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Power Up: Design Sponge’s Grace Bonney

In 2016, Grace Bonney spoke with 100 women doing creative work and turned those interviews into a book, In the Company of Women

It became a New York Times bestseller, and earlier this month, Bonney released a follow up: a biennial business magazine called Good Company. Plus, while she’s out promoting her new publication, she also runs the creativity website Design*Sponge

Like so many of us, Bonney is busy. So how does she refuel?

“That’s one of the things I think everyone has a really pithy answer to, like yoga or meditating,” Bonney told Nerdette host Greta Johnsen.

“I don’t do any of those things. I think I ask for help.”

Bonney told us what asking for help looks like. Below are highlights from the conversation.

Why you should ask for help

Grace Bonney: That’s become my thing lately and that looks like a lot of things. That looks like therapy. That looks like bringing on extra help for projects when you realize you’re in over your head. 

I think that we are trained — particularly women — are trained not to ask for help because it seems like a sign of weakness. But the more and more that I take on, the more I’m realizing that if you don’t ask for help, you end up making the mistakes that I think are more problematic in the long run.

Making that ask can be hard

Bonney: For me, it’s a pit of your stomach feeling where it typically feels like, “Oh, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.” And it’s always at the last minute, and I’m always emailing someone at like 11 p.m., being like, “Hi, would you like to become the project manager for this new magazine because I can’t do this by myself?”

And I think because I work on the internet, everything can happen so quickly. Typically, I realize a little too late that I need help, but thankfully because of the speed of the internet, I can usually find help pretty quickly.

Greta Johnsen: So technically, the internet is facilitating your procrastination in this specific example.

Bonney: Yes! The internet is both the cause and the relief of procrastination for me. 

Disconnecting from your job when you can work any time of day

Bonney: I have gotten a lot better at turning things off. I think that I realized that I wasn’t actually getting anything done when I thought I was. Like spending two hours on Instagram is not actually work. Even though Instagram is a vehicle through which I can promote or get work out there, I’m not doing that 24/7. I’m just scrolling at hashtags. 

I think at a certain point, I had to accept that, “Why are you actually there?” And then investigate those reasons a little bit more closely — hence, asking for the help of therapy and having a therapist be like, “Why do you want to spend time in the comments section?”

So I think once I dug into those things and recognized, “OK, I’m looking for either validation or friendship or something,” I try to find those things in real life now. In small steps, that’s been really a helpful change.

Bonney's new magazine, 'Good Company,' hit shelves May 1. (Cover image courtesy of Grace Bonney)

Johnsen: I feel like that’s huge and we need to talk about it a little because I think we’re probably all spending too much time on Instagram looking for validation or friendship.

Bonney: I mean, I think it’s a normal, human thing. And now, we have these tools and technologies that allow us to do it in the most instantaneous way possible. And it can be real. I have very real friends that I’ve found through the internet. And then, you have to remember: It’s not real. You don’t actually know half these people. And it’s a cliche, but most people don’t share the things that are difficult in their lives. 

So I think you just have to take it with a grain of salt, and when you find yourself dipping into it too often, ask why. Are you happy at work? Are you getting something back from this platform that you’re not getting in other places? I have to ask myself those questions on a pretty regular basis to make sure I’m staying present and to make sure I’m not doing a project that I’m not actually enjoying.

‘There is no place where you stay forever. You reach one level, then you reach another, then you make a left’

Bonney: I think about this a lot, with the [phrase], “If you find something you love” —

Johnsen: “Never go to work again.”

Bonney: Exactly. That’s not true. There will be days where, yes, you can’t believe that what you’re doing is your job if you are doing something you love. Then there will be days when you pay taxes or have to fire somebody or where it totally sucks. And I think when we think in such binaries like that, then we end up being like, “Oh, do I not really love what I’m doing because I’m not happy today?” There are always going to be lefts and rights and ups and downs.

We also want to know how YOU power up. Record yourself on your phone and email the audio file to nerdettepodcast@gmail.com.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

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