An eager, young and wide-eyed interior design student, I sat through class after class digesting hours of design principles, color theory, space planning, human factors, the history of textiles and psychology of design; learning to delineate good vs. bad design (yes, there is a difference!); and identifying best practices in an effort to create environments for future clients that would speak to the core of their personalities and enhance the aesthetic quality of their day-to-day lives. The Frank Lloyd Wright lover in me was completely engaged. I worshipped Architectural Digest and Interior Design magazine and dreamed of being a featured designer. I loved a good DIY, thrift-shopping, and accepted any repurposing challenge. I was one of those college students who actually liked to go to class. A 20-minute walk in Downtown Pittsburgh at 7am? Sign me up. Gothic architecture against the modernity of a well-planned city with a design-centric vibe spoke to me; was—and still is—balm to my soul. As my parents sent me off to college, I can only assume their greatest relief was no longer coming home from a weekend trip to a dismantled family room, half-removed wallpaper in the bathroom, or constantly rearranged furniture.
It wasn’t glamorous, but I loved it
As the not-so-glamorous days of hand-drafting and model building (read: chipped manicures and lots of band-aids) drew to a close, I had developed such a love for human-centered design and the initial phases of that sort of work—development, schematics, specification—which lends itself well to commercial interior design. I knew, however, in my heart of hearts that my passion was working with residential clients. I spent my childhood drafting floor plans and redecorating my bedroom way too often. For me, there’s something deeply gratifying about creating an intimate space for clients that is both lived in and loved.
I’ve been fortunate to work on projects with some truly dynamic homeowners and, admittedly, am still equally as fulfilled spending my days immersed in the same principles and theories as in my earlier days. Equally left- and right-brained, I find solstice with everything in its beautiful little place. After all, the end goal for every project of my professional career is to make spaces and environments look and function in beautiful tandem. In fact, until a few years ago, I’d tell you it was that very work—my design of a space, my professional contribution—that left my clients with a beautiful, inviting home.
But then I became a mom.
Overnight it seemed, all those beautiful spaces—living rooms, kitchens, baths and bedrooms—the ones I designed for my clients and the ones I designed for my own home, they were all suddenly filled with baby gear clutter, and became the antithesis of a well-designed space. I quickly learned that laundry multiplied so fast it became a semi-permanent design staple, covering all the beautiful hardwood floors and woven rugs I loved so much. Somehow everything was eternally sticky, and all my thoughtful organization was undone after each and every 10-minute shower. (After 8 years of motherhood, this is still a phenomenon I’m trying to wrap my head around.) Our once beautifully-curated home was all-at-once an absolute mess.
With each passing year, that mess evolved into sweet memories I wouldn’t trade for the world: our flour-covered kitchen where I, with my sweet little toddler and her bouncing blonde curls baked our first cut-out cookies; the oil pastel stain on my favorite upholstered chair where my daughter so graciously demonstrated her newly-acquired art skills; the worn out spot on my favorite throw pillow that held both of our heads as we napped together… these were the beautiful design elements I have never been able to replicate or deliver for my clients; the elements that truly define beauty within a home.
I learned there is beauty in the mess
Looking back, I have such an appreciation for my parents as they navigated parenthood and saw beauty in the mess of my childhood. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see the same in my home with my two children, and that I am able to connect with my clients in a way that is far more mindful, aware, and humble than before I was a mom. I can design and deliver a well-curated space within any four walls, but the true beauty comes from the life, mess, and memories made within, and that’s something you can’t sketch on paper.
Mom and Dad, if you’re reading: the education I received during my first few years of motherhood is by far and away more valuable and meaningful than the post-secondary education we’re still paying for. Above all, I’m grateful you appreciate that, too. All in the name of a beautiful home, right?
I love animals, and as a little girl I dreamed of a career doing what I love, caring for animals as a veterinarian. Today though, I’m not a veterinarian.
Fast forward 30+ years and I find myself the owner of a small business in my hometown and I love my life.
I’ve learned that life isn’t what we plan, it becomes a journey with changes at every turn. I’d planned one career, but it didn’t turn out as I expected. I fell in love, and of course that seldom goes as planned. And then there were surprises, sometimes wonderful ones in the form of unexpected opportunities. My journey has had many UPS and DOWNS and many surprises. Thankfully, what my parents instilled in me was to be true to myself, stay positive and keep an open mind.
As I attended the 1st Women’s Showcase at the Renaissance Theatre last month, I took a moment to reflect on where I have come from, where I am and how I got here.
The women in my small town love to help each other, nurture, and support each other. As a small business owner, you are challenged to be competitive and successful. When you have a strong network, that in my case includes family and friends, as well as many women, anything is possible. I appreciate the fact that I can ask another professional woman for help with an issue in my business or personal life and she will help me or help guide me to the right person to help me. I love the way women nurture and care for each other, and yes it happens in business.
Owning a business can be scary, and it’s nice to know you are not alone. I can also count on my network to remind me to stay mentally and physically healthy. From my observation, women tend to care for others before themselves, often leaving us stressed, depressed, and or anxious.
