The questions in this post came straight from Made Vibrant readers in my email community, Self-Made Society. If you're not signed up yet, do so here! I asked subscribers to write back with one question they have for me, and I received dozens of responses, spanning topics like my creative process, creative business revenue streams, email list growth and marketing, pricing, and personal motivation.
I tried to answer them all by breaking them down into categories. This group pertains mostly to confidence and the creative mindset.
On dealing with comparison...
“Do you have a specific practice to help yourself when you start comparing your journey, yourself or your gifts to others?”
-- Submitted by: Rachel S.
For a long time, honestly my strategy for dealing with comparison was just to try and avoid it altogether. I’d be on social media and scroll past a photo of a fellow artist that made me feel like my work wasn’t good enough or I’d start comparing my journey to theirs, and when I recognized the presence of that feeling, I’d simply hit unfollow. I thought, You can’t feel bad about what you can’t see, right?
But I knew that wasn’t a winning strategy forever, because in doing so I wasn’t actually confronting the source of that comparison: me.
Comparison is a natural part of the human condition. It stems from our deeply rooted biological wiring that tells us there are limited, finite resources and we need to be on alert to compete with those around us for those resources to ensure our survival. While this is incredibly helpful when we’re all cave people living off the land, it’s NOT very useful when we’re cultivating our creativity.
Finally I’m now entering a phase where I have enough confidence in what I’ve created these past few years that I don’t need to avoid comparison anymore. In fact, now I use that feeling as a guidepost, bringing my awareness to my own desires. When I scroll past an artist or fellow entrepreneur and I have that feeling, now I can ask myself: Where is this coming from? What it is that I see that person doing or having that I feel envious of or that makes me feel less than?
Is it that they’ve developed a unique and distinct artistic style? Great, then I know I just need to create more things to work on that. Is it that they have dozens of comments from fans who love their work? Cool, then maybe it’s time to prioritize my community more. See what I mean -- I still experience that feeling, but now I can recognize it and use it as a motivator to keep creating (without beating myself up.) I don’t let comparison discourage me, I let it encourage me to keep going, to keep working.
**In short: If comparison is holding you back from creating, then do yourself a favor and block it out to focus on your own work. Keep your eye on your own journey, and don’t waste any precious time focusing on others. Cultivate confidence in the things you DO have, rather than what you don’t. And if you’re at the point where you’re ready to widen your view again and keep tabs on what peers are doing, then consider using that feeling of comparison as fuel to push you toward the desires that are still within you.**
On creating with depression (or, in my case, anxiety)..
“I was wondering if you have any tips/ideas about designing with depression. Or more accurately, dealing with depression while designing. It's really hard for me to keep my creativity when I'm having a rough time and it kinda shuts down almost completely.”
-- Submitted by: Perlin A.
As much as I wish I had a definitive answer for this, I don’t want to belittle the struggles of depression by pretending I know what it’s like to try and design with depression. I don’t. However, I do struggle with anxiety. Two years ago I went through a period when I was starting my business where it got so bad it was affecting me on a physical level -- dizziness, chest pains, shortness of breath. Every day it was all I thought about and it made working really difficult. The worst part was feeling like it would never get better. That every day was going to be like that going forward.
I don’t know what brought about the change for me -- maybe the exhaustion of living like that for a few months -- but finally I said to myself: What if I just try convincing myself that it WILL get better, whether I believe it at first or not? What if I operate on the assumption that things WILL eventually improve?
That shift in perspective was enough for me to start making the tiniest moves to climb out of the hole I felt in. My new belief freed up enough hard drive space in my brain that I could start to see the changes I needed to make to at least limit the things that were causing me anxiety, and to be more discerning with the projects I took on.
As for how this applies to your story, my advice would be to first try my trick of convincing yourself that it won’t always be this hard. You may not even believe yourself at first, but trust me when I say that the underlying belief will give you a tiny bit of relief which you can use to free up a bit of energy and clarity. Then, I’d also say get really acquainted with yourself and your intuition. In my guide Connecting With Your Core, I talk about developing a language between your head and your heart. If you can develop a sense of mindfulness within yourself and clue into even the slightest things that either lift your mood or keep you feeling shrouded in depression, then you can take actions to do more of what lifts you up and less of what keeps you down.
