Being creative is hard work. That tends to be the opposite of how a lot of people think about creativity. I think a lot of people think creativity and hard work are mutually exclusive. Creativity is often defined as a talent someone is born with. This misconception then gets used as an easy excuse to not pursue a creative goal—if I am not immediately good at this skill, then I probably won’t become good enough to pursue it seriously, we say.
I thought like that for a really long time. If I wasn’t naturally good at something, I would dismiss it from my realm of possibilities. Even if I was good at something, I would spend so much time sizing up my competition that I would end up feeling totally insecure and talk myself out of pursuing a creative path. This thought process kept me, many times, from forging ahead. It kept me from starting my own business until I turned thirty.
I wish I hadn’t waited so long to pursue the things that are really important to me. I knew I wanted to have this business since I was 22 years old. But I talked myself out of it more times than I can count. I kept telling myself that I needed more knowledge, more experience. But in reality, the only thing I really needed to do more of was trust my creativity, trust the experience I already had, and trust myself to learn what I needed to along the way.
That’s why to kick off the Girl & Pepper blog, I’m going to share the three most important steps you can take to find and trust your creativity.
1. Find People You Trust To Their Core
The secret is that you don’t need to be surrounded by thousands of people. Who you really need are two or three friends/colleagues whose opinion and feedback you trust. (I mean, the more the merrier, but if you’re more of an introvert like I am, two or three will be plenty!)
I have two friends who I’m pretty much always in a chat with. We’re not always talking, but we’re always available to each other. We read emails and proof personal statements. We hash out ideas and we encourage each other to pursue things we’re hesitant about. Best of all, we’re comfortable with each other so we know that we can give honest feedback.
We’re never mean or dismissive, but if something needs to be worked on we say something along the lines of, “This is looking great! I love what you did with X, but what if you included something like Y - I think that would really help you make your point more clear.”
The most important part of constructive feedback, (beyond explaining why you don’t like something instead of just saying you don’t like it), is to remember to be objective. Maybe you and your friends have very different visual aesthetics, but if hot pink is not your color and your friend’s brand is plastered with it, you need to be able to recognize the difference between your personal feelings about her color choice and how—objectively—her color palette is working for her goals.
Constructive feedback is a huge blessing. It helps you get out of your own head and examine your work from another perspective. The best part about constructive criticism? When you can hear this kind of “negative” feedback from friends, you begin to trust their praise, and in turn, begin to trust your own creative instincts more.
When my friends tell me I did something great, I know they mean it. They’re not sugar coating their opinions to spare my feelings. They know that I want to be successful at what I’m pursuing and in order to help me achieve my goals, they respect me enough to be honest with me.
And yeah, it might take some time to build these relationships. They don’t happen overnight. But once you’ve found them, you have an invaluable resource at your fingertips: a group of people who you can be your truest self with, who will tell you both when you are awesome and when you need to go back to the drawing board.
2. Learn To Trust Yourself
Way easier said than done, right? This is a tough one, I’m not going to lie. It has taken me a very long time to really learn to trust my instincts and my creativity. It’s still something I work on every day. Launching this business is the scariest thing I will do this year… and maybe ever! It’s taken a lot of deep breaths and mirror pep talks to convince myself to press the publish button, order tags for my knit items, and think seriously about what I want to offer on Girl & Pepper. But it’s also exhilarating.
The hardest part about developing a true sense of trust in myself was learning to be objective about myself. The things we make are so deeply personal. We spent time with each item, we worked hard on them—from the moment we had the idea, to the time spent planning its creation and perfectly executing the concept. Each is a little piece of us. I hesitated to put my work out into the world because I was afraid of hearing that something I loved so deeply was not good enough. But the risk is part of the journey. I finally decided that I would rather try and fail than risk looking back on my life and wondering what could have been different if I had only pursued my passions.
The reality is, negative feedback is bound to happen at some point during your creative pursuits. It could be a nasty comment from a stranger on the internet or one of those “I mean well but I definitely just insulted you” comments from a family member. Don’t let negative feedback make you tense up. Treat it as part of the process. If it was constructive, go back to the drawing board and figure out how you can improve upon what you’ve already done. If it wasn’t constructive and your Aunt Sally’s just kind of a bitch? Let it roll off your shoulders.
Remember that this is what everyone goes through and that this will only make your final product that much stronger. It doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for your line of work, it just means that you need to refine your technique (or ignore your relatives). Trust yourself and your abilities to learn, grow, and expand your creativity each time you put yourself out there.
3. Remind Yourself That Everyone Has A Process That You Don’t See
It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the vastness of amazing work out there. Every day on social media we’re bombarded by the awesome accomplishments of family, friends, and complete strangers. So many people do cool things! Which is great!
...Except when you get caught in the comparison trap. That’s when you get so intimidated by how much cooler everyone else is that you never put yourself out there. And man oh man, have I spent a lot of time in that trap.
When I’m bummed out that there are thousands of other people out there who are closer to achieving their goals than I am, what I find helpful to remember is that there’s a lot of stuff I don’t see. The amazing crocheter I follow on Instagram doesn’t post about how many times she trashed a project because it didn’t work out. She only posts her finished, awesome products. I’m not seeing my favorite photographers take hundreds of pictures to pick the handful that will make their final cut because blurry photos with weird compositions don’t book gigs. I don’t get to see amazing chefs practice their knife skills over and over again until they nail each slice perfectly every time.
We’re not invited to see the fuck ups and the midnight anxieties. They’re just not as sexy as an amazing, polished product. The fears and the trials and the agita are not what garnishes likes and heart-eye-emoji-filled comments from strangers scrolling through Instagram.
But they are there. Let me repeat: They are there.
We forget that the people we admire have struggled and practiced and stressed out for many years (usually) before they’re successful. We don’t see that there are still moments when they want to panic or cry or scream or just plain quit. But they are there.
Remind yourself that hard work is part of creativity. Practice and showing up are also part of the package. Remember that just because other artists and creatives aren’t sharing that part of the process publicly, doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing it privately, just like you.
The key is to not let it get in your way. Trust your process, trust yourself and each day you will find your creative energy easier to access.