Your attitude is your position, the way you think or feel about something. Being confident and fearless is an attitude that can help you progress, but when pushed too far along the spectrum, switches over to arrogance, which can hold you back. As a creative entrepreneur, you will need to take risks but also to know when the risk is not worth it. You’ll need to learn when to say yes and when to say no. In order to survive, you have to be adaptable, but that doesn’t mean that you should go wherever the stream takes you. It all comes down to finding the attitude that helps you achieve your own version of success.
The essence of any creative endeavour is finding a new way to capture/illustrate/make/do/tell something. It is to explore the unexplored and express the unexpressed. This quest therefore has one preeminent danger: the fear of failure.
The fear of failure can be paralyzing, and unproductive to your creative process. Failing itself, as opposed to the fear of failure, is simply a part of the process. It may feel safer to not challenge yourself or try new things, but the safety of old patterns will not bring you closer to your goal of achieving something unique.
Boost your confidence by challenging yourself to do something that feels a little bit bigger than usual, something a bit scary. Your goal isn’t necessarily to avoid failing, but to overcome the fear of failure. Try something that pushes you to be better than you are right now—give yourself a bigger pair of shoes to fill. And if you fall down in your new shoes, simply stand up and try again. The key is confidence in yourself. With practise, you will gain confidence in your ability to pick yourself up after you fall.
Dutch fashion designer and artist Marlies Dekkers says that being a bit arrogant is good when you are young because it keeps your spirit up and moves you forward. She believes that the key to her success was that she was not afraid; she was proud of herself. “If you don’t believe in yourself then other people will never believe in you.”
Yet, it’s also good to look at yourself honestly: remember that you cannot be good at everything. Try to figure out what your strengths are and for what aspects you need to seek assistance or people to collaborate with.
Tell yourself again and again that you will succeed. Or, find other people who will tell you this again and again. Just remember that it’s better to try and fail, than to never try at all. In failure you will learn new things, and grow confidence in yourself with each time that you dust yourself off, and try again.
When you’ve just started working, it seems like every opportunity is one to jump at. You’re keen to make more work, to get to know new people. And to prove yourself.
However, at any point in your career, it is important to really evaluate every opportunity you get. You might think that it’s better to do a new project than to do nothing at all, but it might not be. Keep in mind that your most valuable assets are your time and attention. If you are in the midst of a project, that’s where your time and attention will go, leaving you less open to other incoming opportunities. Saying “no” to a project will help you protect your time and attention, to give them more fully to current projects you’ve already committed to, or new ones that are better aligned with your goals.
Imagine you are an artist that does photography. You want to make very personal work that resonates with an audience. You are asked to shoot someone’s family portrait in front of their house. It will pay your rent for a month and you will have a project on your hands.
This assignment is not your work though. You are not in charge of making something artistic, you have a client with wishes. There is nothing wrong with that, because sometimes we must make choices according to different reasons and needs, it’s just important to evaluate what is the cost of taking any assignment that is not the work you want to make. It’s also important to recognise the difference between your work and your assignment, when you’re building your online portfolio.
So, with any offer for work, ask yourself: does this contribute to reaching my goal? Does this in any way distract me from my goal? Will this project bring me closer to a relevant audience with relevant work? Does this help me build my brand?
Of course, sometimes the more permeating question is, “How will I pay rent this month?” You won’t always be in the luxurious position to base your decisions on the question of your artistic goals. When that’s the case, just make sure you have a clear understanding in your own mind between ‘bread-work’ and ‘career-work’.
If you tend to overthink your decisions, worry less about saying “no” and start saying “yes” to opportunities. Every decision will have its pros and cons, and the big upside to a new project is that it multiplies the chances for happy accidents.
When you take on a new project, you’ll meet more people, you’ll get to do new things, you’ll learn more about your field or your industry, and you’ll discover qualities about yourself that you didn’t even know you had. When you try something a little out of your comfort zone, the best part is the unknown: by pushing yourself, you learn what you’re capable of. There is much to be gained when you’re open enough to say “yes” to something.
As long as you realise (and make sure) a project is not a one way street, you can feel free to take on new challenges. Be smart about committing to projects that you’ve got time and energy for, and even better if they’re aligned with your goals.
If you’re not certain about accepting an offer, try not to focus only on the negative aspects. Instead, focus on everything that the experience will give you.
If the rules are not broken, we will be.
—Yoko Ono, Multimedia artist, singer, songwriter, and peace activist, Japan
English musician and record producer Brian Eno created a set of cards called the Oblique Strategies. It‘s a way to get even seasoned musicians to rediscover their creativity and take creative risks, for example, telling a guitarist to play with only one hand. Or a tuba player to make sounds with the instrument in an unintended way. Rethinking the things you take for granted, like the ‘right’ way to play an instrument, leads to unexpected results. In essence, creativity.
As a creative entrepreneur you have two jobs: You are a maker and a business owner. In both capacities you need to take risks to advance. You need to think outside the box in your artistic work, as encouraged by Brian Eno’s cards, but also in your approach to your business. Think about how you invest in materials. Re-evaluate the places that you think are the best to work or to show your work. Try closing yourself off from the world for a couple of weeks to truly focus on making something with the potential to make money. By getting out of your patterns of thought and action, and taking risks, you invite bigger and better things.
We’ve all heard of Darwin’s principle of ‘survival of the fittest’, but it’s often misunderstood; it’s not the physically strongest animal who will survive, but the one best fit to the environment. The animal that’s best adapted to the given circumstances.
The same goes for you as an artist. The better you are at adapting to any given situation—whether that means changing yourself or your situation—the better your chances of ‘survival’. When there is a flood, you can build a tower or learn how to live underwater. When digital photography is booming, you can change according to the trend, or make your analogue photography a part of your brand. As long as you don’t sit around watching the water rise around you, you will find a way to adapt.
At its root, adaptability is a response to the need to solve a problem. First, you have to define what the ‘problem’ is. Are you trying to pay the bills? Create innovative work? Trying to find the right direction? Adaptability is not about changing wildly and blindly in response to the world around, but about taking note of what new adaptations help your chances for survival, and what hurts.
So be aware of what’s changing, and how it succeeds (or doesn’t). Keep your eyes open. Learn about new tech, investigate new ways of reaching an audience and read up on what other artists are doing. Reflect on how it impacts you and your practice, then adapt.