(Photo: Courtesy of Lara Dalinsky)
Lara Dalinsky lives the type of artistic life that creatives dream of. Through her job as art director for the branding firm Belmont Inc., in Alexandria, Va., Lara is able to apply her artistic design skills every day in order to help people and organizations share their story with the world. Lara also works on additional freelance design projects, and fulfills her penchant for travel writing as the founding editor and creative director for the independent travel site enroutetraveler.com. What began as a passion project has allowed her to become a trusted source for destination expertise as well as a local DC-area travel expert for AFAR – a media company dedicated to experiential travel. If that’s not enough, she spends her spare time instructing high-energy Zumba and practicing yoga.
When I think of what a “good life” looks like, I see a lot of what Lara has cultivated for herself – enjoyable work, fulfilling hobbies, and carving out time for traveling and fun adventures. It’s sometimes difficult to create the kind of life where artistic living takes center stage, and we don’t always see the ups and downs that people go through to get there. I’m lucky enough to get to talk to Lara often as her office-mate in our shared workspace, and I wondered how she’s been able to build her creative life and bounce back from mistakes she’s made on the journey. She was gracious enough to offer these wonderful insights.
How did you start in graphic design and travel writing? How do the two things work together for you?
As a child I was always making things and expressing myself, mostly in the forms of pictures, dance, and music, but never thought about making a career out of it. I also have the type of mind that loves to figure things out and put things in order. I went to a liberal arts college and started taking drawing classes the second semester of my freshman year. It instantly became my favorite class and I naturally excelled at it. After talking to some professors and researching the art program, I realized I could pursue a career in design to marry both my love of art and problem solving.
In elementary school, my mother worked as a flight attendant and would whisk my sister and I away on trips around the world, opening my eyes to new cultures and perspectives. My zeal for travel bled into adulthood. Many of my friends enjoyed seeing my travel photography and asked me for recommendations or to plan trips for them. I decided to tackle writing – even though it is very much outside of my comfort zone – by starting my website, En Route Traveler. It provides articles, stories and tips geared toward independent travelers.
Writing travel guides is similar to design in that both require me to organize information. The difference is that one method is language-based and the other is more visual. I’m also drawn to design and travel because they both deal with experiencing and processing the world around us.
What led you to dedicate yourself to living a life of creativity?
I chose my career path because I believe that design can elevate people’s lives. The desire to make things and fulfill our potential is what has helped mankind evolve. It is our ingenuity that separates us from other species.
There’s a misconception that creativity only pertains to the arts when, in actuality, it’s the ability to connect the dots and innovate in any industry. It’s a shame that creativity is a skill that is not nurtured more in school across all subjects and that as adults, we’re not encouraged to play more. Grownups are so worried about getting it right that we become scared to experiment and make mistakes, denying ourselves the room for improvement.
Was there a time when you made a mistake on your creative journey? How did you bounce back?
Many of my mistakes didn’t come from saying the wrong thing, but not saying anything at all. I have committed to freelance design projects in the past where I undervalued myself by not charging enough or agreeing to work on a project that I knew was not a good fit. I thought that if I turned down offers, nobody else would want to work with me. This has resulted in situations where I overstretched myself, didn’t enjoy the work, and ended up feeling stressed and resentful.
It’s an ongoing process, but I’ve learned how to gracefully say “no” and charge what I’m worth. Many people assume that because my job is fun that I’d do it for free, but they’d never expect that of other professionals like accountants or lawyers. When I don’t have the time or desire to work on a particular job, I now tell my clients that I can’t take it on because I wouldn’t give it the attention it deserves (and then usually try to refer them to someone else). I was surprised the first time I tried this approach – I regretfully had to refuse a travel-writing gig and my contact thanked me for being honest and respectful of his time. Now, when I put together estimates, I outline all the behind-the-scenes effort and highlight the value of the finished product. This helps the client understand how much time and thought goes into my work.
What advice would you give artists and changemakers who are trying to bounce back from a mistake?
Here are a few valuable lessons that I’ve learned over my career:
- Mistakes help us grow. Remember that mistakes are wisdom in disguise and we all make them. If you mess up, it’s an opportunity to assess your actions and learn what could be done better the next time. This Michael Jordan quote is used often, but makes a strong point: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” It may feel like failure at the time, but really you’re gaining valuable experience.
- Realize it may take a few tries. Sometimes when I’m stuck on a problem, it may take a few times to get it right. We may make mistakes, take a different path the next time and discover it’s still not the correct one. You can’t beat yourself up—you have to move on. If you keep trying, at least you’re going somewhere new. If you don’t, you end up stuck somewhere you don’t want to be.
- Talk to your peers or mentors. When faced with a challenge, it always helps to go to your peers or mentors for advice and a fresh perspective. They may have already faced a similar situation and have valuable suggestions. Plus, it’s always comforting to feel validated and understood.
What’s the dream for Lara Dalinsky?
I have many and am already living some of them! I hope to keep growing and exploring my creative avenues. For example, I’m starting to dabble in video so I can post travel tips and guides to YouTube. I’d love to live abroad for a while, and there are always new parts of the world I want to discover. I would like to dedicate more time to En Route Traveler, not just to feature my work but to continue building a community of like-minded travelers and showcase the work of other talent. It would be great to build enough of a reputation that I could find sponsors who would want to send us on adventures. Finally, I would like to do some type of volunteer work that helps people unlock their creativity and realize their own potential.