As creatives, we experience deep insecurity when putting ourselves out there.
We fear (sometimes rationally, more often irrationally) that our work will be attacked or publicly shamed. These thoughts and fears are like “trolls” that sit in the back of our minds, constantly criticizing our values, strengths and ideas as creative people. Simply put, they keep us from unleashing our creative talent and achieving successful careers.
What do you need to do to fight those trolls? It’s both simple as pie and devastatingly difficult at the same time: Quit hiding.
Creatives Thrive on Making a Connection
You don’t become an artist because you want to blend in with everybody else. Creativity in the arts hinges on an idea of connection—the connection of being known, making yourself known and making others feel known.
When it comes to creatives, I think it’s so important to clearly see the connection between you (the person making stuff) and your audience (the people who are consuming it). To do this effectively, you need to be vulnerable and genuine. That means you can’t be hung up on impressing everyone.
Think of it this way: Making that connection with your audience is a lot like looking for love. I recently met up with a friend to hear about his dating problems. In our conversation, he mentioned he was desperate to make a connection and find “the one.” Naturally, I asked to see his dating profile but noticed one thing: the photo wasn’t of him, it was of someone else. He wasn’t showing his true self—and his approach wasn’t accurate nor honest. His explanation: “The ladies are more into the body-building kind of dude, so I put that photo up there.”
You don’t become an artist because you want to blend in with everybody else.
This is honestly what I see in creative careers all the time. Are you creating work that comes from your soul and gets you pumped? Or are you just assuming that you’re giving someone what they want?
If you’re guilty of the latter, let’s update your creative profile with accurate information — because you’re never going to find a real connection with a facade. That means you gotta show the “real you” in your work and your personal brand. Just let out your inner weird.
Step 1: Release Your Insecurities and Stay True to Your Style
Don’t do what my friend did and pretend to be someone you’re not. Hone your look, your aesthetic.
When you’re thinking about the photo for your dating profile, chances are you already built this idea of what people are looking for and what they want to see. In your mind, there’s an ideal man and woman. The funny thing is, I often find that “ideal” isn’t based on reality, it’s based on your own insecurities—everything you’re keenly aware that you’re not.
Here’s what I want you to do
Identify the insecurity. Call out what makes you feel guilty about the type of work you want to make, then give it the middle finger right back. Next time you land a new gig, think back to that dating site photo. Avoid creating the “tall, dark and handsome” look. You’re likely not what all people want—and that’s okay.
Instead, when it comes to creating authentic work, think: What can I create for myself as an artist that will make me say “that’s me”? I promise what you create will be so much purer than anything you’ve done before. Now, I’m mindful that this tactic may not come naturally for all artists. So if you can’t create for yourself, create for someone you have tons in common with and try to impress them.
I recently listened to an interview with Mindy Kaling on Sam Jones’ podcast. When Mindy writes her books, she often writes for one of her best friends who’s smart and has great taste. She explained how she sits there, shares her ideas and tries to make her best friend laugh. Once laughter is triggered, she knows she created great work.
Step 2: Create Work That Will Put Some People off (and That’s Okay)
There’s a reference on Seinfeld where Jerry scratches out the size on his Levi’s to make it a 32 instead of a 33. Even if it makes some people turn away, I’m going to urge you to embrace your real size and stick with real facts and information. What’s the content that makes you excited? When you’re in a conversation, what are the topics that come up where all of a sudden, you’re switched on? What’s the tidbit of information on your dating profile that not everyone is going to like?
As an artist, instead of just creating something because it’s the “latest thing,” think about what you want and the content that will make you happy. This is a huge stumbling point for creative folks. We get stuck on Step 1 (the aesthetic) and neglect what our work means as a whole (the content).
A lot of times, we alter our work because we haven’t even thought about the content—the purpose of it all. It’s not that we’re being dishonest, but we don’t know how to be honest because we’re unclear on what we want to talk about and how people will react.
Don’t be afraid to make something not everyone will like.
Here’s what I want you to do
Don’t be afraid of polarizing some people and putting others off in a major way. Don’t be afraid to make something not everyone will like. Tackle topics that some people find extremely boring but others find exciting. It’s not until you start polarizing people that they really start feeling excited. If nobody hates it, nobody is going to love it. And if everybody loves it, you’re probably playing it way too safe.
Step 3: When You’re Happy with Your Work, Find Some Common Ground with Your Audience
In the dating world, you can’t be in a relationship without working together and collaborating. You can’t get your way on every single thing and remain in “community” with other people—it’s give and take. We see this everywhere—in government, marriage, friendships, families. It takes humility to say “okay, we’ll do it your way.”
Here’s what I mean when it comes to your creative career
You put the accurate dating profile up, you create the work (style and content) and now you’re ready to deliver it—the work of art to your audience. At this stage, it’s okay to ask yourself: How does my audience want this delivered? How will they consume this?
For instance, I might have a brilliant idea in mind and want to make it into a poster. However, people might not be buying posters anymore. Instead, they’re buying pens, notebooks, whatever. Although my first choice might be a poster, I think it’s okay to go with what the audience is looking for—because it’s a relationship. That’s the kind of compromise that’s okay.
What I don’t think is okay is to compromise on your *why* and become a different person because of it. Meet them where they are, listen, cooperate, collaborate. I think that you really end up in good places if you do that.
Creative work is deeply personal, so it’s natural that we find it difficult to put it out there. That’s why being a commercial creative is really a lot like dating. You’ve got to embrace the risk, know you’re not going to be loved by everyone (and you won’t love everyone either) and stay true to who you are. When you find “the one” you’ve got to listen to what they want and meet them in the middle.
But this will never happen if you keep hiding. And you’ll never figure out your own creative style if you keep building dating profiles with other people’s pictures. So, quit hiding and trying to pretend to be someone else. Remember, if you never make yourself vulnerable, you’ll never find that real connection and that’s what being a creative is all about.
Listen to the original podcast this article was based on:
about the author
Andy J. Miller is a commercial artist who breathes life and 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.