“For other women coping with the need for self-expression, to connect with others and make their passions or labor visible, for me, it really was about seeding opportunities. I’m an adventurous person by nature but everyone will bring their own personality traits to the table. I’m an experimenter. From being an artist and having had tremendous opportunities throughout my childhood and young adulthood to experiment in different art environments. So, I was willing to just put myself out there,” said Erin Palazzolo-Loparo, Art Therapist, Educator and Artist Entrepreneur.
Women are still more likely to pause, exit or downgrade their careers for caregiving. Whether it’s for our kids or parents. And the always-on demands of care, although vital to the human experience, haven’t exactly meshed with paid work. More than 40% of Moms pause their careers for childcare. And between the Motherhood penalty, lack of sponsors and leadership representation, finding onramps back in can be tenuous.
But work is changing. Which brings new professional options. The pandemic blew up the in-office-productivity myth for many fields. So, the rise of remote, increased part-time options, subsidized childcare, and the creative economy, mean you can make different choices. If you’ve wanted to relaunch, pivot, or redefine your career, there’s never been a better time.
When Relaunching Professionally
Moms continue to reexamine their relationship to the workforce. Although technically, most women who left in 2020 are ‘back’ to paid work, many are in different seats. And women continue to leave senior leadership or otherwise inflexible roles. Often, to reduce burnout, or find work that holds greater purpose.
Erin said, “Even though my master’s degree is in art therapy, and I’ve worked as an art teacher and therapist, I did stay home for 10 hard working years with my three children. It was right before the pandemic when I relaunched myself and I’m very grateful. I took on a commission in January of 2020 and then the pandemic happened, but I was committed. And so, it became an anchor project for me.” Although an amazing opportunity led her to leap, it wasn’t exactly unplanned.
Set Your Intentions
Erin admits, the project was compelling, but she was open to the possibility. “I knew I wanted to go back into the workforce, in some capacity, at some point, while doing something meaningful. Either bringing out people’s creative and inner strengths, as I had done as an art therapist and as an art teacher. But those were just nebulous ideas. And it was really a conversation between my husband and his boss, who saw my artwork, that sparked an opportunity for me.”
Erin said, “I exhibited large pieces at a gallery in New York City when I was in my twenties. But I had stepped away from that to marry, move to Boston, teach art, raise a family, and it all became a different equation. But to see someone value your work and the potential to shine a light on it, draws you back into identity stuff, you know? And I was really open to that possibility.” It’s a beautiful thing when the universe unlocks a door. But we still need that confidence, in our talent and willingness to engage. So how do you meet that moment when it arises?
And Follow the Serendipity
Erin explained, “My husband’s a scientist. And I had made some scientifically inspired artwork to include in his presentations. And these illustrations, caught the eye of his boss at Harvard Medical School. We later connected and I created 3 commissioned pieces for the department that are now on permanent exhibit. So, it was the grace of the moment.”
Reentering the workforce, happened to coincide with the height of lockdown. “I was creating these fairly large pieces, in our condo, with my children doing remote schooling five feet away from me. So, I was challenged to a place of resilience.” Even with three kids in Zoom-school, she was excited about her first assignment.
Find Your Confidence
Erin said, “Although I was challenged to follow through on this commitment, I loved it! It was sustaining and meant so much to relaunch myself into the workforce with my own process. Which is also therapeutic and releases tensions. It not only makes beauty visible, but I could find ways to connect and begin to share my process with others.”
That first commission strengthened her resolve and led her to reach out for other opportunities. Her assurance and tenacity led to expansion in ways she hadn’t planned for.
Plant Those Seeds
Erin said, “Two of my children were in the Brookline Early Education Program. And that first year my daughter’s teacher, who somehow knew that I made art, asked me, ‘Do you have an idea for a fall art project?’ This is not ordinarily in my wheelhouse. I’m not a crafter and at that point, I hadn’t worked on children’s art in a long time. But I said, I would think about it. And her invitation, to create a simple art project for two and three-year old’s, which turned out to be corn printing, led to these ideas cropping up.”
We’re socialized to be perfectionistic. And as this HBR article states, what’s referred to as ‘imposter syndrome’ is really a natural response to uneven treatment. But saying ‘maybe’ even when you’re not 100% sure about the path, can lead to self-discovery and good fortune.
And Pursue Connections
Erin said, “Suddenly, something awakened in me. Because someone asked and invited that, a lot of creative ideas were unleashed. So, I proposed a program that I would design and lead, to enrich the visual arts experience for preschoolers. I saw so much potential for what could be developed using my therapeutic background for a mindful, discovery-driven approach.”
She reminds me, the seed she planted didn’t manifest until almost two years later. It can take time for an idea to come to fruition. But her work has continued to morph through this positive, intentionality and thoughtful outreach. “I’m a big believer in these networks of connectivity between people and within yourself.”
As You Build Your Empire
After Erin’s initial project for Harvard and before her program for preschoolers, she also began to exhibit her work again. “So, I created a large mandala, just like the series at Cadeau.” Which is a local gallery with lovely gifts.
“Before this series I created a large mandala, which is like a sacred circle, and it was a space for feelings about my family. But my work is abstract. So, it comes into being through the choice of colors and some of the spontaneous imagery that grows from the center.” She added, “This first large mandala was accepted into a show at the New Art Center. The theme of the exhibit was, Art as Salve.”
The images are beautiful and mesmerizing. “Later, they approached me about returning to art therapy to run group programs. They had data that showed the mental health of their students, was suffering through the pandemic’s isolation and stressors. And so, I was again, graced to put my own art out there. And it made a connection back into my identity as an art therapist. And it wasn’t intended.”
Grounded in Your Superpowers
Erin said, “So, I’m a big believer, when you put one part of yourself out there, be open to the offshoots that can emerge. And it’s going very well because I’m really grateful to help these middle schoolers to self-express and build up their confidence. But also have that safe space to share their emotions.”
Many thanks to the talented Erin Palazzolo-Loparo!
If you are in the Boston area, visit her installation at Cadeau Boutique through the end of April! And members of our Time to Unwind community, will receive an extra gift, gorgeous mandala cards from Erin, in this month’s self-care package!
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Erin Palazzolo Loparo (b. Tarrytown, NY 1979) is an abstract expressionist,
collage and mandala artist, registered art therapist and art teacher based in
Brookline, MA. She graduated magna cum laude with her B.A. in Studio Art and English from Williams
College, MA followed by her M.S. in Art Therapy from The College of New Rochelle,
NY. Erin has shown her artwork in exhibitions in NY and the Boston area and has
scientifically-inspired work on permanent display at Harvard Medical School. She
accepts commissions and currently works as an Art Therapist for the New Art
Center Newton and for Brookline Early Education Program as their resident artist-teacher on grant.