Productive Creativity


Fellow creatives, we’ve got a bit of a reputation, don’t we? Earned or not, the notion that people in creative industries are dreamy-eyed doodlers who devotedly court their muses and await inspiration is a persistent one. And what of the equally popular belief that people who work from home are sweatpants clad slackers who wile away their days on Facebook, drinking coffee and pinning things to their inspiration boards? Perhaps because most people see the internet as a recreational space, the idea that working online is anything but a farce is a belief that those of us who do it are still working to dispel, in 2015. Which, yeah.

So if you’re a creative entrepreneur who works online, from home, you’re the slacker trifecta. But you probably already know that, right?

Of course, these stereotypes are almost always incorrect.* But it’s hard to dispel such common assumptions about solopreneurs, creative professionals, professional bloggers and other career non-conformists. And they’re tricky to overcome, especially when you’re starting out. But overcome them you must, lest they manifest themselves as self-sabotage, a lack of belief in your abilities, fear of failing, fear of starting, and other self-defeating thoughts and assumptions.

So ask yourself: how many of these misconceptions have you internalized?

Sure, you’re able to make an intellectual decision that these ill-informed assumptions about your professional life aren’t valid. But once they’re in your head, hiding away somewhere in your bullshit file, they can still manifest themselves—insidiously, those sneaky buggers—into your perception of yourself. And that’s not cool. Think about it for a sec; how have the jokes, media depictions and offhand remarks shaped how you view yourself, and your business, even a little? How did they influence your decision to start your business? How are you letting these beliefs impact how you do business, and how you make business decisions?

Examine your the language you use to talk about your business when people ask you what you do. Do you qualify your statements with words like “just” or “only”? After you tell people about your business, do you add a sentence or two that diminishes what you do, to save your listener the trouble of doing that for themselves (you presume)? Do you talk about your business like someone who believes in what they’re doing?

Entrepreneurs who open a brick and mortar business are viewed with intereat and respect in a way that online entrepreneurs sometimes aren’t; I know, because I’ve been both. I opened one of the riskiest businesses there are—a restaurant! Twice!—and never felt “less than” when telling people about my professional life. On the contrary; I fielded more interested questions and was asked for business advice more often than I have been at any time since. I don’t completely understand why setting up shop online isn’t given the same respect as a traditional business is, but here at Cake, Jennifer and I are going to do our part to change that.

Opting out isn’t a new concept.

How did your friends, family and colleagues react when you said you were going to start your online or creative business? Hopefully they were supportive, but how many warnings were you given? How much skepticism were you exposed to? And how seriously did they take your plans? Too often, the answers to these questions are 1) with cautious, dubious surprise, 2) many, 3) a lot, and 4) not very.

We Gen Xers aren’t strangers to being disparaged for working from home; for our idealistic, small-scale entrepreneurship; or for making a go of freelancing full time. We graduated college into a world still firmly in the grip of then middle-aged Baby Boomers. Entry level jobs were scarce, and the hangover of disenchantment from 80’s corporate culture still hung in the air like a stench. Many of us delayed our entry into the real world by going to graduate school and staying in the jobs we had in college, using our waitress money to fund a side hustle.

Millennials who don’t want to live the cubicle lifestyle face the same lack of well-paying jobs we did, and in a weaker economy. There are far more of them than there were Xers, making competition for good jobs that much harder. They carry far more college debt than we did, too. They’re starting out behind. So it shouldn’t suprise anyone that many young people are choosing, again, to make their own way.

Opting out isn’t new—Boomers did it, too—but the idea that opting out doesn’t have to mean opting out of making a good living is a newer concept, and one that the public, somehow, still hasn’t gotten its collective heads around. It’s almost like people can’t quite believe you’re working if you’re not sitting in traffic and spending your day in a dedicated workspace, working for someone else.

You and your bad self: tell the world

Do people seem surprised when you tell them you actually make a living on Etsy, or by selling access to your e-courses? I’m betting they do. I’ll also bet you know precisely what someone’s face looks like when you use the term “passive income”, and have come to expect the skepticism you face from people who think you’re copping out by deciding that you’d like to try to create your own living, on your own terms, so that you can raise your kids, maintain a mobile lifestyle, preserve a healthy work/life balance, travel when you want, do something you love, or craft a life of flexibility and availability so that you can take advantage of daytime activities now and then.

Maybe you made the decision to craft an online career for yourself, making wherever you open your laptop your office or studio. Or, you transformed a hobby into a profitable, enjoyable business you run from your studio. Perhaps your client load is based on your kid’s school schedule, or you freelance during your main gig’s down season. Whether you’re selling an idea, your skills, your bespoke crocheted dick cozies or your prowess as a grant writer, that hustle is something to be proud of, so if someone gives you any side eye about working in your pajamas or with a cat on your lap, speak up and tell them, with no qualifiers like “only” or “just”, about a recent accomplishment, like reaching a sales goal, or snagging that plum client you’ve been after. Once they hear that “real” work can be done in pajamas, they’re going to go from skeptical to impressed. (And then on to envy). 

So when people ask you about your business, make declarative statements. Don’t undersell yourself. Avoid qualifiers. And most of all, don’t apologize for being a badass.

Take action!

Let’s embark on a series of blog posts that address the ways we let ourselves be limited by other people’s perceptions about our businesses.

Let’s pull those insecurities out, and let the daylight do its magic. Let’s talk it through! And for those of you out there who aren’t bothered by these insecurities, chime in and help your fellow ________s out in the comments.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  1. Consider how other people reacted when you started your creative and/or online business. Did you feel supported, and like your plans were taken seriously?
  2. How do you feel when people ask you what you do for a living? How does it differ from the way you felt when people asked you about a more traditional job?
  3. Do you feel the need to qualify your professional situation with phrases like “I know, it’s crazy”, “It’s just a sideline”, or “I just work for beer money”, or employ some other way of setting a low expectation for your listener?
  4. How seriously do you take your business?
  5. Do you have a business plan?
  6. Do you have goals for your business?
  7. Do you keep track of expenses? Profits?
  8. Do you schedule yourself and keep on top of your plans for your business?
  9. Do you see your business as part of your career? Is it?

See you in the Facebook (or whichever) comments, ________ers!

(Ok, I’m wearing sweatpants and a Kiss t-shirt, I’m drinking coffee, and I have a Facebook tab open. But I’m definitely not using Pinterest. So there!)

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