We had the good fortune of connecting with Shannon Doronio and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shannon, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
I think balance as a life-skill is one of the most needed and least understood practices. In my early 20s, I thought of balance as a state of total stabilization-stillness. If stasis was the goal, then my strategy was to make decisions based on the safest, or most manageable result. Things that were risky or unknown were avoided in the name of maintaining “balance.” The result of that practice was keeping a job I didn’t like—because the money was stable. I stayed in a relationship that wasn’t terrible but definitely wasn’t exciting or deeply intimate—because it was predictable. I had a lot of “stasis” but I was completely unhappy and unhealthy. The predictability was soul-crushing, and I hit a spiritual wall. I quit my office job and started bartending, I left the relationship, I went to art school. I completely upended my life and chose to commit to things that were much less predictable. My original idea of balance was completely taken down. Life got super chaotic—and there were a lot of challenges, but I learned how to adjust. I learned to tune into the soul of the world, to trust God, and get good with the universe. I made the choice to believe the outcome would be good—because it has to be. I learned to let go of the worrying/stress over things I could not control, and use that energy to do everything that was within my control to produce a good outcome. Exchanging predictability for authenticity made me much happier. My current practice of balance is defined by the ability to respond. To fortify yourself well enough that you know you have the power and the wisdom and the divine guidance to adjust. Tight-rope-walker is probably the best visual metaphor I can think of. From far away a tight-rope-walker can look pretty stable, and their movements look effortless. But if you look close you will see a flurry of movement and adjustments that are all being made in the hope of staying upright. The tightrope walker has to be ready for conditions beyond their control and knows that this may be the day that the most unpredictable thing happens. As creatives, who have made our passion our source of income—work/life balance is super important. The line between passion and paid can get blurry and we end up saying yes to things we shouldn’t. We say yes to a client who asks on Friday to have something delivered by Monday. We say Yes to ever-increasing project scope without writing a new estimate or asking for more budget. We say yes to friends who want us to make things for them “for fun.” In all the YES we lose precious time to feed ourselves, to care for ourselves, and to nurture ourselves—and we get BURNT OUT. We get bitter and tired and the work (the reason why we do any of it) suffers. I highly recommend that my creative family righteously adopts the word “NO.” Saying NO is a total game-changer in the work/life balance formula. I struggled really hard with saying NO because I thought I would lose clients, or friends, or opportunities to make cool things. I discovered my ability to say NO when my daughter was born and I had to choose between being with her and saying YES. When I learned to say NO, unhealthy client relationships ended and were replaced by reasonable collaborators, friendships survived, and I found time to make things I actually liked making. JUST SAY NO.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I originally pursued graphic design as a field of study because I love visual storytelling, I am a life-long maker of things. As a design student, I learned about the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Architectural System and was deeply inspired by a design process that aimed to meet more than just a fiscal bottom line. I knew that I wasn’t going to be satisfied in a career that was centered around making things to sell things. I wanted to use design to help fix some major social issues. In 2009 I co-founded a creative studio called Parallel-Play [parallel-play.com] with my husband Jay Doronio. We have focused our practice on amplifying the voices and stories of people who we felt were doing great and wonderful things. We’ve always pursued work that inspired us and we’ve placed more value on our clients’ missions, than their budgets. We’ve had the pleasure of working with arts and education-based non-profits like 826LA, 826National, and Inner-City Arts. We’ve given visual form to organizations like KYCC (Koreatown Youth & Community Center) and COCFA (College of the Canyons Faculty Association). We’ve worked with The Natural History Museum, The LaBrea Tarpits, LA Louver, and even had some of the posters we created for Machine Project join the LACMA archives. As a first-generation Mexican-American woman—there were very few visible role models for me to look up to as a student. The experience of being one of just a few Latinx students in a predominantly White and Asain design program brought a lot of insight into the ways that the design pipeline was flawed. The work I did with Arts-based NPOs taught me a lot about the gaps in our educational system as a whole. So in 2014, when a good friend and Mentor Michael Stinson recommended that I to pursue an adjunct teaching position at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA I felt like I had identified another way I could use my experience as a human and designer to meet some bigger bottom cultural lines. Over the last five years, I have had the pleasure of sharing what I had to pay over a hundred thousand dollars to learn—with our community college students. I have the pleasure of sharing this knowledge with a demographic of students that is a more accurate representation of our multi-cultural population here in Los Angeles. I have mentored many of them into exclusive design programs at OTIS and College of the Canyons and helped them write for scholarships and grants to greatly minimize the out-of-pocket cost of those degrees. I’m modeling career choices for my peers and my students that the value of people must come first. This Fall I stepped into the role of Department Chair for the Graphic and Multimedia Design Program at College of the Canyons—and I am looking for partners out there in the design and tech industry who want to build more equitable pipelines to careers, and diversify the demographics of their creative teams. My students are hungry for internships, and professional opportunities. It can be a challenge when so much of our creative industry is brand-loyal to private design institutions when it comes to recruiting. So far we’ve had tremendous success partnering with Bixel-Exchange (www.bixelexchange.info), and SnapChat. Our students have been recruited into competitive professional positions, and they’ve been offered full-ride scholarships. Our kids have proven that they can scrap!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
After a week of running all over this giant city, indulging in all the fun and tasty things…I would welcome them into my home, where the music is always better than anything you will find at a restaurant. My husband and I would cook them a delicious meal—outdoors. I would make them one of my favorite cocktails and then pour them too many glasses of wine. We would try to hold a coherent conversation over the never-ending antics of my two small humans. I would offer them a place to sleep and after I put my kids to bed—I would try to keep them awake until the early hours of the morning talking about all sorts of crazy shit—like Stanley Kubrick Moon Landing conspiracies. I would ask them questions about their life and listen—really listen to what their experience of the world has been like—and in that way, we will probably solve a few of the world’s problems. In the morning, they would wake up to the sound of two brilliant weirdos pretending to be “dinosaurunicorns” and fresh coffee.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Stefan Bucher was an early mentor of mine. Stefan is unabashedly, self deprecatingly, and totally endearingly HUMAN. He was the first graphic design speaker that I ever heard address the issue of how our creative work affects our human life. He has always been generous with his time and his authenticity. He connected me to early professional opportunities and offered sage wisdom whenever I needed it.