What To Do... Marcia Zia-Priven

The first person to take on our topic, "What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do" is the talented and successful Marcia Zia-Priven who recently relocated back to Los Angeles from New York City and is the Managing Partner and Lighting Designer of Zia-Priven Design who at one time was even nominated for an Emmy but you'll have to read our little chat below to learn more... :)

How do you think a person can find their spot in the world of design -- you know, your true calling?

In this crazy design world, the journey I?ve taken with all the wonderful self-discovery along the way, has made my particular path extremely fulfilling. After working through self-doubt and questioning, all the while trying to sort out which was the right path to walk down, I found my voice with our company, Zia-Priven Design. My husband and partner Paul Priven and I have gone from being not even the ?little guy? but the Tiny Guy to having the honor of working with such wonderful designers as Oscar de la Renta, Geoffrey Bradfield and Jamie Drake, and on projects as diverse as a one bedroom apartment in New York City to the Grand Hotel Stockholm in Sweden. I highly suggest that you step out of yourself and your life, even for a moment, to question what it is you really want. Or what?s missing?what?s your heart saying to you? Take that moment and listen to it?you?ll be thrilled where it leads you.

When did you first start to think about this whole idea of finding your path in the world of design?

It was in my mid-twenties when I really started to ask myself what exactly is my ?true calling?. The world of design had always fascinated me, and so many aspects of it- painting, interiors, photography, graphics, even fashion, but which one?! What was the right direction for me? I couldn?t possibly do it all! I felt such pressure to choose one and go for it but at the same time I was petrified of making the wrong choice and being stuck in a job I hated or worse, failing at something I loved. Before my monumental angst and introspection had taken over, I had always assumed this mysterious ?true calling? would just present itself, just happen one defining day and all would fall perfectly into place. What a crock!

What does one do when they have tons of interests and feel passionate about many things?

Okay, so I know it does happen to some people, but it?s a lucky few. Most of us, especially creative types, have a world of ideas and passions...and directions to explore. And, at different moments in our lives some may be greater than others. So, what do you do?! First of all, stop pressuring yourself! There is no definitive choice. Nothing has to remain the same and you can always change your job, your direction, your life. Really. And trust me, I?ve done it many a time. I?ve had gallery shows of my paintings, been a store owner, a set painter, a set decorator, production designer, a lousy novelist and had a brief job at a photo studio in which I was fired after 2 months. So, we make mistakes sometimes. I know this now, of course at the time, my failings were the end of the world. But, here I am at 42 and I can look back and love every second, every failure and every success. It is what defines me. It is how you know. You cannot know (I mean truly know) anything unless you experience it. And losing a job or making a bad choice will NOT be the end of you. It will merely help direct you. I lost the job at the photo studio because I hated it. If I had found out how much I loved that job but still was fired, I would have been even more determined to follow that path and gone elsewhere. But I would have KNOWN. Nowadays, I take photos for my own personal enjoyment and that is enough to satisfy that need, but it just wasn?t my calling.

What about if there's no way you can try out different jobs on a full-time basis?

If you aren?t in the position to try out different jobs, then get a part-time job on the side, or an internship. A job doesn?t have to be listed to be available. Make the calls, be relentless but polite and something will come through. That?s what is great about internships, though you don?t get paid, you get all the educational benefits and you get to work in your dream environment without having any experience. Get a taste of the life and the business you are considering entering into. Nothing will demonstrate more to you the reality of that field. I highly recommend it and suggest you make the time if you are serious about pursuing those dreams.

But many aren't in the position to even intern because they need to pay the bills, then what?

If it?s absolutely impossible, and you?re in a good paying position, need to pay the bills, but don?t feel fulfilled, then here are a few more suggestions:

Take a class. Or several...
Obvious, but a little scary when you?re new at something. This was one of the greatest things I ever did to find my direction. I took some, actually many courses at a nearby community college while I was working to support myself. I became obsessed with design when I had previously doubted myself. Try classes in the different fields you are excited about. See which ones inspire you and which ones fall flat. When you hit on the right ones, you will know. Inspiration will flow from you, you won?t be able to get enough, and your excitement will grow and grow until you can?t imagine your life being complete without this being your chosen path. And the apprehension will slowly dissolve into confidence and determination. Remember, you and your dreams are WORTH the time and the effort! This is your life, not anyone else?s. Going back to school not only helps you shape your desires but enhances your talents, enriches them and defines your style. It?s your chance to explore what makes you tick.

