This is your creative career intervention: I’m here to diagnose your addiction to not having the creative career you say you want. Because while you say you want this creative career, you’re not taking the steps.
Now, I’m sure you’ve got a billion excuses why you’re just not in the right place to start. But unless the fairy godmother shows up, what’s going to change? What magical things are going to happen to put you in a place that’s so different from where you are right now?
Approach Your Creative Career Like a Health Regime
I think about this like starting a diet, putting it off every day until the next day. Now, I’m no diet expert, but over the past 2 years, I’ve lost 65 lbs. It was no small feat to develop a healthy relationship with food. What it really came down to for me was a shift in mindset: I shifted my perspective about how I approach eating.
My natural mindset wanted to keep me where I’d been (overeating). So I had to work to find the mindset that would get me where I really wanted to be. In everything in life, what holds you back the most is your own mindset. So let’s apply that same principle to creativity: What are the mindset shifts, and the tricks you can play on yourself and your mind to kickstart your creative career?
1. Have a Creative Career… Your Own (Flawed) Way
Don’t try to do everything the “perfect” way. Often, when we think about changing, we think about transforming into something ideal. And if we can’t do ideal, we do nothing.
It’s like trying to change your fast food diet to a high protein, low carb [any extreme fad] diet. The problem is these diets don’t fit with the individual, their life and routines, their goals or their very nature! The reason my current approach has stuck for me is because I went with who I really am and not what a “perfect” diet is. I went for results instead of idealism.
Why doesn’t the “perfect” ideal work? Well, willpower is not a constant. And so willing yourself into the perfect way to do something probably won’t last. You’ll have a moment of weakness, give in, and then—because you were striving for unequivocal perfection—you fail. So, instead of striving for perfection, try to have a creative habit that works for you. Remember there’s not one way to have a great creative career. And if you get results the “wrong” way, that’s cool; that actually makes it the right way.
2. Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Start Today
We’ve all been there: Next Monday we’ll start the new regime. You need to start today. This means you have to quit saying you don’t have time, resources etc. You don’t know what you can accomplish right now if you just figure out how to do it your own way. Gary Vaynerchuk says “quit watching House of Cards.” Right? Use that hour and go make something.
There will always be a billion reasons why today is not the right day to start the diet. Tim Ferriss says something I love about making a podcast: “What if this were easy?” I started my podcast walking on a bike trail recording it onto my iPhone. I didn’t have a studio or mics. The point is I started somewhere. Maybe it’s as simple as doing a drawing every morning that you can post on Instagram. Whatever it is, start now.
3. Life Happens. So Leave Yourself a Margin for Error
You can create a rigid, daily calorie goal based on trying to achieve it in 6 months. But that doesn’t allow for error (miscounting calories) or life (sickness, celebration… all those things that take you outside your norm). You’ll quickly give up on any practice that makes you feel like you can’t fully participate in the fun parts of life!
For success on any commitment, whether it’s a diet or a commitment to building a creative career, you’ve got to have a margin for error. If you’re a freelancer and you start out in a survival mindset, then you’re only one degree away from failure. Surviving is so different from thriving.
When you set your rates or quote a job, you need a margin for error that accounts for your car dying or for you getting sick. Don’t forget that your taxes are higher, your insurance is higher. You need to understand that not every hour of running your business is a billable hour. After all, you’re not just a designer, illustrator, musician, whatever… you’re also the admin, marketer, the business developer.
Your business needs enough profit margin to keep all the things working with the natural flux of life. So to successfully pull this off, you need to bake in that margin for error and then you need to think about what you’ll charge.
4. Charge to Thrive, Not Just to Survive
Setting your rate is hugely a mindset game too. It’s about your own self-esteem, self-worth, what you think your creative work is worth in this world.
Here’s my argument: In the world of commerce, progress, business, humans thriving and interacting with each other, creativity and artwork has a major place. A successfully executed brand can take a business from the bottom to the top. And as things get more and more automated, creativity is going to be a premium skill.
So if you’re going to offer that skill, you need to own the fact that it’s incredibly powerful and worth charging appropriately for. You need to cut out any craziness that makes you feel guilty because you’re charging more than you need to survive. In fact, I want to challenge you to charge more than you think you’re worth.
I’ve seen too many people charge the bare minimum and they go out of business within the first year because they can’t keep up. The difference between surviving and dying is just one degree. So I’m going to challenge you to think bigger in that way. Jim Coudal says you need to create a goal that’s big enough for where you want to be in five years. Create a goal that’s big enough for you to grow into.
5. Guess, Test, Iterate… But Never Give Up
The one thing I’m good at is tricking myself for results—finding a mindset that helps me achieve results. The best approach for me has been “guess, test and iterate.” When it comes to diet, this has been really effective; I’ve been trying to lose weight my whole adult life. I’ve made progress at times and then gone all the way back to the start. But it was all those false-starts that got me to the place where I understood what would work for me.
The key was not to give up and continue to iterate. I don’t mean this in a motivational speaker “don’t quit, you can do it!” kind of way. It’s not about empty digging. It is about gathering information, making your best guess, creating work to test that guess, seeing how that goes without being biased or overly-invested, then trying all over again and carrying forward what you learned. But don’t give up, that’s the only thing you don’t get to do.
I went through some real pain of trying to figure out a healthy relationship with food. I had moments when I was ready to throw in the towel and resign myself to having a bad relationship with food. But I kept trying something else; guessing, testing, iterating. The past does not have to be an indication of the future. But you do have to shift your mindset to unlock that future. So throw off all the mindsets that are not getting you to where you want to go and start taking that action today.
About the Author: Andy J. Miller is a commercial artist who breathes life & weirdness into simple shapes. He specializes in brand collaborations, advertising illustration, kids market illustration, editorial illustration, gig posters, album art, hand lettering, mural design, visual development for animation and book design. Listen to his podcast, Creative Pep Talk, here.
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