s an important lesson to learn, because I believe it is one of the keys to creating a balanced, happy life.

I can think of a myriad of examples of how taking ownership of one’s choices cultivates balance and peace, but the most obvious place to start is with work and family.  When I first started this freelance design gig in 2001, I hadn’t yet figured out how to be my own boss.  My inclination was to allow my clients to “be the boss of me.” I was a “yes-girl,” agreeing to take on every project that crossed my desk, because I was thinking to myself,

“How can I turn down the income?”

“What if no one else ever wants to hire me after this?”

By 2002, I also had a new baby who needed me to say, “Yes, I know it’s time to feed you,” and “Yes, of course I want to play with you,” and “Yes, I know you need clean clothes,” etc., etc.  It didn’t take long to figure out that saying “yes” to everyone left me stressed and anxiety-ridden.  At work, I ended up taking on more projects at one time than I could handle, taking more time on each project than I should, and allowing unexpected expenses to crop up, none of which was cost effective.  Not to mention, the work was no longer a fun and creative way to make a living – it was something stressful I was trying to squeeze in while simultaneously learning to be a mother, a job that by its very nature throws your equilibrium for a loop.  After a few periods of being completely overwhelmed, I started learning to write better contracts, set limits and say, “No.”  (Or at least “No, thank you.” I do try to remember to be kind, after all).  But I learned it was OK to turn down work if my plate was already full, which, by the way, is not such a bad problem to have.

Saying “no” helped me acknowledge myself as more than just my job description. I am not just a graphic designer – I am a wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter, and above all else, a human being who needs to take care of herself in order to function in all of these other roles.  It is the balanced combination of these things that make a life of contentment and satisfaction possible, hopefully most of the time.  Ironically, learning to say “no” made me even more attractive to prospective clients (a person in demand is always more attractive – we humans love a chase).  No one needed to know that the reason I was “booked until August” was because I had kids home for summer vacation who require supervision at the pool.  Miraculously, there has always been more work from which to choose in the fall.

When I decided to strike out on my own, I was extremely fortunate to have had time to plan for the transition. I am also married to a wonderful, supportive man who is employed full-time at a job with good benefits.  I don’t for one second take these things for granted.  I recognize that not everyone shares my position in that regard.  However, I do stand by the idea that we still always have choices.

For featured artist Joan Rekemeier, striking out on her own didn’t feel as much like a premeditated choice. Whereas I leapt from the cliff after a lot of deliberation and a few practice flights, Joan was launched unexpectedly.  In December of 2012, she had returned to work after a three-month maternity leave for her second child, only to find that her position was no longer available.  She had to quickly choose between taking a demotion or taking a leap.  She bravely leapt.

Joan Rekemeier There are never any photos of the photographer, are there? Not able to find another headshot to share for this essay, Joan says that this picture says a lot about who she is anyway.

There are never any photos of the photographer, are there? Not able to find another head shot to share for this essay, Joan says that this self-portrait says a lot about who she is.

A graduate of the University of Vermont’s studio art program, Joan is a brilliant photographer, who loves painting and sculpture, and most recently has delved into creative furniture re-upholstery.  She also has a fantastic sense of humor (the photo to the left is the only one she could find of herself, but we thought it was a good visual example of how a person can constantly re-define herself in the quest for balance).

“The Mayan end of the world stories didn’t feel so far-fetched to me in December,” she told me with a laugh.  She looks back just a few short months and remembers a time of jarring transformation. Not only was she taking on the challenges of mothering a second child and the family stresses that can surface during that transition, but as a working mom who enjoyed being a working mom, she was suddenly at home with two small children, trying to find the time to launch a business.  She was attempting to edit photos, set up a website and Etsy shop, and reupholster furniture, all during naptime.  A balancing act, indeed.  And it wasn’t just for fun – as the spouse who formerly provided her family with benefits, she needed to bring in some money.  The dust is still settling.

She started with photography.  Despite a nervous energy underlying her creative endeavor to pay the bills, Joan has been pleased to find that her newest paying job is also a source of little pockets of “break-time” from mothering two small boys:

“At a (photo) session, I am aware of the people I am photographing, but it’s when I’m home editing that I am suddenly moved by the beauty I’ve captured. I don’t know if all of my subjects are just stunningly beautiful (probably) or if photography allows me to see an even deeper beauty within. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.  But this is the feeling that moves me,” she says.   It is not a feeling she remembers experiencing at the pharmaceutical marketing company where she spent eight years.  It is a feeling that drives her to continue the pursuit of her creative passions.

“I shoot families and pets and babies and little looks and quirky kid smiles and laughter and silliness. And I capture the connections that keep us going day in and day out. These are the things that make me smile, when I am sitting by myself in front of my computer. And they remind me to soak in my own connections; to be conscious of them, appreciate them, and love them with every little piece of me.”

Here are just a few of the beautiful connections Joan has captured with her work:




It’s not a bad gig when work becomes a break.  In that way, Joan and I are a lot alike.  We both try to focus on things that have deep meaning for us while making the world a little better, and trusting that the rest of the details will work themselves out.  Everyone needs time to feed her soul, but it’s really terrific if you can earn money to feed your family at the same time.  I am confident in the continued success of Joan’s endeavors.

Balance in life is a constant work in progress. The message here is not that everyone needs to quit his or her job and become an entrepreneur or a stay-at-home parent – the message is that we need to listen to our instincts in both the big and little decisions we face each day, and focus on doing what feels like the next right thing.  That little voice may be telling you to make a big job change, or it may just be telling you to let the voicemail answer calls that come after 6 p.m.  It may be telling you to go back to school, or it may be telling you to just slow down enough to allow your kids to be your teachers in the moments you are with them.  This is your life.  Right now.  Imagine it as a beautiful work of art, and then enjoy each step it takes to create it.  You are the boss.

You can find more of Joan’s photography on her website or on her Facebook page.  You can also purchase signed prints at her Etsy shop.  Sittings are by appointment. If you have other questions or are interested in custom furniture reupholstery, contact her here.

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4 comments on “Balancing Acts: Being Your Own Boss

  1. lunette ray ban on said:

    Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work.

  2. Carol Cook on said:

    Love this article!! Joan is really talented!

  3. lisa on said:

    I want to thank everyone who has commented on this article – I am so pleased to be getting such a positive response. For some reason, I am receiving email notifications that your comments were submitted, but they are not appearing on the blog. We are working to resolve this issue, and I hope you will keep reading and keep commenting. In the meantime, please feel free to visit us on Facebook and leave your feedback there:

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