On a more practical level, my guess is that it’s not very predictable when you’re going to be feeling motivated to design or when you’re going to need time to take care of yourself. I know there are many MV readers that also have chronic illnesses and can relate to that. Because of that unique circumstance, I recommend coming up with a work process that allows for extra flexibility and time cushions. Maybe you take your design timelines and build in a few extra days when working with clients. This means that if you wake up one day and you’re not feeling it, you can focus on some other aspect of your work that doesn’t take quite as much brain or will power.
**In short: Believe that it will get better. Build in time and processes that allow for flexibility, and give yourself permission to take care of yourself.**
Further reading: Connecting With Your Core
On finding the motivation to course correct...
“When you are in a ‘I don't like what I'm currently doing.. what's next for me’ phase.... What helps you take action?”
-- Submitted by: Phil Aube
Well, maybe this isn’t the most relatable answer but it’s the honest one! Here’s one gift-slash-curse that I’ve always had deeply embedded in my personality: once I make the realization that the current path I’m walking is the wrong one, it becomes actually painful for me to keep going down that path. Painful in this sense just means my core self feels so uncomfortable and resistant that it’s all I think about. I’ve become so intimately acquainted with my own core self and what it wants that when I’m out of alignment, it’s like my own inner voice is screaming at me “TIME TO CHANGE COURSE!”
So to answer your question, what helps me take action is the recognition that the sooner I course-correct, the sooner I alleviate that psychic pain. Even if making that shift is uncomfortable (which it always is), I just remind myself that staying stuck on the wrong path is the MOST uncomfortable thing because to me it feels like a waste -- wasted potential, wasted time. We only get a certain number of moments on this earth and I intend to spend mine wisely (aka BRIGHTLY.)
**In short: Ask yourself what’s more uncomfortable: taking action to get back to a path where you DO enjoy the way you’re spending your time (and life) or continuing to waste minutes and days and months doing something you know is out of alignment with what you truly want? Then, use that answer to motivate you to action.**
Further reading: The Clarifying Power of Regret
On balancing the less exciting parts of a creative business with the things that light you up...
"How do you refocus when you feel like you're just ‘checking boxes’ in your business? I understand that every day I'm not going to be completely passionate about every aspect of my business and some things are going to make me uncomfortable and I'm just going to have to DO THEM. But I also realize that energy and sharing my passion about something is what attracts people and I'm MORE effective when I'm passionate, white hot and excited.”
-- Submitted by: Dr. Lauren Frauenheim
I feel like this question is at the heart of what it means to run a soulful, heart-centered creative business! The foundation of your question is how to balance things that are necessary but less than stimulating in your business with the things that really light you up and get you excited.
Honestly, this is a toughie for me because I think the answer is different for every person and where they are with business! I will say that I don’t believe anyone, especially solopreneurs, can run a business and be on fire with excitement for every single task in keeping up that business. That’s like online biz utopia and I’m just not sure that’s practical for most of us. The key, then, is in making sure that the aspects of running your business that you’d consider merely “checking boxes” are not stealing precious energy from the heart-aligned aspects. What I mean by that is, while a task like emailing clients/customers maybe not soul-stirring or get you fired up, you just want to make sure that task is not soul-DRAINING. If there are aspects of your business that are actually taking a negative toll and preventing you from shifting your energy to that white hot excitement in other aspects, it’s time to rethink those tasks. See if you can outsource them or reframe them or do away with them altogether and change up your process to minimize that kinds of energy-zapping.
On a more macro level, aside from just daily tasks, there may be times that you find yourself in a “checking boxes” phase altogether -- a time when you have to hit pause on the more creative and exciting projects in order to focus on ideas that are less exciting but more predictable in terms of income. This could be because you’re in a tight financial spot and you need to focus on bringing in some immediate cash so that you have the breathing room to feel excited again. As a creative who has found herself in that phase on more than one occasion, I think it’s perfectly normal. After all, we can’t do our soul’s work to our best ability when we’re worried about paying the bills all the time. So I think it’s totally helpful to give yourself permission to focus on the more “business-y” goals for a second in order to make breathing room for the white hot excitement. (And hey, if those things are one in the same, well more power to ya!)
**In short: Not every aspect of your business is going to light your soul on fire with excitement and come flowing out of you with ease. That’s okay. Just make sure that whatever those less-than-thrilling aspects are, that they are a) not negatively impacting your spirit and b) at least helping you get to place and a greater goal that DOES light you up.**
Further listening: I go into these ideas more in-depth in my interview with Tiffany Han on her podcast, Raise Your Hand Say Yes.
On finding confidence in your own creative process...
“How do you start a branding or an illustration project when you have a great idea of a theme, but you don't have any clue how should it look?”