The Women’s Showcase offered business solutions and opportunities, health and beauty solutions networking, time for us. It was a reason to come together and celebrate our success and share what we do and love! It also helped me realize that I didn’t have to become a veterinarian to find a career that I truly loved.
As I mentioned, I have had many challenges in owning a business and have had a few partners. I hope you can join me November 25, 2015, 8-9a at My Town Partners office at 31 E 4th Street to discuss “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” of Partnerships. As we meet the day before Thanksgiving, I appreciate the fact that we can again be reminded of the network in our community and give thanks!
Mary K. Bolin is Graduate of Lexington High School and North Central State College. She has worked in the staffing industry for 29 years. Mary has two grown children, Alex and Maggie, and a grandson Nash. I love the community and have been involved in many non-profit boards and fundraising events. Currently, Mary is the board President of United Way of Richland County. and the Director of the staffing division at Temp2Higher, of N.E.C.I.C. Mary enjoys reading, golf, the beach and anytime she can be with her family. Her favorite challenge is finding solutions for our community.
In March of 2013 Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg’s much anticipated book, Lean In, hit bookstore shelves. I’d followed the buzz and clamored to the bookstore to get my copy right away. I was hoping that this highly successful woman would have the insight I needed, but alas I was underwhelmed. In the end I forged my own path and I decided to Lean Out.
Our workplaces are broken
Sandburg did quote statistics most women already know about the inequities in the workplace, and struggles that women face. She did share some of her own personal challenges with candor. I can’t disagree with any of the problems she presented, but I certainly noticed some glaring omissions.
I’ve lived a ton of clichés. I’ve worked the same job as men for significantly less pay (I made 1/3 to be exact). I’ve had bosses hit on me, or even worse try to force me to date their friends (isn’t that tantamount to prostitution?) I once found out that a young man, with no education or experience, who was an assistant manager reporting to me, was in fact being paid MORE than me. And then there was the time my employer tried to deny my maternity leave and when I “Leaned In” and stood up for myself they started building a case to fire me. I could go on, but suffice it to say, I know this is a man’s world.
However you look at it, my own career simply hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped it would. In fits and starts I’d poured myself, my WHOLE self into job after job, and over and over I’d hit walls, glass ceilings, or dead ends. No matter how hard I worked, how much I cared, how desperately I chased achievement and produced remarkable results, in the end I was depleted, unappreciated, and often looking for another job.
The mentor myth
Where Sandburg really went off the rails was in a chapter titled, Are you my mentor? Once you weed through the litany of humble brags and whatnot you find that successful women like Sandburg don’t want to be bothered with peons asking for mentorship. Her advice is to just plug away and work hard, somehow your mentor will just magically show up, after all, that’s what happened for her. It’s good to be Sheryl.
Funny thing is, that’s exactly what I’d been doing my whole life and my mentor had never come. Was something wrong with me? Of course not, ask ANY woman and they’ll tell you that mentors don’t fall out of the sky.
So what do we do?
Sandburg talks a lot about “Leaning In.” The idea feels a lot like victim-blaming, but basically she suggests women stand up for themselves, be assertive, and advocate on their own behalf. That’s nice, but I didn’t need a book to tell me that, I’d been standing up for myself for quite some time and it hadn’t really panned out in the ways Sandburg seemed to think it should.
In my experience “Leaning In” was a sure-fire way to find myself out of a job. My elusive mentor probably wasn’t going to show up any time soon, and I was at an all-time low.
Then I got a message from an acquaintance (who later became a friend and mentor.) “Maybe it’s time you start something of your own?” she said; and so I did.
Around the same time another book was published. David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell, and it was just the inspiration I needed. In this book Gladwell makes the case that meaningful social change seldom happens from within, rather, the misfits, underdogs, and marginalized make the greatest impact from without, when they can play by different rules.
This became my formula. If the system is broken, why am I trying to be a part of it? Why try to fit where I obviously don’t? Why should I keep setting myself up to fail?
I decided to Lean Out, and for me that took the form of entrepreneurship. I started my own business, and did it my way, on my terms. That means people first, the profits will follow, and above all else, building everything I do on a foundation of loving-kindness.
You know what? I’ve never been happier.
One of the first things I did when I founded Tog Loft was write a manifesto. This was serious business for me, because it is the foundation of everything that I do. I’ve always lived and worked with purpose, but often found myself at cross-purposes with the organizations of my employ. Never again is my life and work out of alignment with my values, and for me that is a beautiful thing.
The Tog Loft Manifesto
every living thing deserves to be treated with dignity and respect
We want to live in a world where
cooperation and sustainability is our way of life
What we know for sure is
entrepreneurship and the arts are powerful catalysts for change
Your voice matters
You bring something wonderful into this world by being you
Tog Loft is developing space
Developing photographers, community, and entrepreneurship
Tracy loves people, small businesses, and the local movement. She’s passionate about seeing other people succeed, which is why she splits her time between her marketing agency, Graziani Multimedia, and her startup, Tog Loft. She’s also a mom, wife, daughter, friend, artist, writer, and doer of impossible things. She believes in infinite possibility, so look out, she’s dangerous.