Dreams Only Work If You Do
Being a creative is an awesome and challenging experience. While we get to stay connected to the ethereal threads of the other world, reality, in specific discipline, can be very challenging. The day I decided to quit my job and begin working full time for myself as a creative was the most awesome and terrifying experience of my life. While I hated working for other people and hated working in the service industry, it provided me with two very important pillars that most creatives lack - discipline and structure.
My journey with building my own business began while I was still in school. At the time I was in school full time on top of being the General Manager at a restaurant. Finding the time to build my dream felt next to impossible. I couldn’t afford to rent my own studio, but I did have access to family property and with that access to build my own. I chose to renovate an old horse stall in our barn that had been converted into a bathroom sometime during the 80’s. The loft above the bathroom was converted into a living space and used for a handful of years. Once my family decided to turn it back into a hay loft the bathroom below was neglected and fell apart.
Fast forward 20 plus years and I was given a run down, water damaged, pack rat infested room to call my first studio. Renovating this space was hands down one of the most challenging things I have accomplished. I only had one day a week to do work and boy was it work. I began by gutting the entire space. After it was empty again I used as much recycled materials to recreate the space as possible. Most days I worked alone, but for the really big projects I was lucky enough to have the assistance of my mother and a family friend. I will forever be grateful for the amount of knowledge I have gained from my mom and her support when I needed it the most.
Every Sunday I was in my studio. Some days felt impossible. Construction work is never fun. You get to work in the hottest heat and the most frigid cold. Overall the renovation took me about 8 months working one day a week. Because I used mostly recycled goods I was able to keep my cost way down. Not having to hire workers also helped immensely. On the days that I really felt like giving up or calling it quits, I simply took a breath and reminded myself why I started. I would envision myself in the space making jewelry. I would envision where I would set everything up. After that I would focus on one tiny task at a time.
Success is a tricky concept for us sometimes. Our culture has bred the idea of instant gratification into all of us. If we don’t see immediate results we tend to lose interest or give up. What we fail to take into account is that success is incremental. Even if its one tiny task that is accomplished a day, those small series of tasks quantify faster than we may think. On the days where I found my feet exceptionally heavy or my body exceptionally exhausted I would still drag myself into my space and do SOMETHING, anything, even if it was the tiniest of things. If all I did on days like that was hang one piece of trim, or paint one section of wall, it was still better than doing nothing and reserving my energy to a day where I was “feeling more productive”.
Completing my studio was my first exercise in discipline as a solo creative. I created my own deadline and held myself accountable. The rest of my free time I spent branding my company, having my logo created and reserving all my relevant social media and web info. By the time I graduated school I had a registered LLC, a logo, all my social media set up, and a functional studio space with the bare minimum to start producing.
One important thing I learned through this process was to start. Just start. I hear of a lot of people holding off on major life events for when the timing is right. The first step to accomplishing major goals is to understand that the timing will never be right. You will never feel completely prepared, there will always be more to invest in, and the challenges will never go away. Same concept as before - small steps are still steps toward success.
I find myself having conversations with many creatives seeking advice on forging their own path. One topic that comes up again and again is structure. Everyone needs structure, but creatives especially need structure. When you are in charge of your own schedule this can be tricky as we often find ourselves taking longer than usual to have coffee and browse around on the internet in the mornings, or taking extra long lunch dates with friends. One of the biggest challenges in working for myself has been getting other people to understand that working for myself actually means I have less free time and that I do have a real job.
Creating structure was tricky for me in the beginning, but after some time I got a better grasp on what works and what doesn’t. The following are some tips on how I was able to create a working structure for myself:
UNDERSTAND HOW YOU WORK - Not all of us thrive with the same time constructs. Taking the time to analyze your work habits is imperative. I personally find that if I start earlier in the day I have better work days. I also found that the middle of the week works the best for me for studio days. I allowed myself a month to adjust and find my rhythm.
RITUALS FOR PRODUCTIVITY - Creating little rituals every day is very helpful in structuring a productive day. For me it is waking up, making my bed, and getting dressed right away. After that I can have my coffee, eat, do whatever else I need to do and get out the door. I also try to wake up at 7 every day. I find that if I sleep in too late my energy drags and I am less likely to get everything done.
MORE TIME DOESN’T MEAN MORE PRODUCTIVITY - Despite how capitalist America is structured and what we are taught in grade school, more time doing the same thing doesn’t actually mean better or more results. I find I actually have better results in shorter time frames. Changing up your tasks is also very helpful. If there are days where I can’t squeeze a creative concept out of my head I work on something else. It could be accounting, branding, designing, working in a different medium, or making repetitive components I use regularly. The beauty of working for yourself is that you don’t have to torture yourself with 8 hour days. Find your most productive time frame and honor that.
CREATE A SCHEDULE AND HONOR IT - Most creatives are visual people. Having a visual reminder that is always present is a very helpful tool in staying organized. I got a giant dry-erase calendar that lives on my fridge. I write out everything from when bills are due, what days I’m in the studio, appointments, and even days off. If you are going to work for yourself you have to treat yourself the way you would any other employer and honor your commitments. Write yourself a work schedule. If your schedule says “Studio Day” you better find yourself in the studio that day.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE - I cannot stress this one the most. If you find that you are surrounded by energy vampires, cut the cord. A new business is like an infant - you leave it alone and it dies. People who create drama and drag in your life are unnecessary distractions that will steal time from your business. I tend to get a lot of shit for being too blunt or impatient with people. I learned the hard way that boundaries are often perceived as you being “mean”. At the end of the day, takers will always take and they thrive on other people’s lack of boundaries. Real friends will respect your needs and reciprocate. My general rule is to only surround myself with people who are doing as well or are more successful than myself. Eliminate toxic people.
DEADLINES - Give yourself deadlines. Give yourself deadlines all of the time. When you take an order, give yourself a deadline for when you will complete it. Working on a collaborative project? Create a deadline. Want to build a new body of work or collection? Announce when it will be ready, give yourself a deadline. Creatives can merge into the lazy lane very easily. Deadlines hold you accountable and help you to stay on track.
RULE OF 3 - Every day I give myself three non-negotiable tasks to complete. No matter how the day goes, if these three tasks are checked off by the end, it was a success. It doesn’t matter the time frame or the order, it’s just about doing them. They don’t have to be specifically work related. Real life is still a priority too. At the beginning of the week I write down my major tasks to accomplish and plug them into my week by three’s. By the end of the week you usually find that you were able to complete all of them, and then some.
These are just a few of the things I find very helpful in maintaining as a creative. Implementing these are what helped me to finish my studio and help me every day with work. Pick and choose what resonates and leave the rest. As I said, we are all individuals who thrive in different ways. Our biggest success as creatives is developing what works specifically for us. My journey has been very labor intensive and filled with learning curves, but I have been able to build my own dream from scratch. No matter how you approach your goals or what works for you the main the thing to remember is to show up. Show up for yourself every single day. Complete one tiny task at a time, continue showing up, and the rest will follow.