-- Submitted by: Zsuzsanna Németh
The first thing I’ll offer up to you that might be a helpful mindset shift is this: there actually isn’t a way something “should” look. That’s what YOU get to create and decide! The whole fun of branding or illustration is uncovering the creative solution to a project throughout your process, whatever that might be. So perhaps it might free your creativity up a bit to start viewing your process in a spirit of openness as though it’s a discovery, rather than a linear path from idea to execution/solution. Viewing it in the latter way -- as if you’re “trying to find the right answer” -- puts pressure on you to hit a bullseye versus being open to new ideas and discoveries.
Something that also might help you is developing a clear process for yourself to help you get from point A -- like a “theme” -- to an end product. For example, in my branding process, I have many different “checkpoints” along my process that carry me through to a final brand. I begin with a conceptual brief, then I decide on five tone words, I create a mood board, pick out exploratory colors, then choose typography, design a logo and round it out with graphic elements. Each part of that process is like another tiny ingredient or piece that I can add to my branding stew, which helps me land on a “flavor” that feels right rather than just trying to go from a general theme and stare at a blank piece of paper (or Illustrator art board!)
**In short: Break your design process down into bite-sized stages and allow yourself to be open to possibilities during that process. The more you can view your work as a discovery process rather than a test, the less pressure you’ll feel and your creativity will be free to express itself.**
On teaching yourself a new creative skillset without becoming overwhelmed...
“I have always had an interest in graphic/web design, and decided to start pursuing that as a career. My original thought was to go back to school… but I'm now going with Plan B, which is teaching myself. Sounds awesome in theory, but lately, I've been feeling overwhelmed and discouraged - there are SO many different classes to take and programs to learn that it just makes me want to take a nap and forget about it! There's also the recurring feeling that most creatives have of, ‘LOL there's no way I can do this and come out as talented as these people I'm looking at on social media.’ “
-- Submitted by: Nicole S.
As far as the idea of “I’m not as talented as these people on social media,” that kind of comparison is natural when you’re starting out, especially when you’re self-taught. See my earlier answer about comparison on that front!
I did also want to offer up some advice about teaching yourself graphic and web design, which is what I did! In the beginning, it’s all definitely very overwhelming: Which programs should I learn? Are my skills good enough, etc? Most people make the mistake of thinking they need to learn everything under the sun and master all the programs, which can oftentimes leave you feeling, as you said, like all you want to do is take a nap! My advice is to start with one very specific skill and one program in mind to learn. Once you get comfortable and master that, you can layer in new skills and new applications over time, as the opportunities pop up.
For example, I started out learning photoshop so I could create graphics to spruce up my blog (this was back in 2011!) Since I had a very specific program (Photoshop) and a specific reason for using it, it helped me seek out the online courses and resources that pertained to that one thing. Then I learned how to create blog post graphics, then a new blog logo. Once I felt comfortable, more people were asking to hire me to do their branding and I felt it was time to expand my skills to Illustrator. The same thing happened when I got a big branding project and they wanted a Brand Guidelines PDF -- that’s when I felt it was time to invest in learning InDesign to create a document like that.
**In short: Start with one specific skill and program to teach yourself, then upgrade or evolve your skills as the circumstances require more of you. Keep expanding your portfolio as you keep creating work. Narrowing your focus will help you fight that feeling of overwhelm, and the only remedy for comparison syndrome or lack of confidence is to keep creating until you believe in your voice and your own work.**
Further reading: Follow Your Curiosity And It Could Change Your Life
On figuring out the entrepreneurial path that best aligns with who you are...
“My question is all about how to start the entrepreneurial journey. I'll soon be out of college and would love to start by own business(es) but I'm quite lost regarding what to do... where to find the clients, and especially how to convince them I'm adequate enough even if I'm new-ish (but know I can do a good job nonetheless because I have the skills). Actually I modify that first part: not how to find what to do but how to prioritize as well so that it aligns with you!”
-- Submitted by: Camila R.
Here’s the thing about starting out and know what aligns with you. Unfortunately there's just no other answer than: experiment. When you’re fresh out of college, those first few years you are changing SO much. You’re figuring out where you want to live, who your friends are, how you want to spend your time, etc. so that target of alignment is going to be constantly shifting. To really know what you want at any given moment, you’ll need to engage in all kinds of things and activities. The best advice I can give you in the regard is to PAY ATTENTION. Get to know yourself, your intuition, and the signals your body sends you. What kinds of activities feel freeing and which feel confining? That will help you navigate and course-correct as you move forward.
