This month has been difficult. You've felt it too, I'm sure. We all have.
There are the obvious things: a stressful election regardless of who you support, an eternal pandemic, the sad realization that Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different this year (and the December holidays will too, it seems).
Then there are the less obvious things that are undoubtedly affected by the above: an inability to relax, unbearably high levels of stress, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of hopelessness, anger, imposter syndrome etc.
None of this is great for business.
Earlier this month, I had two consecutive opportunities for external validation that ultimately did not deliver. This shook me much more than I was expecting it too. Illustrating alone in my apartment hadn't presented a ton of opportunities for me to get my work in front of industry professionals and it occurred to me that this was something I should probably pursue. So I invested in a portfolio review with an illustration agent that was scheduled for the day before the October SVS contest critique arena. I won't belabor the details—they're frankly irrelevant—but I came out of that 48 hour block feeling pretty dejected. It's not as though anything outright negative was said but it encouraged my imposter syndrome in a way I wasn't ready for. And it only occurred to me after the fact that I didn't just think this external validation was a good idea, I was actually craving it—and I didn't get it.
I'd be lying if I said I am over it. I'd be lying if I said I feel like my path is as clear as it was at the end of October. I'd be lying if I said I felt greater-than-50% confidence in my ability to continue this business without having to get a job in the spring or summer. I'm trying to come to terms with all of those things. And I'm trying to do anything at all except give up—because giving up feels like the cleanest, clearest direction for me right now. But it also feels like the saddest. If this "dream job" wasn't such a dream, what does that mean for the rest of my life? Does that mean that life is just one long stretch of disappointment? That sounds pretty awful.
So what am I doing to solve that?
- I spent a fair amount of time journaling about what kind of art, design, or illustration I really want to do. As with every other time I've explored this prompt over the last 10 years, it uncovered a few things but remained pretty open ended.
- I decided in lieu of figuring this out, to just concentrate on getting through the holidays with as many sales as possible. I have a handful of commissions I already agreed to that I have to work fairly hard to deliver on time. Friends and family have been very generous through all of this—unfortunately, what I'm charging + the hours it's been taking me to finish these is not adding up to "pay my bills" money.
- I'm going to try very, very, very hard to take a more lighthearted approach to all of this. The commissions, the personal work, the portfolio creation, the agency submissions, the client contacts, etc. This is supposed to be fun. If it's not fun, I should just get another job designing investment graphs—at least I'd be paid a crap-ton of money to be miserable.
It's hard. It's hard to be excited about anything right now. It's hard to take things lightly. Everything is so heavy and everyone's reactions to everything are so heavy. It makes small inconveniences like "the post office bent these posters you just spent $60 printing even though they told you this box would be fine" feel like a [insert expletive] nightmare.
What if... things just weren't as big of a deal? How would that change the way I approach them? I imagine it would feel a whole lot better but how the hell am I supposed to do that? Not sure; but my current reactions don't seem to be doing anything for me so I might as well try another strategy.
We'll get through this. I believe that we will; it's just going to suck for a while longer.
I was able to finish a commission this weekend. That provided me with a tiny amount of momentum. Hopefully I can ride that teeny tiny wave and collect a few more to-do list completions this week so I'll feel a little more accomplished heading into Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday weekend. Accomplishing things tends to boost my mood. I'm very much a "destination" person right now. I'd love to be a "journey" person, but I'll work with what I have for the time being.
Onward, friends. Ever onward.