Release the Pressure to Unleash Your Creativity
Nearly two years ago, Heather and I transformed Life and Whim from a blog, which we had started a year prior, into a business. Heather manifested a dream to create and launch a collection of northern Michigan-inspired apparel and accessories on our online store. It was both a stressful and exhilarating experience.
In anticipation of the launch, we spent a tremendous amount of time laying the groundwork by creating content in order to build an audience, being active on social media, and forming relationships with “influencers” who could help us spread awareness of our new entrepreneurial endeavor.
We did this work while running the marketing agency we’ve owned together for more than a decade. It’s the means through which we make our living. And, to be honest, we neglected our agency for a time as we chased our dream of building a lifestyle brand through Life and Whim.
We had really high hopes for the launch of our store. We envisioned a day, in the not too distant future, when Life and Whim would become our full-time endeavor. But things didn’t work out the way we expected.
Looking back, with a clear-eyed perspective, Life and Whim’s transition from a side-project into a business has been a success (as we now define it), but in the moment it didn’t feel that way. Indeed, our expectations were so impossibly high that we set ourselves up for failure. We put so much pressure on ourselves that we sucked all of the fun and excitement out of the very thing—the creative process—that we set out to cultivate.
We wanted to create a business that we were passionate about, and that would allow us to engage in creative expression, but instead we got bogged down in the very details—sales, metrics, follower counts—that stunt creativity.
Fortunately, we took a step back and a hard look at what we were doing and, more importantly, why we were doing it. We realized we were moving too fast and in too many directions. We stopped comparing our performance to that of others—because very often what others are projecting doesn’t reflect what is really happening beneath the surface of websites and Instagram accounts. We corrected course with our marketing agency because we realized that having a firm financial foundation outside of Life and Whim would be the very thing that would allow it to sustain. And we dug back down to the roots of why we started Life and Whim in the first place, which was to create a source of inspiration for ourselves, and others, on what it means to live a fulfilling, purposeful life.
Taking a step back, recalibrating our expectations, and releasing a bit of ego has been hard work—perhaps as much work as launching Life and Whim in the first place. But it’s work that has led us to where we are: a point at which we look forward with excitement at what’s to come.
In the coming months, we’ll be launching a new Spring collection that we are super excited about. We’ll be hosting our fourth annual “Fairy Fest” event, which marks the opening of Traverse City’s Fairy Trails. And we have a number of exciting collaborations to announce in the coming months through which we’ll be executing initiatives to inspire families to spend more active, adventurous time outdoors.
Things are back on track, but only because we released a bit of the pressure we had imposed on ourselves. We learned this lesson the hard way.
Are you thinking about, or in the midst of, a new creative endeavor? Hopefully you can learn from some of our mistakes so you won’t have to repeat them.
Legend has it that Alexander the Great led his heavily outnumbered Greek army into battle with Persia and the prospects were bleak. By all accounts, given the disparate troop strength, the Greeks should have been routed. Knowing this, Alexander the Great did something unexpected —he ordered that his boats be burned, eliminating retreat as an option. There was only one way for his men to go—forward—and they won a great victory.
If you read entrepreneurial books and articles, you may have come across advice suggesting that, when starting a new business, you should “burn the boats” by committing 100% of your time, energy, and resources to the new thing you want to build. If you leave yourself a fallback option, the thinking goes, you’ll never do what is required to succeed.
Having burned a few boats, I’ve come to believe that this is terrible advice for most people. Rather than going all-in right from the start, ease into a new idea. Do some market testing. Treat your new endeavor as a side project not a “make or break” proposition.
As much as you want your side hustle to be your full-time hustle, building something new almost always is harder, takes longer, and costs more than you think. There are no overnight successes—only slow grinds that happen below the surface.
John Grisham wrote his first novel while still working full-time as a lawyer. He simply got into work an hour early each day and knocked out a page or two every morning. Rachel Hollis started her blog as a side project while running an event planning company.
Don’t add extra financial pressure to yourself that forces you to take creative shortcuts. Hold yourself accountable to get the work done but not because you need to pay the rent next month.
Fear of Judgment
I’ve heard author, podcaster, and entrepreneur James Altucher say that, no matter what you do, a third of people will like you, a third will hate you, and a third won’t care. Having put a bunch of blog posts, products, books, and other creative projects out into the world, Altucher’s assessment sounds about right to us.
If you’re counting on external validation, instead of internal satisfaction, to fuel your creative pursuit, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. In fact, you’re almost guaranteeing it.
The only way to get better at something is to do it. What you do or make first is almost certain to be worse than what you do or make next. That’s true in all aspects of life but especially when it comes to creative pursuits.
If you put pressure on yourself to make something everyone will love then you can’t win. You’ll either be crippled by perfectionism and unable to move forward, or you’ll release something that doesn’t generate the response you expected and be discouraged from making something else.
If you have an idea inside that you want to express creatively to the world, do your best and put it out there.
Judge your success by your effort—don’t allow the judgment of others to stop you. Take it from us: Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly while you learn to do it better.
There’s Nothing Stopping You—Except Yourself
In the past, there was an excuse—sometimes valid, other times convenient—for why people didn’t or couldn’t share their ideas with the world. Gatekeepers, in the form of book publishers, magazine editors, movie and music producers, stood in the way.
Today, there’s no barrier to entry. The ability to share a story, photograph, short film, song, product design, or other creative artform with (potentially) millions of people is merely a click away. A blog can be created in minutes. An Etsy shop is simple to set up. It takes a few seconds to upload a video to YouTube. What used to be the hardest part of distributing creative work—finding a platform for it—is now an afterthought.
Nevertheless, despite the open channels of the Internet, only a fraction of people are participating in today’s creative revolution. It’s no longer the gatekeepers who are responsible—it’s our own limiting beliefs about what’s possible. So get out there and start creating—we can’t wait to see what amazing things you come up with!