Learning to be Brave

Emily Dykstra self

Being brave took an interesting turn since my children both started school last fall. It’s the first time I am home alone in a decade, and I find that I am not the same woman I was ten years ago.

When I was a new mother, I was more risk adverse. More concerned with image. Less accepting of the quirky parts of my personality. I camouflaged a lot and tried to match up with magazine covers.

Through an incredible period of loss, I grew and changed. I learned my parents had divorced, my husband lost his job, and (in a two year period) I miscarried five times. It surprised us since we easily conceived one daughter. I was reeling from grief. Life felt wobbly and unsure. But all of these hard circumstances taught me the importance of perspective. I can give up or I can live today.

One day I woke up, “I’m tired of crying. I’m tired of pain.” And I picked up my dream of merging my graphic design background with my fine art education. I created a series of 12 images and formed them into a calendar for family for Christmas. A few friends wanted some so I printed extra. Into my fourth year of designing and printing these calendars, I hope to broaden the reach of my fledgling boutique design company, Sweet Mercy Design.

Trembling, this past year I bravely submitted my work for a design entry in the 2015 Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. In the end, I was a runner-up. I was amazed that I was almost selected. I’m learning to conquer my fear of failure or not being accepted and just enjoy the journey of life or art or motherhood.

This year I am hoping to hone my illustration skills and learn more about the design industry. I have spent far too long saying I’m too mediocre to explore such options. I’ve allotted myself certain office hours where I force myself to sit down and design, especially if I’m not inspired. Even though I’m a stay-at-home mother, I’m learning to say “no” to extra events in life in order to be available for my family and design work. I haven’t regretted a bit of it.

This new perspective has spilled into other areas of my life. I’m learning to just pick up the phone and ask a new friend out to lunch or read new authors or wear clothes that are “me” not just magazine-worthy. I care less about how perfect I look or what other people think about me. (I still care, I just don’t obsess.) I say “no” a lot so that my “yesses” are really meaningful and juicy.

Despite my grief over our fertility issues, I’m grateful for my two daughters. Our joy was so rich when our second daughter was born because of all of our losses. We named her “Eve,” because her name means “Life.” It seemed like an apt name as the next chapter of our days enfold to move forward bravely.


Emily Dykstra grew up in Maryland, but now lives in the ‘burbs of Chicago with her family. A few years ago she began saying “Sweet mercy!” with a fair amount of regularity whenever her daughters did outrageous things and it made sense to name her design business – Sweet Mercy Design.

Where are you learning to be brave?