Read books. Or magazines. Or blogs...
Read, read, read. Or just look at the photos. What are you drawn to? What do you find yourself pointing at and salivating over? What do you feel you HAVE to have? Or make? One test I love to do is go to a bookstore, stand in the design section and just start making piles. I still do this and now my husband (and business partner) joins in. I swear I still get palpitations when I see all those big, glossy, beautiful books. Talk about a kid in a candy store! Look through the different areas and choose at least 3 different areas of design that enthrall you, be it interiors, furniture design, textiles, whatever. Now, start making piles of the books you have to have. Don?t just grab anything, but be particular. What makes your heart sing? And which pile is bigger? Choose one must-have out of each pile and take them home. Which one do you HAVE to read first? And which one do you keep going back to?

Go shopping.
Huh? Yeah, go shopping. Same concept as the bookstore but instead of photos, it?s the real thing! Again, what are you drawn to? Is it the pattern on a duvet or fabulous jewelry? Stacks of pillows you NEED to buy or a beautiful painting you can?t take your eyes off? Paul and I first got an inkling of how much we loved lighting years ago when one day we looked around our budding antique store and had to laugh at the ratio of lamps and chandeliers there were compared to furniture! We had subconsciously bought fixture after fixture until the place was packed while the furniture selection was mighty slim. Our store became well known for the great selection of unique lighting, but definitely not for the furniture!

Don?t be afraid. OR, be afraid and do it anyway.
Fear is not a comfortable emotion but it is part of taking a risk. We have to see our goals clearly and take that leap of faith whether it?s comfortable or not, that?s part of really living life to its fullest. Think about it, if you look back on the great accomplishments of your life so far, how many did not involve some kind of risk or fear? And even more importantly, faith in yourself? Searching for your true calling will require?no, demand?all of these emotions.

Keep the faith in your talent and what you love. Your unique vision is what separates you from the pack. Don?t let the naysayers affect you, just keep going, and don?t accept anything but your absolute best because that is what will always represent you.

Last, but not least, have patience, take chances and stick to it. Don?t listen to other people and don?t put it off. Follow your heart (it really is true). Get out there and do what you love, as many things as there may be, and you will naturally gravitate toward your greatest love. I promise you, it is absolutely worth it.

You mentioned fear, any tips on managing it?

I?ve always said that both fear and faith were great motivational forces in the early years of our business. They still are, but don?t shy away from the fear, embrace it! When we were struggling in the beginning to pay the bills, fear is what got us pounding the pavement. When we?re working on a new piece, say a chandelier, there is always that doubt?will people like it? Is it good enough? Will they buy it? That?s where the faith comes in and tedious attention to detail. We will examine that chandelier over and over, ensuring it?s not only absolutely beautiful in our minds, but also made to the highest standards and something we are completely satisfied with. We have to always understand that it may not be to everyone?s taste and that is perfectly alright. We have to like it. No, we have to LOVE it. If we don?t, it?s out! As you gain confidence in your abilities, you will know instinctively if something is right or not. Fear keeps our standards high. It can stop you in your tracks or it can drive you to great heights!

Do you feel that you have found your path and if so, how?

I?ve actually found I still love many of the areas of design that I loved in the beginning of my search, but in the end, lighting and furniture design give me the biggest thrill...for now. I don?t believe any of us can be put into a mold of only loving one thing. This is DESIGN, and design is quite a big world. When I wrote about not putting pressure on ourselves, it was because I understand what it is like to love so many different aspects of design. The hardest part about choosing a career path was the fear of never being able to do the other things that also fulfilled me. Thank goodness, over time, I?ve come to understand that it?s not the case at all. I have a job in a business I love?I adore lighting. How many products can have a particular look and then with a flick of a switch, can take on a whole new presence?! But, at the same time, I still love to paint, go antique shopping, design the interiors of my rooms as well as other people?s, etc. We can always keep what is dear to our hearts with us. And if I feel there is something I want to try, well, I will go for it. I don?t pressure myself to do everything perfectly because I understand that I will fail sometimes and succeed sometimes. And it really is okay. Trying something new is always fulfilling regardless of the outcome.

Did you know you wanted to be a lighting designer all along then?

I never grew up thinking, ?Ah yes, a lighting designer, that?s what I?ll be!? Growing up in Los Angeles, I was always fascinated by Old Hollywood. I wasn?t sure what to do with that but I did know I loved watching old movies and gazing up at the old mansions that lined the streets of Beverly Hills. Such a glamorous era... It wasn?t until years later I realized that as I watched these films, I found myself studying the sets, especially the ones of the 30?s and 40?s. They were so grand and elegant even if they were a bit over the top, but I loved them. Funny, when I look back I can see the early signs. It really is true, if you look back at what you loved as a child you will see what you instinctively embraced. I really thought the only purpose of having a Barbie doll was to decorate her Dream Home and dress her up.

