December is always a time for self-reflection. On the things we’ve done well over the last 12 months as well as the mistakes we’ve made and learnt from.
When you work in the creative industries, whether for someone else or as a small business owner, you’ll undoubtedly share similar lessons. After all, we’re not that different from one another.
It’s just reassuring to hear what others have been through, too. We can all share our experiences to help, making everyone feel better and improve. I asked creatives on Twitter to reveal their biggest lessons of 2019. Here’s what they had to say, along with some practical tips to help you avoid going down the same route in 2020.
Adopt a positive mindset and see the opportunities
It’s easy to get bogged down when things go wrong. We can get frustrated and slide into a pit of negativity and despair. We’re human, it’s normal.
But marketing consultant Petra Smith has the answer. “I’ve learnt to accept – everything from setbacks through to challenges and turn these into opportunities rather than getting frustrated about things that I have no control over. I also learn from my kids every day – they teach me to look at things from a different perspective.”
Be brave and stick to your guns
Copywriter Felicity Wild makes an excellent point. “This year I’ve learnt to get better at standing up for myself – not letting people talk my prices down, saying no to projects/clients that don’t feel right, getting tougher on chasing late payers. Taking more control of these things has done wonders for my stress levels.”
On that point, designer Sarah Boris reminds us to avoid time wasters. “Let go of the people who drain your energy so much and only ever call up when they need something but are never there for you. By letting go of them and therefore protecting my time a little more, I realised how much freer I felt on all levels, including creatively. I now feel I have much more time and space to focus on art and design projects I had been meaning to do for a long time.”
If you turn stuff down it isn’t necessarily a bad thing
Liam Hopkins of creative studio Lazerian says that learning to say ‘no’ has been his biggest lesson of the last 12 months. “And working with people who appreciate the creative process and who respect me and my work. This way you get the right projects and it’s more inspiring and brings out the best of you creatively.”
Saying ‘no’ can also be good for your soul, says Nik Design: “Turning down jobs that weren’t right, clients that weren’t right, it’s saved a lot of burnout.”
Make room for your own creative projects
“No matter what work you’re being paid to do, set aside time for your own projects, that you believe in more than anything else in the world, and defend that time and that work with everything you’ve got,” says writer Joan Westenberg.
And if you’re worried about making time for passion projects? Illustrator Moira Scicluna says: “It’s ok to say ‘no’ to some paid work to focus on your own projects. Even though it might seem like you’re losing money, your own stuff provides a great sense of accomplishment and could also lead to even more exciting paid work.”
Besides, your side ventures can bring lots of benefits in the long-term, as designer and illustrator Iancu points out: “Setting some time aside (one hour each morning, or at least a couple of hours each weekend) for your personal projects pays off greatly in the long term, on many levels.”
Don’t let the pressure stop you from being creative
Let’s face it: the seemingly perfect world of Instagram, seeing our competitors doing marvellous things and all this “hustle” talk, it’s enough to send even the most confident among us over the edge. Designer and maker Stuart Cairns has this advice to keep us sane: “Be confident about getting your work out there without worrying if it’s good enough or photographed well enough. Just go for it and keep going and let yourself get better through ‘doing’.”
Designer Damian Kidd says it’s also about stepping away from the madness of social media: “Chasing social likes can lead you to constantly needing that buzz, thus it also leads to you following the crowd. I fell into this hard early in the year and last year. My advice would be, do you, do your own thing. Do not be scared to break away.”
Don’t let the threat of ‘failure’ or competition hold you back
When did we become so afraid to launch something new? Probably when Instagram and Twitter came along: the former for its ‘perfection’ and the latter for its often scathing nature. The fear of failure has inevitably paralysed many of us creatively.
But designer Neil McAdam says: “I’ve learnt to be less scared of failure and ensure that I am learning from it and carrying on. I think if you keep making and doing, you will fail less! I try to compete with myself and not the person with a million followers on Instagram who has been doing it for 15 years or more.”
Be authentic and don’t be afraid to be yourself
With all that pressure, we might try and be something we’re not. Designer Charlotte Holroyd shares her biggest lesson of 2019: “I’ve learnt that it’s so important to be true, authentic and honest. I’ve found sharing stories about struggles and also putting my personality out there has led to great projects. For instance, my most recent job came from me sharing my wild swimming adventures!”
Believe in yourself
“I learned to believe more in myself and in what I do,” says zB. “To use more of my judgement and less of other’s opinions. I learned that learning never ends. That I need to follow what I think is right and act consequently.”
Street photographer Penelope McMorris adds: “Believe in your own work and find others who believe in you. Not everyone will. Feel at peace with that. As Fred Herzog has said about photography – ‘Photography is how you see and how you think and who you are’.”
Immerse yourself in the local creative community
Marketing consultant Karen Webber reminds us to be sociable and enjoy the benefits of spending time with other creatives: “The power and value of investing in your community. Time spent with other creatives leads to more creativity and inspiration, better work and more opportunities, and it feels good. Find meetups or collabs, and where they don’t exist, create them!”
Neil A. Evans agrees: “It is just as important for you to be in touch with other creatives as it is potential clients when you’re putting yourself out there. Otherwise, you’re missing out on a wealth of shared opportunities, chances to learn, common experiences and support.”
Don’t ignore your gut but tread carefully
Copywriter Megan Rose says her biggest lesson is: “To always follow your instinct, whether that’s a bad feeling about a potential client or a gut feeling about what’s right for a project (suggest it, even if it’s off-brief). The only time you should ignore your gut feeling is when it’s infected by imposter syndrome.”
Take the leap and go a little niche
If we freelance, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing everything. We don’t want to miss out on any paid projects, so we list a load of services but then risk spreading ourselves too thinly. What if we could be more focused? Would we benefit from going niche?
Graphic designer Mike Hindle seems to think so: “A big one for me this year has been to narrow down my creative styles a little. Whilst still varied enough to keep things fresh and fun, it was simply too all over the shop previously. The responses and interactions have been very positive as a result.”
Designer Kate Moorhouse agrees and thinks to find a focus really helps: “Listening to others I’m now happier knowing I have a style for my work. It’s clear and simple, rather than trying to be too many things.”
Accept that progress can take time but perseverance counts
If you’re thinking of launching a business or going freelance in 2020, then Maywild Studio says you have to be patient and not expect overnight results: “Accept a gradual growth and keep secure part-time jobs during the first couple years whilst balancing your new baby.”
When things get busy, try to just focus on one thing
We all find ourselves juggling projects. And that can prove a struggle. During busier times, creative Amy Kilner says: “Just focus on one thing, not 20! For me personally it actually helps me be more creative and productive so I can switch off when I need to. I actually learnt this from a book called ‘The One Thing’ which is recommended.”
Remember to have fun
When did being “creative” become so serious? This was supposed to be fun. “Remember to enjoy,” says Glasgow creative studio Jamhot. “Sometimes during challenging projects, it’s easy to get caught up in the stress and busyness of it all. It’s good to take some time for fun and approach projects from a more playful point of view.”
Although work is important, it’s not everything
Ok, so being “creative” doesn’t seem like work, for the most part. But it’s easy to see how it can completely take over our lives.
“You are not your work,” says designer Matthew Lucas. Amen to that. It’s something I feel a lot of us are starting to realise. And it’s a lesson we should all take on board. Especially with time being so precious, as Jamie at creative studio SUN reminds us: “No matter how successful you are or think you are and no matter how much money you have, you can’t buy a minute, an hour or a day. Use all of your time wisely across your life, because you can’t buy time back with people or for yourself.”