This afternoon I got to do something really special, and it occurred to me I should get these thoughts written down before they start to dissipate. I figured why not share them with all of you, lest they be of a tiny bit of help or inspiration to someone else... The special thing I got to do was join a few other women on a Google hangout (ie. video call) with two of the creative women who I admire the most: visual artist and illustrator, Lisa Congdon, and founder of Design*Sponge, Grace Bonney!
Lisa is one of my favourite contemporary artists - I, like I think everyone who sees her work, love her style, and also I share her adoration of all things Scandinavian. More than that, her story of becoming an artist later in life (you can listen to a lot of it in this Good Life Project episode) is one that's really inspired me and helped me give myself permission to try this change of career path when it feels like that ship has already sailed. And Grace - if you somehow don't know Design*Sponge it's one of the most popular and long running design blogs - has such a wealth of knowledge about the design world and what it's like running an online business. Not to mention that after listening to her episode of the JV Club and learning she loved My So-Called Life as much as I did (do!), I feel a special kinship with her.
Business woman extraordinaire Rena Tom (who runs Makeshift Society) was also there moderating the call and giving bonus advice in the chat window. I had actually done a call like this with Rena and a larger group a while back, more specifically about business advice for new creative entrepreneurs, and it was great to chat with her again. The chance to do this came around via a Kickstarter campaign she recently ran to help raise funds for the new Brooklyn location of Makeshift (I'm so jealous, wish we had something like this in Vancouver!), it was one of the backer rewards.
The call went by fast, but I got to ask a few questions, and as much as I could have grilled them about business know-how, instead I focused on getting some advice about the sorts of things that are a bit harder to learn. Namely, I asked about how to use one's energy wisely when doing creative work and how to overcome creative paralysis.
Self-care, balance, and energy-management
I didn't have enough time to really get into how severe my health issues (and burnout) have been, so some of the advice was more tailored to "normal" (ie. not chronically ill) people around the reality of how hard it is and how much work it is to get a creative business off the ground. But what really hit home with me was that balance and avoiding burnout is just an ongoing struggle, even for people who are already successful (both Grace and Lisa have been very open and vocal about their struggles with this). Grace recommended working on setting up some sources of "passive" income (like ads, licensing, etc.) so that there's a small regular paycheck of some kind coming in. And Lisa basically said that it's a major focus for her right now and she's going to be working on and writing more about this in the new year... I'm looking forward to hearing more about her journey.
I think my take away was that (and I realize this should be really obvious but it wasn't) I really do have to start from scratch again with this career change - there's no getting around it. And because my energy is still so limited and unpredictable right now, that is just going to mean everything is going to need to happen a lot slower than I want it to. Patience and pacing is going to be a major virtue for this overachiever.
Overcoming creative paralysis
When I asked about this, I specially said that since they seem to confident online, I wondered if they ever struggle with getting stuck creatively, and if so how they deal with it. The conversation actually ended up centering around (appearances of) confidence, and dealing with criticism online, which I'm sure being pretty public figures they deal with a ton. I think it was Rena though, who suggested that a good way to get more support and more feedback is through joining/creating a "Biz ladies" group of one's own - ie. a group of other creatives who can gather (in person or online) and discuss challenges, give feedback, and support each other. I think Rena is totally right, and I could really benefit from such a group (and hopefully return the favour) so that's the homework I'll be giving myself. Or more so the homework Rena gave me, and I'm a student by nature, so I take the assignment seriously!
Even though my question wasn't completely addressed, in a magical coincidence, a couple hours after the call, I ended up coming across this wonderful interview with author Elizabeth Gilbert on Brené Brown's blog, which is mostly about how to deal with fear as a creative! In it Elizabeth Gilbert says:
You must accept that Creativity cannot walk even one step forward except by marching side-by-side with its attached sibling of Fear...I decide every day that I love Creativity enough to accept that Fear will always come with it. And I talk to Fear all the time, speaking to it with love and respect, saying to it: “I know that you are Fear, and that your job is to be afraid... [But] I will always choose Creativity over you. You may join us on this journey...but you will not stop me and Creativity from choosing the direction in which we will all walk together.” And then… onward we march: Me and Creativity and Fear, enmeshed forever, limping along and definitely a little weird-looking, but forever advancing.
One way or another, I had a lot of fun (which was much needed after an extremely rough health week this past week) and got the answers I was looking for with an added dash of delicious realism:
- Accept the process and that it will be slow.
- It's better not to do it alone (find some peers and get support!)
- Learn to befriend, or at least work alongside, fear.