I found myself, after working several monotonous desk jobs, bored to tears. I was in my mid-twenties, hadn?t gone to college yet because I had no idea what I wanted to study and began to envision myself living out the rest of my life miserable and completely unfulfilled.

That was the eye opener! My own mother had worked for 40 years at an insurance company for which she felt complete ambivalence. No passion, no excitement, never believing she could do anything different. She cheered the day she retired, purposely retiring on April Fools Day, luckily she has a great sense of humor. I understand that was a different era and choices were much more limited then, but it certainly was not my chosen path, yet I felt it starting to happen to me. I quit my job, signed up at the local community college taking a variety of design related courses, and after several unfortunate part-time positions, got a job at a local studio as a page. Working on ?Jeopardy? was my first show (Hi Alex!). I excelled in school, I was so excited about what I was learning that I devoured every bit I knowledge I could grasp onto. I felt ALIVE again.

After several years of classes, I won an art scholarship and transferred to The Art Center of Pasadena. Meanwhile, I found I needed to earn more money so I beat down doors and into a position at an Antique Auction house where I learned volumes of information about antiques and d?cor of all eras. I still wasn?t sure what my calling was but I knew I was loving the journey and I was on the right path. I loved art, furnishings, the movies, now what?

I stayed at the auction house for 3 years, had to leave school because there just wasn?t time anymore, and began to consider the film business. Set decorating interested me because it was a combination of the 3 things that really excited me. It was during the last year at the auction house I planned my escape. It was time to take a real risk. After work and on Saturdays, I worked for free on a small film for 6 months. It was a tiny production company so I had the opportunity to do a little of everything- I got the coffee, I raised money, I sat through the auditions and I got to do the sets! Woo Hoo! Most importantly, I got to learn the ropes and gain a little confidence.

All along I had been saving money, until I had enough to survive for 3 months. It was make or break time. I gave my notice and started making calls. I scoured all the resources, called EVERYBODY, and finally got my foot in the ?industry? door. I was able to use everything I learned previously to really excel, that?s why everything you do, does count.

On one of the films, I met a handsome stranger who happened to be the Assistant Director. Well, that would be Paul, my husband! We hit it off instantly and over time began to talk about our dissatisfaction with the business. We really wanted to do something on our own and have more creative control. At this time, I was fairly established. I had been at CBS for several years, was in the union and had even been nominated for an Emmy. I also knew if I left it would be very difficult to get back in. Talk about fear and risk! This time I had a partner in crime which did make it easier, but it was still 2 mouths to feed. But like before, I had to plan this out. We weren?t sure exactly how to start our business, but we knew we loved vintage furnishings and we loved hunting for the pieces that spoke to us. So, we began to buy and restore lighting and furniture and resell it at The Rose Bowl flea market, the biggest one in the country while we kept our day jobs. We always tried to put a unique spin on our look?whether it was what we bought or how we restored it, it needed to stand out. After saving up our money for a year and taking a small loan from his parents, we took the plunge, quit our jobs, moved to San Diego and opened a funky vintage furnishings store.

We had so much fun with the whole thing! We called it ?Sanctuary, Furnishings for the Soul? and really tried to reflect that name with everything we bought. During this part of the journey, we started to notice how much lighting we would drag back to the shop, and it became almost comical. It was what we were drawn to! Thankfully, it was both of us or else we would have been in trouble.

How was the shop experience and do you think it helped you form Zia Priven Design?

It was through the store that together we discovered our passion for lighting. We put our own twist on everything?especially the lighting?and word got around until designers began to come to us specifically for our lighting. It was that extra effort that paid off. We slowly realized restoring the fixtures just wasn?t enough for us anymore; we wanted to make our own designs. Through tons of research, hits and misses, we finally came out with our first line that was all ours. It took almost 2 years to get there but we did it. It was hard work, ups and downs, successes and failures, but what a great pay off! We started Zia-Priven Design in 1999, moved to New York City, the design capital of the US, in 2002 (risk is fun, remember? Aaaaaaa!!!), to live out another one of our dreams, and set up shop. It?s been a difficult road at times but filled with so many thrills and achievements that I would never change a thing.

Persistence, patience, and passion for what we do are what got us through each day?to this day. And if you were to ask me, ?is this your path?? I?d say, ?It is today...but I?m in the middle of a long, winding and wonderful road.?

Thank you so much Marcia for visiting us today, your insight is impressive and I'm sure many will benefit from your advice.