As far as turning all of that into your own business, yes, it can be hard when you’re starting out and you don't have that much experience. (You may know that your skills are good enough, but you also need to show that to others if you want them to pay your or hire you.) Just remember that you are in control of how much experience you get. If you believe in your skills (and it sounds like you do) but people won’t hire you without experience, find time to take on small projects free of charge. Ask for testimonials. Hone your process. Use those experiences to build a portfolio so that when you do try to get paying clients, you have something to point to. Everything will likely feel uncertain in the beginning because you’ve never done it before but the more you’re able to withstand that uncertainty, the faster you’ll be able to get that experience and the more confidence you’ll have in charging what you’re worth.
**In short: Learn what you want and what feels good to you by experimenting. Test the waters on many things, and prioritize accordingly. If you’re worried about lack of experience, take on small projects for free to build a portfolio. Don’t just tell people what you can do, show them.**
Further reading: 5 Crucial Steps To Building A Profitable Online Business (see especially point #4: Do the work.)
On honing your creative voice...
“How long did it take to get your "voice" dialed in? Did people respond right away or did you have to make stuff for a while until you got it right?”
-- Submitted by: Katy S.
I would say that the first iteration of trying to hone my creative voice was when I started my first blog back in 2011. For the first three years or so I didn't really feel like I knew what my voice was -- what I wanted to talk about, what made me different, how I wanted to write. But the best decision I made back then was to write on a consistent basis, because that’s how I was able to not only get better at infusing my personality into my writing, but to look back over the course of time and find patterns.
To answer your question specifically, no people didn't respond right away. There was a long part in the beginning when I was really just experimenting and figuring things out, without expecting anything in return from readers. Then, I feel like once I got some clarity on my message and my voice, I started communicated with more confidence. That allowed me to attract an audience of people that “got it” and that’s when the response started to happen. People started to resonate. But it all begins with that exploration and clarity phase. It begins with letting go of perfectionism and the fear of “getting it wrong.” If you’re able to start from a place of curiosity and embrace the messiness of the beginning, that’s when you’re on the journey to finding your voice. It's about finding what YOU love and what you want to create. Once you have a better sense of that, share with confidence to a clearly-defined audience and things will surely start to resonate.
**In short: Finding your creative voice takes exploration and creating with consistency. Once you narrow in on what you want to share and your unique way of sharing it, doing so with confidence to a clearly-defined audience is the recipe for creating something that resonates.**
Further reading: 5 Tips For Uncovering Your Unique Creative Voice
On the value of experimentation..
"If there's one vital/helpful information you hope you knew before you started this journey, what would it be?"
-- Submitted by: Lyndee Katanyag
Great question! SO many things! But if I had to boil it down to one impactful thing, I think it would be this reminder: Life is an experiment.
I’ve written about this many times in different ways (like here and here) but the main reason this is a powerful guiding force for me is just that it reminds me that you won’t know unless you try. Every person, every business, every life -- we’re all different. The advice or blueprint that works for one person doesn’t always translate to another. We’re all looking for the roadmap not realizing that no one holds the right one because no one has ever lived THIS life, THIS way, at THIS particular time before. So the only real way to know what feels right in your gut, or what works for your business, is to get out there and experiment. Create, test, try, fail, and learn from the results.
There are still times when I find myself stuck thinking and strategizing and standing still, afraid to move forward because of the What ifs. And I KNOW there are SO many creatives with so much potential out there right now, afraid start the blog or start the business because they don't know if it's the right thing. What they don’t realize (and what I had to learn) was that ANY move you make is ultimately the right one because just one step forward in reality (even the wrong step) will teach you far more than standing still or moving forward only in your mind. We can make all the assumptions in the world but until we actually run the experiment, until we actually do the thing, we won't really know the outcome.
This one phrase also reminds me that the variables in this experiment of life are always changing. If my aim is to design a life and business around my values, then I have to constantly be checking in with myself to ask what those values are. I have to understand that I myself am a moving target and sometimes the only way to know if something aligns with my vision for my life is to simply go out there and try it. If I fail or if I decide it doesn’t feel right, I can remind myself that it’s still a win because I learned something from the experiment.
**In short: To learn, you must DO. And to do, you must embrace experimentation. The circumstances for the experiment of life are always changing, so give yourself permission to evolve along the way.**
Hope you enjoyed this Q&A post -- more installments coming soon!