Sometimes it seems like all the work we do gets smacked down, no new clients are coming in, everyone seems to hate you, and you broke the egg yolk when you were trying to make breakfast and now DANGIT how are you going to dip your toast?
Hello, Eeyore mode.
Hello, rocking back and forth in the fetal position on the floor.
Sure sometimes shit sucks but facing our fears and failures are all about pulling ourselves back up and enjoying the Hundred Acre Wood again.
It made total sense that we talked about facing our fears for our October meetup. Failures in the creative world feel like they have much greater consequences than crying at a Haunted House (don’t judge - I get scared easily).
We spent a terrifying morning facing our fears and talking about how we overcame failures. So take a deep breath, grab your best friend’s hand, and enter the haunted house with me.
What is your identity? What is your success?
As creatives, it’s all too easy to make our work become our identity. The reception and success of our designs, words, and illustrations are directly linked to our happiness. While it’s natural we feel this way, it’s important to start to separate or add more layers to our identity.
Eeyore mode is only one “no” away with this, so tread with caution.
Figure out what you need to validate yourself and what a ‘growth mindset’ means to you. To do that you need to define success. Don’t think of success as just money or number of clients- position success across your entire life.
For example, my idea of success right now is doing projects that add more good to the world, having time to work on my forest farm, and time to relax with my partner and friends.
Your idea of success is really tied up with your identity. Once you know and position your goals, you can move forward through failures and fears empowered rather than floundering (as much).
So stop RIGHT NOW before you read any more and define success for your life.
Resiliency and pendulums
A word that kept popping up through the meeting was “resiliency.” But WHAT DOES THAT ACTUALLY MEAN?
It’s certainly the buzzword of the year and everyone keeps telling everyone else to build up their resiliency. But as a writer, I find the word so utterly vague. So we really dug into it.
Resiliency is having the space to deal with shit when it hits the fan. Yeah, I write poetry everyone.
It’s knowing when to pause in the middle of a crisis and figuring out how to balance your successes with your failures.
Think of stress like a pendulum- if you haven’t built up your resiliency when life gets hard you don’t have very far to swing. You’re bouncing back and forth like a lottery ball machine. It’s painful and confusing and all you’re doing is desperately waiting for a winning outcome.
Resiliency gives you more space to swing, to have space and strength when it’s bad.
Ok, cool, how do you make space, Anna?
Develop good habits when life is good.
We tend to only really kick into gear when it’s hard, which means we’re not putting practices into place that we can fall back on when the carpet gets ripped out from under us.
When things are good, make the time to take a walk in nature, meditate, breathe, do yoga, exercise, journal. Reach out to your community and really develop your relationships when you’re in a space of giving so when you need support it’s there for you.
The goal of resiliency is to make more room for your pendulum to swing. Failure is going to keep happening, so prepare for it! Train for it like you would a race!
Last month we dove into imposter syndrome, something almost every creative struggles with. But failures are also tied to Extreme Excellence syndrome (coined by the Brown sisters in the podcast How to Survive the End of the World).
Extreme Excellene is the flip side of Imposter Syndrome- it tells us that we must be good at everything, that we must get an A+, that we must master every step of every project.
Look, we’re not good at everything, and anyone who says they are is super annoying (am I right???). Perfection is always in front of you but something you’ll never be able to grasp. It’s hard to come to terms with that, but once you do failures won’t hurt as much.
And remember, the imperfections are what makes life great. It’s what makes us grow.
Hack your own bullsh**
All that stuff that we’re not good at? Hack it. When things are slow for you take the time to list out your process and figure out what’s in your control and out of it.
Write down your pain points and do work on them.
Take notes, analyze your habits, conduct audits and figure out how to hack your own bullshit so when life smacks you upside the head you can handle it.
Build systems around the stuff you’re not good at so you can focus on the stuff that gives you life and energy.
If you’re really stuck in the mud go back to basics. Just paint or write or draw or photograph or sing the shower- remind yourself of the real reason why you’re in your creative field. Who knows? That just might spark a new idea or bring a new client in.
And remember that we’re here for you. Join the Rise & Design Slack channel and ask the community for help when you need it.
Setting up expectations
I’m not just talking about client expectations here.
But we’ll cover that first.
A lot of times failures are when clients reject our work or go with another designer. It hurts like a ton of bricks and it’s hard to pull ourselves out of it.
When things go sideways try and figure out where it went wrong. Do you need to do more explaining up front on the deliverables? Do you need to dial in on the process for them more? You have to assume that your client has NO idea how the creative process works and you need to put your educator hat on.
Understand what the actual goal of the project is. Ask questions at the beginning like
“Why are you coming to me instead of doing this yourself?”
“If I could wave my magic wand, what would be the ideal outcome of this project?”
This way when you scope out the project you are fully addressing their real needs and not just what they think they are coming to you for. It also sets proper expectations for yourself.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself too! You know, this requires it’s own lil’ section. See below.
As creatives, we’re wildly empathetic. In fact, I believe that’s 90% of our jobs. But as business owners, it’s all too easy to get sucked into client work and networking and posting to Instagram but we need to check in with our hearts too.
Going back to your definition of success (you did it, right????). What expectations can you set to help you reach that success?
What do you need to build into your life to find it?
Check in with yourself monthly, quarterly, weekly, or yearly. No matter what, Nike it. Just do it. You need to contextualize your work within the greater world of your life and how you’re feeling about it.
When to quit
As people who are looking towards Extreme Excellence, it’s really hard to say no.
We get scared to lose relationships by showing weakness and take on projects that are outside our wheelhouse, thinking we’ll just figure it out.
But hey overachiever, sometimes it’s better to refer. It actually builds trust with the community and the client. If you refer a retainer client to someone else for a particular project they’ll probably value you even more because you understand your limits and expertise and want the very best for them.
Sometimes it’s best to say no. “All good things must come to an end,” as someone somewhere once said at some point in time. If you think it will cost you your sanity, your values, or your time- say no! Refer! Outright refuse!
It’s ok to quit!!!
What failure really means
If a project falls through just remind yourself that you’re weren’t right for the match, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If another designer wins over your proposal, congratulate them! And go find other work that fits better for you.
The question I’ll leave with you today:
Is it really a failure if you learned something?
Feeling stuck with no good ideas? Get a brief and design for it. Great for pulling yourself out of rut, building up your portfolio, and teaching.
Anna’s Quarterly Audit (google docs)
Check in on life and business. This is a view-only doc- please make a copy for yourself and edit at will.
Learn when you need to quit.
When you need a pick-me-up
To gracefully falling on your face,