I presented this list to my illustration class today. It was targeted to illustration but I realized it has wider applications. Simple truths I have learned over the years, many I’m sure you have heard before. I am hoping to give them some mental tools to work with as well as tools of the trade. Part of being successful is having a belief in yourself and the process. Plus, sometimes it just feels good to read a list and feel like you can do it (especially number 6). I told them number 6 is the source for all of my best ideas (wreck this journal, guerilla art kit, explorer, all were done when I was supposed to be working on other things). True story.
Secrets of the Self Employed (or How to be an Amazing [insert profession here])
1. Don’t worry about marks while you are in school. No one will ever ask you what school you went to or what your marks were when you leave it. (this pertains to the field of illustration).
2. You are always working for yourself, even when you work for others. Sometimes it feels like you are just the hired hand (and some clients can be really challenging to work with). But there is always some way to turn an illustration job into something exciting for you. Some ideas: experiment with a new technique (or a new color palette), use it as an opportunity to learn about a new topic, rebel against the job in tiny ways (do some roughs just for yourself in which you insert subversive material).
3. There are no actual rules for how to become a successful [insert profession here]. Make your own path.
4. It will help you to create a social network of other self-employed people.
5. Move your body every day. There are many health reasons for this, but it also helps you to work on ideas subconsciously. Ideas and solutions will come in when you least expect them but (almost always after a minimum of one hour of walking). There are new studies that suggest increased oxygen to the brain is a greater source for creativity than “creative brain exercises”. I have found this to be true for myself.
6. Goof off on a regular basis.
7. If you want to work on your art, work on your life. All those personality traits that aren’t working for you will come back to haunt you in your career (i.e. assertiveness, fear of conflict, fear of confrontation.) It’s all connected.
8. What you think becomes your reality. I always had a belief that if I cleaned out my recycling bin in my studio I would get new work. And guess what, it always happened. If you think the industry is screwed and there is no work to be had, guess what you will find out there?
9. Focus on ideas instead of tools (technology). Anyone can learn to use the tools, but it is the thinkers who really impact the culture in important ways. In the end the tools don’t offer anything interesting.
10. Worrying about the competition does very little to help your career. I know it’s hard sometimes to ignore what other people are doing (we all think that others are doing better than us), but every one of us is on a different life path. We are all here to accomplish different things and even though it would seem like one person’s path is similar to yours, it is not.
11. Only work for free if you are passionate about the cause or receive something of value in return. (Be wary of people who offer your name in lights in lieu of money. Many people will tell you something is good promotion for you, often it is not and there are no guarantees when it comes to promotional value). If you are not getting something of a measurable value (i.e. printed pieces, or money) ask for something else, creative freedom. If they refuse then they may not be a good client to work for anyway.
12. Take some small risks on a regular basis. Some ideas: write some places/companies you would really like to work and let them know why you think they are great.
13. Don’t worry about whether or not you are good (good is subjective and most people are not great judges of their own work), just keep making work.
14. Ignore cool. Successful people do not try to be hip, they just do work that excites them.
15. Always come back to work that excites you. Even if you get off track for a while. Do personal work on a regular basis, show it to others. You can reinvent yourself at any time.