Do you deal with projecting defeat and tell yourself:
We all want to be successful but this foreshadowed failure can stop you from even starting or sticking with it.
How can you silence that inner critic and pick a road to start down?
Honestly, I think the majority of us creative have no idea where we are headed—me especially.
Each year, the road seems to drastically change but the hardest thing I ever did was to start. The second hardest thing I’ve done is stick with it.
With a defeated mindset, it makes it hard for things to ever change and evolve if you don’t take the first step and begin in a blind direction.
I think when you’ve made up your mind that you have to be successful and make money off your creative pursuits that you’re setting yourself up for defeat.
I want to give you 3 ways to take the pressure off yourself as you pursue work that lights you up. The success, money and recognition are by-products when you continue to show up and improve your skills.
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of professionals didn’t start off immediately successful in their line of work.
I’d wager to say that your heroes probably started off with their work as a hobby and it blossomed from there.
In my case, drawing was a hobby my entire life that I didn’t think I was very good at. However, once I started sharing my work and experimenting with different mediums and styles, I began to find my grove and my voice...and slowly getting paid to do it.
Even today I’m constantly experimenting— I’m afraid to get stagnant and content with my skills as I believe that caps your potential.
Avoid the pressure of needing to be a Bob Ross or Doyald Young right out of the gates.
Treat your early stages of your work as a hobby that’s just for you and nobody else. Dip your toes in the water and experiment in work that you’re not only good at but that you enjoy as well.
This is basically the underlying message to my show. If you’re creating work that you don’t enjoy, you could be slowly suffocating the excitement of your talents.
For the longest time, I was doing client work that involved me trying to recreate other people's styles.
Other times I was creating to please others and jumping on trends hoping people would like my work.
Sadly, when I shared this work that wasn’t true to myself, I slowly found myself becoming less satisfied, more frustrated and more apt to quit.
With the exception of client work, I encourage you to create from a place that is for you and nobody else.
Pursue the road of chasing work that lights you up and that you enjoy.
Transforming that hobby into a successful creative career generally lands into two buckets:
By creating and sharing work you enjoy and are good at over time, you’re bound to slowly attract an audience around it.
It will seem like nobody's paying attention in the beginning and this may be true. Remind yourself that you’re not doing it for other people and that you have to give it time to grow as Matt Dawson says.
Think about it, more people are getting access to the internet each day.
As of April 2017, Instagram has over 700 million users and you know what that could mean for you?
You never know when you’re one scroll or swipe away from having your work discovered by that one person who can open the flood gates of opportunity.
You’re boosting your odds when you continue to show up and put out your best work.
To be honest, I don’t think you and I will ever completely silence that inner critic. Yet we can be mindful on how we approach our work.
Putting pressure on yourself to be successful and make money from your talents is unnecessary, especially in the early stages. That is the quickest way to suffocate the joy from even starting or sticking with something.
When picking a road to follow:
I have a gut feeling that if you follow these steps, you’ll set yourself up for some pretty spectacular opportunities to come your way.
Scratch that, according to Marc, design panels suck so they turned it into a quirky session about 70ish Life and Business Lessons for Designers.
What made it even more enjoyable was the Always Sunny in Philadelphia theme music in the background along with the energy and humor they injected into the presentation.
One of the biggest takeaways that punched me in the gut was when they said: “If it’s not a Hell Yes, then it’s a Hell No.”
This spoke volumes to how I used to take on work simply out of financial scarcity or due to feeling obligated.
I want this episode to drive home the fact that saying no creates more time for the work that excites you.
Listening to this episode better be a hell yes to you.
Why is it so hard to say no to people?
For me, it always landed into two buckets:
Letting these guide my decisions of saying yes got me into some shitty commitments that held my time and excitement hostage.
Only in the last two years have I discovered the power of saying no. To be honest, saying no has allowed me to stumble across exciting new work that let me evolve as an artist.
For example, in September of 2016, I randomly got the chance to do my first mural. The only reason I was free to take on this new challenge was because I turned down a not so exciting job the week before.
