The Doldrums


Pictured: “happy us” illustration for a new promotional postcard
drawn during Step #2, below

There’s a region around the equator where the Northern and Southern hemispheres’ winds meet and seesaw between severe storms and complete calm. For a sailing ship powered completely by wind, storms make for rough going, but at least they’re still moving; complete calm leaves the boat floating dead as driftwood. This is the historical nautical term “the doldrums,” which eventually came to describe a state of inactivity, stagnation, and listlessness.

We love sailing metaphors not only because they’re cool and are integral to our brand, but also because they’re remarkably appropriate for the life of the freelancer. In this case: no matter how accurate your charted course, no matter how keenly you watch the skies, sometimes you still get to that place where the winds die down. Since October of last year, we’ve gradually watched our client list dwindle and budgets tighten, and it hit us yesterday like a cargo of guano after we filed taxes when we realized how little wind we’ve been working with all along. Here’s how we dealt with it:

1. Freak out and question everything.

We had a nice, long rant session and laid it all out. What are we doing? Where are we going? What are we going to do? Why do we suck?

2. Grab your bootstraps and get back to basics.

We decided to take Neil Gaiman’s advice and just make good art. We wrote positive reminders on a piece of paper and stuck them to the wall: Stay simple. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t Complicate. Do what you know. Then we drew for a good while.

3. Get a cup of tea and count blessings.

Meanwhile, we grabbed some cuppas and talked about what we’re thankful for. It’s amazing what a stink of a mood will do to make you forget what you’ve been given.

4. Go for a walk in nature.

The second wave of exasperation hit after we’d been drawing for a while, so we got out of the house and went on a walk in the woods by the river, talking all the way. We’ve learned: don’t vent too much indoors—it’ll bounce off the walls and come back to you.

5. Laugh and get some sleep.

We ate a big dinner, watched 8 episodes of Big Bang Theory and had a good time at laughing along with other peoples’ frustrations, and then got a good night’s sleep.

When the doldrums got bad enough, the men on a sailing ship had to tie the lifeboats to the ship and row, breaking their backs to make depressingly slow progress until the wind resumed. It’s just what they had to do to get where they wanted to go. We love what we do, we know where we want to go, and we’re in it for the long haul (and it’s too late to quit and turn back), so we’re moving forward… wind or not.

2 thoughts on “The Doldrums

  1. Great entry! Love the frank honesty and good advice. So often on blogs we only see people’s “highlight reels” as if somehow everyone is living these perfect, problem-free lives.

    I’m sure you two will be just fine. We were in this almost exact predicament about two years ago but our company’s lowest point was followed by “a shift in the winds” with two of our biggest orders to date.

    Not claiming to have all the answers, but if you ever want to chat about the crazy world of freelance illustration and online shops, feel free to drop us a line. Good luck to you both 🙂

    – Omar

    1. Thanks, Omar! That means a lot to hear from you… you and Jen have spectacular work. It sometimes feels dicey to publicly put out a full range of emotions as a freelancer/business owner, but at the same time, it just felt right to do it in a professional manner. Makes you come off more like real people, you know? We both agree big-time about the “highlight reel effect.”

      That said, thanks for the words of encouragement! If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s all about grit and determination. You two are another great example! We actually do have a question for you, so expect another e-mail in your inbox soon. In the meantime, best of luck and blessings on adjusting to your move! Way to be gutsy and just go for it!

      Joel (& Ashley)

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