The three biggest mistakes I’ve made in my creative career can be summed up in: Not allowing myself to start small, trying to do too many different things at once, and dropping my day job too soon.
All of them are related. They all have to do with rushing; trying to get to where I want to be ahead of time, ahead of the actual growth needed to get there. They also have to do with the big fat lie we’ve been sold – that we can have it all. We sure as hell can’t and we mess things up when we try.
1. Start small
This is my biggest challenge. Whatever I do, launching a website or learning how to paint water colours, I want it to be and look perfect from the get-go. Before I show anything to anyone, I want it to be complete, as good as it possibly could be. Good enough? Not my cup of tea, thank you.
For most of my life, this has kept me from exploring and enjoying the creative process. The last few years, I’ve challenged myself hard in this area and I can now share more of the raw material, more of the mess, I can let people in on both my creative process and my human journey – not just share the polished results. There’s always fear, but I know how to roll with it.
Businesswise, it has kept me from growing sustainably, and here I’m still learning. (COUGH producing the Creative Doer book as if I’m still working in a big publishing house and don’t actually have to pay the bills myself COUGH COUGH). I’m working on allowing things to be simple and small and then grow over time. Because trying to make things perfect is insanely stressful. It cost money and it costs joy. It often keeps you from doing anything at all.
Start where you are. Start small. Start lean. Start ugly. Keep it simple – and cheap! When you make money, you go fancier. When you grow, you upgrade. Let yourself be the newbie you are – it’s such a bloody relief. Don’t compare your first step with someone else’s twentieth step.
2. Don’t try to do too many things at once
Being multipassionate is a beautiful thing. But if you’re going to make an intentional effort to grow something, you’re going to have to focus for a while, until you’ve got it safely off the ground.
A little more than a year after I’d created and launched The Creative Doer as an online course – a fairly big production given my business was basically a one-woman show – I took on a new, even bigger project: Starting up teacher training Write Your Self together with a team of women. I love Write Your Self, what it has become and what it has taught me, but taking it on at that time, in the wholehearted (obsessive) way I do things, cost me A LOT. The increasing momentum of The Creative Doer – that I’d worked so damn hard for – slowed down and died, because I didn’t have enough time or energy to sustain it. About a year into trying to do both, I crashed and burned. Hard.
I’m no longer naive about what it takes to get a big project off the ground – whether it’s a business or a non-profit or a creative project. I know it takes focused effort, especially since we can’t press pause on the rest of our lives. We still have to take care of the home, the kids, our health and (probably) manage the day job. We can have it all is a lie. The truth is we have to choose.
3. Don’t quit your day job
There’s this popular notion in the self-help / entrepreneurial world of “taking the leap” (related to “do what you love and the money will follow”), suggesting that if you’re going to go for it, you have to be daring and jump headfirst into the unknown.
You can do it that way – if you have a lot of savings, if you have a partner who’s willing to support you in the transition, or if you’re extremely relaxed about money and don’t mind a bumpy ride and a shoestring budget.
I’ve been very prone to taking those leaps – letting go of employments, paying customers and lucrative projects in order to build something new, closer to my heart. I don’t regret moving in this direction, but I could have built these things anyway, while keeping enough other work to sustain a more even level of income, if only I’d allowed myself to start small and go slow. I could have taken it one small step after the other and it would have been smoother and kinder. This goes right back to mistake nr 1 above. Because of my striving, my rush and my perfectionism, building a new thing always consumed all available time, money and energy.
The truth is I couldn’t have done it like that without the financial support of my man, who has covered for me during these costly transitions. I think it’s important to be transparent about this, because being able to “take the leap” often has less to do with courage than with priviledge. We’re not all on equal footing here. Let’s not pretend we are.
The good news is we can do it another way, while keeping the day job. It will be slower but that’s not a bad thing. Grow at a pace you can handle. As soon as possible is not better – just like as big as possible is not better.
There. Maybe my mistakes can save you some time and heartbreak (you’re welcome!) If you want to get your hands on some tools and resources that will save you even more time and effort, head over to my Library and sign in (it’s free).
The learning continues…