Murals have easily blossomed into the work that excites me the most. Who knows when or if I would’ve stumbled across this new medium had I committed to the other project. There just wouldn't have been time to take it on.
That brings me to one of my main points: your most valuable asset isn’t money, it’s your time.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day and each hour is sacred.
When you say yes to mediocre things you don’t really want to do, you’re saying no to the things you really want to say yes to.
By filling up those open gaps in your life with low budget t-shirt designs for unaccountable clients who take forever to pay, your killing those spontaneous opportunities that could be an instant “Hell Yes.”
That’s where saying no comes in.
When something isn’t a Hell Yes, it should be a Hell No.
If you’re taking on work solely based on scarcity or guilt, I really think you should reframe your thinking
To be clear, right now in life I choose to take on freelance but I don’t necessarily have to and I realize this doesn't apply to everyone.
I make enough at the day job to cover bills, groceries, gas and the occasional pizza to treat myself. However, I’m not bringing in enough to save for a kid, take Perspective-Collective full-time and attack student loans.
This is why I choose freelance but more intentionally than before.
I’ve grown to be selective now and target one “Hell Yes” project per month. Only one as I still have the day job, podcast and husband duties that take priority.
If no “Hell Yes” opportunities present themselves, my wife and I will be fine and I can focus on other things to push Perspective-Collective forward.
The old me would have settled for the first project that popped up due to scarcity mindset. I was willing to trade my sanity and satisfaction as I felt this opportunity would never come again and neither would the small chunk of change that accompanied it.
Always remind yourself that there are plenty of more projects coming your way if you happen to pass on one.
On the other end of the spectrum is feeling guilted or obligated to do work for friends and family.
I have zero problems doing pro-bono work for family or friends when it’s:
However, the people closest to you seem to always want a hookup or some type of freebie.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had some family or friends guilt me into doing work for them. Other times they get outraged when I tell them my pricing or simply reply with a professional / polite no.
Especially in a small town of Iowa where $50 for a logo is the going rate, people act like you’re crazy and proceed to talk shit about you behind your back.
As you continue to invest your life, effort, sweat, blood, tears and money into your craft, you'll realize the value of what you produce and how sacred your time is.
Over time you'll see that true friends and family will understand and respect you, even if they don’t like your response. The rest don’t matter and it’s cool to trim the fat and reduce your circle.
I get the feeling of wanting to please people but you’re better off saying no to free you up for bigger “Hell Yes” opportunities coming your way.
It feels like a ton of pressure has been lifted off my shoulders after adopting this motto.
Pulling the trigger with decision-making is so much easier in my opinion when you operate based on a simple Yes or No.
You’re always going to be faced with tough decisions, but if you can get by without taking on a mediocre project, then do it.
If people want to judge or talk shit because you quoted them “too high” or because you said no, who cares—that’s their problems.
Simplify your decision-making and free up your time for the projects that excite you.
Function from a mindset of “If it’s not a Hell Yes, then it’s a Hell No” and keep moving forward.
This week on the show we have a very special guest who just got done hosting an amazing conference called Crop in Baton Rouge. Matt Dawson is a talented designer and connector who creates under the name Stay Gray Ponyboy in Atlanta.
He is a shining example of someone who put in the work and used the power of side projects to build a name for himself.
He’s not only an insanely talented individual but he’s grown into becoming a really good friend of mine and I can’t wait to share his story with you.
Growing up, Matt was always involved with sports, music and drawing. As he approached college, he thought landscape architecture sounded appealing and was involved in that for 3.5 years out of the 5-year program.
Outside of class, he found himself constantly using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to make band collateral like posters and merch. Little did he know he was getting started in a career of graphic design.
It finally dawned on him that he wanted to switch directions and pursue graphic design. He was in a new relationship with the wonderful Ariadne at the time and he approached her saying they needed to have a talk. The funny thing is she thought he was going to break up with her when really he was just switching majors.
Of course, she was 100% on board as he states she always is whatever he chooses to pursue.
