Creative work is hard.
Like, really really exceedingly difficultly hard.
I wouldn't wish it on anyone who's not in it for the long run. If you're not willing to push through the crap just for the glimmer of hope on the other side, then this line of work is not for you. We, as creatives, do not create for money, or for fame, or for power - we create because we need to.
Like an inner flame that grows with each shutter button we press, each pen stroke we ink, each website or logo we design, each video we craft and shape, we realize it more and more. I realize it more and more. I wouldn't have gotten in to this field if I wasn't ready to deal with the junk that comes with it - all the difficult, highs and lows, ups and downs, good and bad clients, travels, friends, successful and failed art.
And yet through the bad, we push on. The people who never really love it tend to move on to a different path in life - one that is clearly more suited for them, regardless of their talent as a creative. That's okay. I've seen it happen a million times and I respect and love some of those people so much.
And then, there's the you and me. The ones who love it enough to stick it out, or the ones who see it and take it with every low blow we get, every dissatisfied client and failed personal art piece and string of motivation somehow lost out the window on the back of the wind. We push through because creativity is like a third limb and second nature to us, but it doesn't come without the crap.
As you grow as a creative and you build a business around your skill set, you learn all the things that can go wrong doing creative work. If you haven't learned this yet, just know this for now: there are a lot of things that can go wrong. I think one of the keys to my success in this area, the key to me being able to persevere through it, has ultimately boiled down to the attitude I have about it.
I've done a lot of things wrong as an artist, but for every time I have fallen, I have also picked myself back up and continued creating - because I have to. It's part of who I am.
And at the core of the issues that have presented themselves to me during the growth of my creativity and business, there's been at least two identifiable unifying factors that have helped me push through the rough and find the diamond.
Those two things are perspective and communication - and while this is very deeply a skill that i have learned because of the ladder rungs of creative work, it also directly applies to many other areas of life, and ultimately, helps me be a better human as WELL as a better artist.
Let's tackle perspective first.
No matter what way you spin it, no one will ever perfectly share a perspective with you. Each person on this planet has a different hope, dream, and goal from you - even when you're working on a project with a partner or for a client, all parties involved have vetted interests in very different goals than you do. Everyone sees art differently, too.
Before I learned this, I used to become massively discouraged by clients from whom I would receive negative feedback. When my audience didn't respond in a positive way to a piece of art that I created, I felt like a failure. When a business partner didn't agree with my ideas, I would become flustered and feel like they were too controlling.
In all areas, I was wrong to think the way I did.
Dale Carnegie has this incredible quote that aptly encapsulates this exact idea:
We're so invested in to our own way of thinking and our own outcome and OURSELVES that it is ultimately incredibly hard for us to see other people's perspectives - much less ASK about them and try to understand them. This is one of the key components, in my opinion, to people who own incredible businesses. The people who can do this understand their customer, their client, their employees, their coworkers... they take the time to learn WHO they are on an individual, personal level. They gain perspective through intent conversation and meaningful understanding - so when the times comes to understand the client, the customer, the employee - it's not about your goals, but theirs, and ultimately, the collective group's.
I've had countless clients who have returned negative feedback to me - in fact, it happens more often than not. Maybe I'm an outlier and a crappy photographer, but I'm willing to bet that the amount of negative feedback experienced in our businesses vastly outweighs the positive. It's just the way it is, because everyone sees things differently and has a different perspectives and goals and dream. It is only by understanding the other party's perspective that we can overcome the harsh blow of negative feedback and continue on creating.
So how do we learn to be understand other's perspectives? For me, a lot of it came through two very specific books that I've read:
How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie: I quoted this book above, and I pull perspective from it a lot in my daily life and in my blog. I only read this book last year, but it has helped me cultivate an understanding of others unlike I ever knew before. It's a relatively short read that will help you quickly understand the intricacies of perspective. Pick it up here.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey: Another great manual-on-life that has been cornerstone in me building a creative business. In this book, Stephen Cover dissects what it means to be effective as a human being - in business and in personal life - and offers anecdotes and real-life implementation on becoming a more effective human being. Pick it up here.
Along with perspective comes something else that is exceedingly important and goes hand-in-hand with perspective: communication. Without it, you can't have perspective and you can't reach win-win scenarios for both parties.
Most relationships begin to breakdown on the front-end at the communication level. Relationships, friendships, partnerships and client-customer relationships all have this issue and all need thoughtful communication to continue forward. It's actually sad that the one thing we have the hardest time doing as humans is also the keystone to building civilization and advancing it forward.
As a photographer, I see a lot of client-complaining online and through the social media web. It's a safe place for creatives to voice their concern, hurt, and difficulties - but often, I can't help but wonder if these problems could be avoided if communication between both parties was better. That's not to say there aren't bad clients worth complaining about - trust me, I've had a handful and every time, I have to hold my tongue from social media blasting.
But when we act out and become frustrated at our clients, our friends, our family - we're simply not doing enough to communicate well.
Good communication requires vulnerability, and and vulnerability requires humility, and humility requires us to rise above our own petty issues and see to the task at hand.
I often get very emotional with client feedback during the first round. As artists, we're so close to the work that we produce for clients that it can often feel like someone is tearing our world down when they give us their feedback. I know. I get it. It isn't until I separate myself emotional and take a different look at how my client is feeling and what THEIR perspective is, that I can truly provide a good job for them. Only when I understand their perspective can I truly communicate well with them.
When we are faced with a challenge as creatives - when we're pushing through the trenches of freelancing and self-employment and the difficulty of building a creative business, we have to remember that perspective and communication are everything. As the leader and head of our businesses, we are responsible for 100% of the client-customer relationship, from the initial meeting to the produced work to the final sale and the follow up. How would you like to be treated if you were going through that process with a creator? I'd bet on wanting your perspective to be understood, and wanting clear cut communication.
I used to live in a house with 8 other people, and one day, one of those people gave me this awesome nugget of wisdom and advice called the "Shitty First Draft." Basically, when someone angers you and communicates something to you that you didn't necessarily want to hear, you respond with a fake "draft" where you just tear them, the situation, everything apart. Use expletives. Get mad. Then delete it and don't send it. I recommend doing this on a note pad on your computer and NOT in your GMail draft e-mails.
Once you've gone through the catharsis of negative communication, go for a walk, clear your head, and try to think about what your client's or girlfriend's or husband's or best friend's perspective is. Why would they say what they did? Read between the lines and figure it out, then address it without emotion, uniting both of your goals as one. Talk about the elephant in the room first, use humor and make it real and relatable. Don't get emotional. Remember that you and the client are in this project together, as a relationship. It is not transactional.
No one is ever going to be happy with us all the time. It's about understanding each other and reaching a common goal through perspective and communication.
In that, we can incite real change, growth, and effectiveness.
I'm on a mission to show that the light will always pierce through the darkness.