Stay positive. Don’t let rejection get you down. Trust your instinct. Take risks.
You’ve seen the wall posters, you’ve heard it all before, but there’s a reason these eternally cheery pieces of business advice keep popping up again and again. They’re all manifestations of what is possibly the most critical element to a successful career path.
What all these bits and pieces of career wisdom really mean to say is this:
Keep moving forward even when things go wrong or you don’t feel inspired because you believe enough in your art and yourself.
Sure, having a strong, undying belief in your ability and vision as a creative professional is extremely important, but taking action on that belief is even more critical to your success.
Because here’s what always happens: Your belief in yourself and your work will waver here and there, doubt will strike when you least expect it. You’ll think about all the fun everyone else is having on a Friday night when you decide to stay home and work.
In an excellent interview, Ira Glass, producer and host of This American Life, very beautifully and logically explains the need for pushing onward in any creative endeavor:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
“A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
“And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
You’re reading this and taking classes from CreativeLive because you know you have that creative fire burning inside you.
You have good ideas, you want to get them out into the world, and you want to make good money doing it. But the only way to get those ideas out there is to push on and go through that “volume of work,” no matter what.
Yes, fear and doubt are always there, lingering in the background—but we need them. We need to use fear to push away from it. We need to turn doubt’s cumbersome pressing down into a constantly moving, forward-flinging force.
What’s really good to remember is that when you want to push through your doubt but still doubt that you can, there are so many ways to get help. You have your like-minded friends and fellow creatives, classes and artist residencies, seminars and books—and blogs like this one! The support network is there, the tools are plentiful, and once you know where to find them, that’s the first step forward that will lead you toward the fulfillment of your ambitions.
However, we are undoubtedly creatures of habit—although this is sometimes viewed in a negative light. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, old habits die hard, and, my personal favorite from dear old Dostoevsky: “Man is such scoundrel, he can get used to anything.”
But there are some experts who beg to differ with the Russian great. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck created the idea of the “growth mindset”, and in her 2014 book Mindset, she wrote:
“You can see how the belief that cherished qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning. Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
The growth mindset (versus the “fixed mindset”) is all about forming new habits for positive reasons. It means that you learn new ways for the sake of learning and growing, for the sake of challenging yourself to achieve your ambitions.
Everyone has a different way of approaching the habit-forming process, but as you persist in your work, you will get to know yourself better and discover what styles of learning and creating work best for you on a regular basis. You might start out with zero knowledge and skills in a certain area, but you will always end up learning something about your work and/or yourself. Undergo this process a few times and you’ll be surprised how much progress you can make.
If you are wary of forming habits that you think may stifle your creativity, remember that it’s always about balance. Going off the beaten path is also part of the creative experience and informs the creative process in a whole different way.
Our everyday life is a combination of routines and habits (working at the office, picking up the kids, shopping for groceries, brushing your teeth) and some spontaneous stuff thrown into the mix–like a happy hour turned into a long night out, or after a rainy week, waking up on Saturday morning to gorgeous sunshine, which calls for a day at the park or a road trip.
It can make a profound difference in your life to realize that it’s okay to start out slowly, to initially produce work you aren’t proud of; the main point is that you are creating constantly.
How you can safely motivate yourself with the guaranteed idea of constant, consistent creation?
As long as you keep working at it, even if it’s a slow start, as long as you keep pushing through even when you feel uninspired or feel like a failure, as long as you keep trying and creating and getting your art out there, you will succeed because simply by believing in yourself enough to do what you love you are already succeeding. Of course, that is just the first stage of success.
Things will change—and continue to change–in your creative work and in yourself when you push yourself to just keep going.
The idea of success based on persistence (99% perspiration) is much easier to believe when you see it in action by artists who show you their daily progress and final results.
You may have read or even known someone who has undertaken a “100 days” or “365 days” project, a concept that has been gaining traction among creatives, both amateurs and professionals.
Recently, Casey Cosley posted on our blog about the results of his 365 days of taking portrait shots of strangers. He only made it to 300, but the lessons he learned were invaluable to him and his success as a photographer.
And then there’s the professor at Yale’s School of Art who leads a design workshop where each student must perform a creative skill every day for 100 days and share it each day publicly via photo or video.
There are also 30 day projects (less time, but more intensive) like NANOWRIMO which has been running since 1999. Each November, NANOWRIMO participants aim to produce 50,000 words in a month (about 1,667 words a day), which is a decent start for a first draft of a novel.
But why would you spend hundreds of hours on work that you love to do but aren’t sure about its quality? Heed this wise career advice from Rumi: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
In other words, you just can’t go wrong with a project that asks you to draw on your creativity every single day.
It’s like going to school for the soul. Only a robot would come away unchanged.
Don’t waste time overanalyzing—you know your passion, you know you want to be successful with it, so sit your ass down and get to work.
You don’t need to be inspired to get the work done, and the work you create doesn’t need to be perfect or exactly what you pictured in your mind.
Tomorrow you will wake up, be happy that you did the work, and your mind and creative forces will be that much more open to stepping it up a notch and getting the work done again, again and again.