How a Creative Person can Succeed in the “Real World”
Unfortunately it took me a long time to appreciate the concept of creativity. For years I allowed my creative mind to shackle me into a world of professional mediocrity. It had been a heavy ball and chain keeping me from experiencing life the way people around me did.
All I saw was the social media version of life — my worst moments and their best. While I struggled to make a living with my words, they grew professionally into the middle-management stages of their career — oblivious of the gift they’ve been given.
My gifts never provided a straight-line path to a version of the life that my circle got to live. I was a square peg that desperately wanted to fit into a round hole. That meant doing things that I didn’t find joy in for a living and allowing the things I loved to become hobbies.
Pursuing the life I thought I was supposed to live caused my skills to atrophy.
The tangible types of pursuits that my circle seamlessly slipped into were just never for me. Don’t get me wrong, those gifts made sense to me — they were palatable, and at the end of the day, transferred well into the “real world.”
Unfortunately, I was just never able to get to the same place. My “gifts” didn’t translate into the same success — either professional or financial.
No matter how hard I tried, I floundered, jumping from job to job in a never-ending search for the professional fulfillment I’ll never find. Now, at age 47, I’ve spent a good portion of my life feeling like an aimless log floating in the middle of the ocean.
Here’s the kicker, though — and it’s kind of a bummer that it took me this long to figure it out — I’ve been wrong. I’ve allowed years of believing that I’ll never make money doing “that” to keep me from doing “that.” Yes, my path needed to be different than my friends, but the distance to success was nearly the same.
There was no reason that my creative pursuits cannot provide me access to the same life — the house, the vacations, and all of the other stuff — that my friends have earned (at least my version of those things). I just needed to follow their formula.
These are the five attributes that seemed to shine through in each of their journeys.
1. A willingness to grind.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my friends didn’t get where they are in a day either. They worked hard, toiled in jobs that they didn’t like while burning the midnight oil studying to finally (after years of busting their butts) enjoy the spoils of their labor.
I didn’t see all of it because I was too busy being jealous of where they are to consider what it took for them to get there. It was the wrong way to look at their journeys. If I want it, I have to be willing to get it.
That requires nothing but good old-fashioned, concentrated hard work.
Put in the work.
2. Become laser-focused on the process.
It is way too easy to fall into the “going to” trap. I’m “going to” be a lawyer. I’m “going to” be a pilot, etc. My friends didn’t focus on their final destinations until it was a natural part of their journey. They welcomed the process. Did they dream? Probably, but they didn’t let the occasional moment of dreaming get in the way of the work they needed to do.
One of the problems with creative pursuits — at least in my view of them, is that it is too easy to see yourself at the finish line. The book is already celebrated, the cartoon is already picked up by the network, etc.
Inevitably the frustration of those things not happening immediately slows things down, or worse, allows the chance to give up altogether.
Focus on the process instead of the goal.
3. Get better.
One of the most brutal realizations was that the people I put myself up against worked hard to get where they are. They made mistakes — probably even massive ones — and learned from them. These people took classes, practiced, and sought out others to help streamline their journey.
Talent — even the greatest of the great — is cultivated. No matter how great — or, for that matter, entirely out of my depth I think I am, there is always room to get better. I have to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow.
Improve every day.
4. Put yourself out there.
You have to be willing to have the door shut in your face — to be told no. None of my friends have ever said they love job interviews — even those in human resource jobs. However, they all did they with smiles on their faces. Each was rejected until they finally weren’t.
I used to believe that opening yourself up in the creative world was different. For some reason, words, art, and emotions meant more — and therefore were tougher to “put out there.” It’s simply not true. No one likes hearing the word “no.” No one likes being told that they are a terrible fit. My friends fought through that ugliness until they found jobs.
There was no reason to go into hiding before I even attempted putting myself out there. My friends didn’t.
Get yourself out there.
5. Cultivate an audience.
They call it networking, but in all honesty, the concept is virtually identical. My friends met people that had the job they wanted. They showed off their skills and asked questions about the best way to improve. They helped each other. Each person’s excitement for the work they did lifted the other. It pushed them forward.
I always believed art was different. In the beginning, it was easy — you write, draw, or you whatever, and the people that see your work will enjoy it. That’s only half of it.
To be successful, you have to have an audience willing to pay for your work. It is a tricky line to walk. Art strictly for art’s sake is rarely financially successful and trying to fit your craft into a specific box to make money hardly ever works.
Your success requires excitement. Put your best work out there and let people find you.
For years, I’d wondered, “why me?” Why can’t I fall in love with coding? Why can’t I sustain interest in a sales career? It was (and is) absolutely the wrong way to go through life. I needed to make a subtle shift in mindset that unfortunately didn’t come into focus until recently.
Instead of “why me?” I now ask, “why not me?”
It sounds corny, heck, it even reads corny, but it’s true. Nothing my friends did guaranteed success, but they did it anyway. They were eventually successful.
From now on, I will try and follow their lead. You should try too.