What Matters to Jolene Delisle

Posted inWhat Matters

Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Jolene Delisle is the Founder and Creative Director of New York agency The Working Assembly. She’s received accolades from Forbes and Adweek and owns a Stone Ridge ice cream shop called Cherries.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

My favorite thing to do in the world is probably to ask questions. I learned early that to be interesting, you need to be interested. I find myself happiest when meeting people and hearing their story, learning about new places, and actively engaging with the world and others around me— learning and being curious about the ordinary feed into experience, creativity, and expression.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

When I was six years old, I lived in an orphanage after my mother decided she couldn’t raise me alone any longer. Within a year, I found myself in the United States, living with an adopted family who not only didn’t look like me, but also I couldn’t communicate with. I had to quickly learn English, all while processing this very confusing, overwhelming change and environment. There was no translator, so I just lived surrounded by people all day, both at school and home, who I couldn’t talk to. Art became my escape and also initially my only way of expressing myself. I drew photos of my friends I left behind, my mom— since I didn’t have any photos of her, and I didn’t want to forget her face— and all the places I didn’t yet realize I was never going to be going back to. Art also gave me a chance to be seen for something other than the girl that didn’t look like anyone else in the school. In third grade, I drew an abstract self-portrait about my confusing identity, with features that I had plus features of my new parents and what my face might look like if it embodied both. It wound up going on a traveling student art show across the country. It gave me a lot of confidence when I needed it the most to be recognized for creativity and something of value when I felt like I didn’t have any at the time.

What is your biggest regret?

My biggest regret was my twenties, when I spent way too much time looking around and focusing on what other people were doing, trying to alter myself to fit in, do what might be expected, and generally being lost in fear of being myself. I lived in a state of reaction, just trying to chase happiness, which grew more and more elusive. I moved (so many times), rushed to get married, rushed even faster to get divorced, and didn’t ever stop to ask what I really wanted or who I was. I do realize this is all part of what makes me who I am now, but I still mourn those lost years. I regret not realizing how valuable the time we have is, and it’s something we should all hold sacred.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Read a lot of Joan Didion. Listened to the Magnetic Fields. When I think of my biggest heartbreaks, the ones that have wrecked me, they aren’t romantic. They are the friendships that have ended or been lost, a family member where a rift has become irreconcilable, or a friend who passes suddenly, gone too soon. Time and distance are the best healers. But also Joan.

What makes you cry?

I’m actually someone who loves to cry. I think it’s very cathartic to cry weekly! A book, a movie, anything emotional in the slightest, I’m in tears. Sometimes I’ll cry when I notice my kids (ages 3 & 5) outgrow their clothes. It’s the oddest feeling wanting them to get bigger and wiser, but also wanting them to stay little and innocent forever.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

I don’t think I ever really let myself experience pride in accomplishments. I need to work on allowing that experience of achieving something or finishing a project and feeling pride. I usually run immediately to the next thing. I saw this on Instagram, so it’s a little cheesy, but it resonated with me and is something I’m trying to keep in mind. “Remember when you wanted what you currently have.” I do practice gratitude, but I guess I should let myself feel accomplished too.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I believe in reincarnation more than an afterlife. I think I’ll be in some form of this life again in the next iteration trying to get it right.

What do you hate most about yourself?

My inability to relax. My mind is always racing, and I’m ready and eager to jump into the next thing vs. being in the moment. I was on a beach trip with good friends a little while ago, and I remember being jealous of how everyone around me could chill and enjoy lying in the sun. It was torture for me! I was thinking of what we should be doing next to maximize the trip, working/checking emails, and generally being productive, which is the opposite of a vacation. I’d love to have my mind blank for a day.

What do you love most about yourself?

My best trait is my resilience. I’ve been able to navigate a lot of trauma and not give up or get defeated or disheartened. I always believe it will work out, and I do my best to stay positive and believe in the good in people.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Before we had our family, I never ate breakfast. I didn’t enjoy the food or even think about it. Now breakfast is the meal in my house. It’s where we sit down together to start the day. On the weekends, we play a game called Breakfast Bingo (it’s just Bingo branded with fun alliteration), and my kids will take a break every few minutes to get up to spontaneously have a dance party. It’s become my favorite time. I met my husband on an early morning first date in Philadelphia at a place called Honey’s Sit n Eat. We still go back once a year to eat breakfast there.