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On June 5th, I turned 30 and ye olde blog turned two.
Though two years is a relatively short period of time to have been doing this work, it also feels like an eternity. Upon hearing this, more travel-worn creatives will perhaps look at me like Derek Zoolander’s father did when, after a day of mining, Derek coughs delicately and says, “I think I’ve got the black lung, Pop.” His father replies, “You’ve been down in that mine for one day. Talk to me in thirty years!”
I am learning that what has felt like a herculean effort (sometimes sisyphean, while we’re referencing Greek myths) is more like dipping my feet in the ocean. But above all, I know now that a learning mindset is crucial to longevity in this work.
And so, in that spirit, here are the top three things I’ve learned in two years as a full-time professional creative.
There is no secret. There is no hack. There is only the work.
When I looked at successful creatives, the ones getting book deals and posting regularly for their 87 million followers and landing speaking gigs, I thought there was some secret they knew that I didn’t. And if I just discovered that secret, all of my problems would vanish. I thought there was a perfect system to create or a hack to learn that, once implemented, I would never have to touch again.
In all of my wheel-spinning and bandwidth expending, I was taking time and energy away from the one thing that would actually help me make progress. The everyday, unglamorous work.
I didn’t realize that my frantic effort to find the perfect plan for guaranteed success was mostly procrastination from the work that was either boring or uncomfortable. It was a seemingly productive way to avoid the things that would actually help me build my business.
A couple of tools that have helped with this mindset shift?
This work takes time, and that is a gift.
I entered into my current creative work with the naive assumption that the book idea that started this whole thing would be out in the world by now. L to the O to the L. In the earliest days, I worked with a few great editors (shout out to Tiffany Owens, Stephanie Nicolopolis, and Ashley Hong) who helped that version of Unsuitable translate into a manuscript proposal. I have, from day one, felt that the premise of the work to be deeply important and timely. I even believed I had the ability to be the one to do that work. The third leg of the stool, as they say in the publishing world, “platform,” has always been my biggest issue.
I used to become irritated at the necessity of having an audience who will likely buy the book. But now, I appreciate the time that Unsuitable has had to marinate and shift. And the time I’ve had to improve as a writer and refine my ideas. In the upcoming quarter, I plan to revisit that same manuscript proposal with the expectation that it will continue to change throughout the process. And all of that time and shifting means that it will be the best it can possibly be for the sake of those it’s designed to help. That is a gift.
Some words that have helped here:
- Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren.
- “The Anatomy of a Compelling Book Proposal” by Alex Field
Self-sufficiency is a death-knell to creative work.
Another coach of mine, Brian Dixon, says, “You can’t read your own label.” While there are things only we can do, we cannot and should not do everything. If you’re like me, it’s difficult to ask for help. I think this is true for many people, but for those of us who spend a significant amount of time alone (i.e. singles and creatives) it can get extra tricky. There is the issue of not having someone we feel entitled to ask for help, and the fear of being perceived as needy.
But the fact is, whether we like it or not, we need other people. We need another perspective. We need help sharpening our ideas and our skills. It is risky and vulnerable, and we can take feedback with a grain of salt. But with those established, trust-filled relationships, the fruit of collaboration can be great.
Some books that have been helpful here:
Here’s to two years. And here’s to many more. Thanks for sticking around. While you’re here, leave a comment and let me know what you’ve learned in the past year.
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