Over the last 4.5 years, he's been working under the moniker of Stay Gray Ponyboy and the business name of Studio Gray. His situation was like mine when I talk about Making a Name For Yourself in Episode 28, using his first name like Matt Dawson Design didn't fit so he went a more abstract route.
There are a few reasons he chose this name because of the word gray:
While he stumbled into graphic design and built a name for himself, Matt clearly is a workhouse and has put in the work behind the scenes.
Something that really stood out to me from Matt's interview is when he said, "Am I going to build something for myself or am I going to build something for someone else?"
He's put in the grind at the day job of exchanging hours of his life for pay. He's been in positions where they worked him to the bone for 40-50 hours a week and he'd still find time to pour another 30 hours or so into building his side projects and freelance.
When you start having ownership of something, the scale begins to tip in your favor and that was the case with his story. It's all about perception as the amount of work he was kicking out under Stay Gray Ponyboy appeared like he was doing his thing full-time and eventually, that grind paid off.
Matt has now been working for himself full-time now for close to two months, and honestly it's all because of the time he invested into letting his side projects grow.
Let's face it, Matt is a typography nerd and I say this with the utmost respect.
His love for type led him to have type talks as he worked for Lamar Advertising. His passion for type sparked an archive of typography combinations that he would help other designers use when they were in a pinch.
Around the same time, he began using Instagram and sharing these combinations he built up under the catchy name of #TypeComboTuesday.
He understood the power of consistency and kicked out Type Combos every Tuesday for 2 years! In 2017 he scaled it back and focuses on it once a month as his freelance career began to blossom.
What's funny about speaking and seeing the behind scenes of these events held by Lamar is that it sparked one of his biggest ideas yet...
Matt was inspired to take these talks from Lamar and grow them to a larger scale for people in and outside of Louisiana. A patio sessions with a few beers ended up spawning the name Crop.
Think about it, cropping a photo is meant to bring out the best part of the composition into the frame and I feel this conference brings out the best part of us creatives.
There were a few hurdles he's dealt with and still deals with today in building Crop:
If you ask me, I feel like he is crushing it in every category.
The conference has been so successful that he is planning something special with it in between it's normal time in April. This November, he is doing a satellite event called a Crop Pop Up in November. It'll be a one day gig the Friday before MondoCon 2017. There will be a few workshops, speakers, a big party and plenty of fun with the Industry Print Shop fellas.
Q. What' one piece of advice you would give to creatives starting a side / passion project or stuck in a creative funk?
A. Having the patience to nurture your side project is important. You have to put in the time and give it time to grow.
Q. Serif, San Serif or Script?
A. San Serif
Q. Who's your current favorite artist you're vibing to lately?
A. Alvin Diec who is capitalizing on making new things look old.
Q. What's your favorite kind of pizza?
A. Pepperoni, mushroom, feta cheese and banana peppers at Peace Love and Pizza - Atlanta
In 2016 I had one of the biggest career shifting experiences…in which I vaguely remember.
It was my second time ever public speaking and this time was in front of a packed house at Creative South. I’m talking about 600–800 people.
Safe to say I blacked out for the majority of the 45-minute talk as my nerves were at an all-time high.
I brought a lot of energy, was really vulnerable and shared a part of me that many didn't know.
I can humbly say that when it was done, I got an unexpected standing ovation as the 9 am opening slot could be considered the hangover spot.
Sadly, to this day I can barely remember that moment. When I got home, I immediately went to work on the next project I had lined up.
It was a huge win in my life yet I was so focused on what was next that I failed to enjoy and reflect on the moment and it passed.
Honestly, it kind of haunts but it made me realize I’ve been horrible at celebrating wins in life—big or small.
Its been hard because I see people doing things at a much larger scale. In my mind, what I’m doing is just small potatoes compared to them so I rob myself of any credit.
To this day, I make it a point to celebrate even the smallest win as it:
I encourage you to see your small wins as milestones while grinding toward the trophy.
Keep your eyes on the prize but give yourself some credit along the way.
I can’t remember the wave of emotions that I felt as that should easily be one of the most recallable, happiest days of my life.
