I used to think that the first two – passion and drive – inevitably would lead me to the ever-desired success because, as we all know, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” and “The harder I work, the luckier I become”. So, I thought, if you really love what you do and you work hard you will be successful in your creative professional career no matter what.
But the longer I am on this journey, the clearer I see that there are more obstacles and hidden enemies than I thought there were. And because I was unprepared for many things I had to face as a full-time professional artist, I often struggled.
It is true that we’re our own worst enemies, and in order to succeed and conquer those endless external obstacles, we first have to conquer our internal “demons”.
Allow me to share my experiences with you, chances are you’ve already stumbled upon one of them, or even all.
Problem #1 Wasting precious time on cheap jobs & reactive work
I once happened to find myself running in circles, spinning my wheels for a very long time and not progressing in a slightest bit as an artist and creative professional. It was a sudden realization, as if a lightning stroke me: many months of hard work, I would take on every job that came my way, I was constantly super busy, sleep-deprived and tired, but nothing I did was getting me closer to where I wanted to be. I had a few great big creative projects in mind, but I could never start working on them because of the ordinary uninspiring jobs, emails and customer service that were taking up all of my most productive time.
Solutions I found:
1. Learn to say No
One of the biggest challenges I had to face was learning to say “No” to some client assignments. Those that were not paying enough, those that were not adding value to my portfolio and, most importantly, those that were not helping me to improve my skills.
Since I started turning down such jobs, I have HUGELY progressed in my career. Saying “No” to cheap, time-wasting assignments and projects freed me up and allowed me to focus on the projects that advanced my skills, gave me more exposure and publications. I finally got a chance to spend my time on creative work, not reactive.
It wasn’t easy, because I needed the money those cheap jobs were offering, but I made up my mind and stuck with my decision, and I never regretted it.
Moreover, those of you who are full-time artists must understand that by taking on cheap jobs you’re effectively running your business into the ground: you spend an X number of hours and get paid an Y amount of dollars for it, 30-50% of which you automatically owe to the government (here in California 50% of your income goes to taxes if you’re self-employed).
And if what’s left for you (your Net income) is not enough to pay rent, buy gas, food and cover your basic living and business expenses, than you got yourself in debt right there by simply accepting a cheap job. You accepted the pay – you now owe the government, and if what’s left isn’t enough for you to survive and sustain your business – you’re in trouble.
Choose the jobs you are offered wisely! They have to have a lot of value for you, which is either great pay, they could be a great addition to you portfolio or it must be the type of job that takes you closer to the type of photography and clients you really enjoy working on, and want to do more of in the future. Otherwise, your response should be: “I am not interested”.
2. Eat That Frog!
You may have heard this saying before, or maybe even read the book by Brian Tracy (Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time book or audiobook). If so, you already know that it is highly recommended to start your working day by tackling the most difficult, time- and energy-consuming task first.
And what most of us usually do? Yep, start our days by checking emails. This is still my weak area and I am trying to force myself to learn to apply my most productive time (early morning) to the highly valuable creative projects.
Leave emails and simple tasks until after you run out of your creative juices.
Mark McGuinness, a London-based coach for creative professionals says: “The trouble with this approach [emails first] is it means spending the best time of the day on other people’s priorities.” He also suggests that we focus on the most important creative work at the beginning of our day “otherwise you’re sacrificing your potential for the illusion of professionalism… and surrender your dreams for an empty inbox”.
With that said, we’re all different and while for some their most productive time is in the morning, you might be one of those night owls and do your best work after midnight. If so, turn off the mail agent on your computer and your phone (not because someone may call you in the middle of the night, but to avoid getting distracted by your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram notifications).
Stay proactive, not reactive!
Let people wait for a little bit, while you turn the world off and focus on what matters the most to you!