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try risk crop

You Don’t Need Permission

Adapted from previously published chapter in the book The Adventure of an Ingenious Life

You don’t need permission. Find what makes you happy, what drives you, and do it. Every day. Follow wherever it leads you.

I am a smartist. I took my childhood urge to make things and turned it into a thriving career as an artist and designer.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re on the right path until you are far enough along to look back. I never wanted to do anything other than make things and I never could have planned the trajectory that got me here. Looking back, of course it was right, it worked.

Twenty-seven years ago, at the age of twenty-five, I took a risk and became a self-employed graphic designer. There was no big plan, I just thought that I could work fewer hours and have more time and resources for my art.

I didn’t have a goal of being a designer or being self-employed. I didn’t even know what graphic design was when I started my degree, and I certainly didn’t know I’d be building websites. Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the Internet, and we didn’t yet have home computers. I was not focused on any particular outcome. I just knew I wanted to make things, so I worked at it and followed the opportunities as they arose.

celebrate a life made poetic


“Whenever you read this, and wherever you are, you are in the right place to begin.” ~ Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

I see many in my peer group (50-ish) thinking about what’s next. Some are contemplating side hustles to catch up on retirement savings. Some want to build that side gig into a full time business after they leave their current job. Others have been forced out of their long time careers and are eager to find something new. Still others are tired and unfulfilled by what they’ve been doing and are ready for something more meaningful, more in alignment with their passions.

If this is you, I encourage you to cash in on your experience. By now you have a strong network and relationships you can use to your advantage. You can do it.

“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” ~ Steven Pressfield, War of Art

Don’t give in to your fears. All entrepreneurs live with fear. Don’t let it become the obstacle denying you the things you want most. What are we really afraid of anyway?  Commitment to a new venture and the loss of freedom that it might entail? That being successful might mean you lose the life you know? Is it the shame you’ll experience if you fail?  Here’s a good article about this which you may want to check out: Fear and Entrepreneurship: The Psychology of What Scares Us.


An unconventional path

“Our job in our lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

When we played after school, my younger brother would suggest a game or shooting baskets, and I’d say “No. Let’s make something!” There it was, already: my inner voice declaring my reason for being.

Afternoons and weekends were filled with after-school art classes, and helping my dad with projects. Anything I’d find in the garage was fair game to be turned into something. My family laughingly recounts that for my tenth birthday, they gave me a kid-size workbench complete with kid-size tools—just what every little Jewish girl wants!

It was a given that I’d go to college. A gifted honor student, everyone assumed law or medical school was in my future. I chose art school. I don’t know how, but I had an innate knowing that what made me me was my need to make things. Being a doctor or lawyer is a fine profession, but would I be happy? What fulfilled me and made me special was my talent and drive to create, and I needed to follow it.

Earning my BFA in graphic design & photography at the University of Michigan led to series of related jobs, and ultimately the founding of my own studio. Being my own boss has allowed me to spend my days how I want, working when I want, and with whom. And it rocks.

Author Susan Cain says  “We often confuse skills with our true nature.”

I think this is how we end up in careers we may be good at but find unfulfilling.


experiment in motivation

Whatever it is that lights you up — Do that!

According to the SBA, “A growing number of workers age 50-plus are turning interests, hobbies or skills into a small business.  Whether you are interested in starting a small business right away or are intending to wait until after retirement, now is the time to explore the possibilities.” It’s never been easier.

I’m interested in doing great work with exceptional people.  If you are too, let’s talk!

I got this

“Trust the soup. Start before you’re ready.”
~Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

I don’t always know what I am doing. Don’t tell, but sometimes I just wing it.

Having not done something before doesn’t stop me from taking it on. I find inertia (and deadlines) helps me overcome my fears around trying new things. Just start before fear and resistance can stop you. You can learn by doing and research as things come up. You can always bring in reinforcements if you get in over your head.

Over the last twenty-seven years, there have been lots of changes in both the media and the technology we use in the graphics industry. Much of what we do today didn’t exist when I went to school — websites, on-demand digital printing, mobile apps, etc. You can find the information you need and learn as you go. You have to start somewhere. If you keep at it, you will build a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Adopt an I don’t know, but I’ll find out attitude. In high school I learned some basic hand-painted lettering techniques—sadly, a lost art today. I was just OK at it, but when a local record store was looking for someone to hand-paint some signs, I jumped right in thinking, Hell yeah, I got this! I worked hard, did well, and developed an ongoing relationship with the store.

In college, I approached the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum with a poster I designed as a class assignment. They printed and used it—my first printed piece. Then they asked for standing signs for various exhibits. Again, I had never done it before, but after some trial and error (and a sprained wrist) they turned out great.

One day I answered the phone in the Univ. of Michigan School of Art photo lab and ended up shooting still images for a documentary film about the life of Marjorie Post, daughter of cereal magnate C.W. Post. It required using a 4×5 view camera and copy stand we set up inside a rare archive room. We didn’t know how to do this, but we found out, and we did it.

Each of these early experiences built my confidence and pushed me forward. Were these scenarios scary and stressful? Of course, but you can always find help if you need it. Don’t be afraid to fail. You have to try, and stick with it. If you’re not good at something, work at it and sometimes you get better. Some things you master; some not so much, so you’ll gravitate toward something else. This is how we meander on our paths, or at least that is how it seems to work for me.

The Smartist Way logo stacked

The Smartist Way

Getting started is often one of the hardest parts. We find ourselves getting ready to get ready, or working on the wrong things. There are so many tasks, that we try to clear the list of small things instead of working on those that really make a difference. And sometimes we don’t even know which things are the ones that will make a difference. How do we identify those that yield 10x vs 10% impact? Better still, how do we eliminate much of our list to begin with?

Most small businesses share a few common goals: Be seen as an authority (stand out), Get more leads and opportunities, get new customers (make more money). Seems pretty simple and straightforward, right? Why, then, does marketing feel so hard and overwhelming?

The problem is that the way most of us approach marketing is like drinking from a fire hydrant.

We start “doing all the things” everyone else is doing, or telling us to do, and next thing you know we are spending too much time posting here and there, writing blogs, doing Facebook lives, etc. but not really getting consistent results.

There is way too much information out there — small business marketing books, podcasts, websites, blogs, webinars, consultants, gurus, etc. Many are too technical, too basic or too outdated. And there are more tactics available than any one person or small team of people could possibly execute effectively.

It is overwhelming and paralyzing. It is also unnecessary. IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

This is why I have developed The Smartist Way — an essentialist framework for branding and marketing a small business. Soon to be available as an on-demand course.

Learn more

Helping others bring their visions to life is what I do. I’m interested in doing great work with exceptional people.  If you are too, let’s talk!


PS: If you like these blackout poem images, you can see more of Jodi’s art at


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The Smartist Way™


Our essentialist framework for branding and marketing your small business
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  1. erotik on December 7, 2020 at 6:54 am

    You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the work you write. Gill Gannie Dione

    • Jodi Hersh on December 15, 2020 at 8:31 am

      Thank you!

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