The only way I can slightly relive that moment at Creative South is due to my brother Terence Tang (Tinlun Studio) patching up some video and audio together.
When you take the time to celebrate even a small win, you create another moment to pair with that feeling. It allows you to remember that time stamp in life where you had a victory.
Small victories like selling a print online to something big like landing a huge freelance gig.
Find ways to celebrate like ordering pizza, buying that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing or just giving yourself permission to binge on Netflix for the day.
Give yourself some credit and find a way to remember that moment.
When you string together a few small wins, it begins to build momentum and confidence.
Think about those teams that catch fire leading up to the playoffs. They rattle some wins off, find a groove and end up getting the trophy.
Even the smallest wins on your end deserve some type of celebration or pat on the back.
Don’t take the good moments and small victories in your life for granted—they are pointing you in the right direction and you can't rely on other people to notice it for you.
During those creative funks in your life when you feel invisible, it’s easy to forget how many great things you’ve accomplished large or small.
When you don’t allow yourself to celebrate and remember small wins, it’s easy to get caught up in the low moments.
Doing this creates a breeding ground for that inner critic to thrive. This critic makes you feel like you haven’t accomplished shit in your life.
However, the lows don’t seem so low when you can string some small wins together. Having some attainable small wins like updating your portfolio or Behance can help you snap out of that funk much quicker.
Being a creative isn’t easy as you’re quick to compare yourself to others who are making bigger waves than you.
However, you’ve done some pretty amazing things on your creative path—things you should be proud of.
I would hate for you to forget those moments because you didn’t think they mattered.
Celebrate all wins, especially if they are small.
Keep your eyes on the prize and give yourself some damn credit already.
Imagine you’re on the highway taking things at your own pace. On your left, you notice one lane seems to be moving faster. Obviously, this intrigues you because who doesn’t want to get to their final destination quicker?
As you merge into that left lane, other cars seem to notice the quickened pace as well. Soon many cars swerve into that lane to get around the slow pokes who are just cruisin’.
It’s chaotic following so many cars at this high speed and next thing you know you miss your exit.
Now you’re on a new path competing with everyone else to get to someone else’s “desired destination” quicker.
Sometimes on your creative path, it’s easy to swerve into someone else’s lane. You see them blowing up quickly so why can’t you jump on the trend too?
I admit I’m guilty of this as I saw someone else’s success as an opportunity to get in the fast lane for similar success.
It got me to the point where I wasn’t creating for me like I had my entire life before social media—back when I would draw ufos, dragons and pizza in my private sketchbook for my eyes only.
When I stopped creating for me, I merged into someone else’s lane and began creating for the masses because people seemed to like that style they produced.
Sadly, it wasn’t just me as a lot of other people with the same idea swerved into that lane too and it just created noise.
Looking back on it now, it was a necessary learning curve. The experimentation of imitating and regurgitating other people’s work was helping me find my own style, process and voice.
While I still get inspired by others work and experiment with my own twist at times, I’m not following the tire marks they created.
I’m also not trying to create to please the masses.
I’m staying within my own lane and creating for me at my own pace.
What do I mean by staying in your own lane?
Staying in your own lane means creating work that you think is dope and that you’re enthusiastic about.
It means injecting your own DNA, heart and soul into your work that no one else can replicate. Anyone can bite your style, but no one can duplicate these.
It means not merging into someone else’s lane because it seems like the faster path to your desired end goal.
Everyone’s path is different and trailing someone else’s tire marks won’t get you the same results.
By staying in your own lane over the years, you’ll begin to develop your own voice and range of style.
When I think of creatives who stay in their own lane, I think of those who:
Some talented artists who come to mind first are:
While they never create in one distinct repetitive style, I can still pick their work out of a sea of noise on social media.
That’s what we should all strive for.
While the faster lane may tempt us, it doesn’t always lead to the destination we want.
Stay in your own lane and create for you.
You’ll find over time that you’ll attract the right people around your work, voice and style.
These are the people that will happily enjoy the ride with you.