Create from a Place of Joy
My new favorite idea: creating from a place of joy.
Both with The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (the non-paying job) and my freelance design and branding work (the paying job) most of what I do involves about 80% digital content production: blogs, graphics, copy, newsletters, websites, photography, branding identity, the works. And for all the glitz and glam of freelancing and working from home, sometimes the stress of deadlines, demanding clients, or creative block really gets to my head and zaps any fun out of my work. And over the past few months? I have to admit, freelancing has lost its shine a bit. Lately I’ve been saying I’m “overwhelmed” like it’s a broken record. The stressors that come with project-based work and building a sustainable nonprofit are becoming more real and far less easier to brush off as “oh, it’s just part of the process!”.
But here’s the thing - everything comes with it’s own challenges. And so it boils down to: what rough patches am I willing to weather because I think it’s worth it? And in the process of weathering the challenges, how can I reframe my mindset to become a more resilient person?
Because I’m absolutely exhausted of being exhausted. I’m so tired of jumping to the worst conclusions when clients email me with feedback: I’m not a fan of this, can you change this, can you add this. This is standard feedback, which I very much need in order to make sense of what I’m doing. And yet, my anxious brain reads it as: They hate you! They’re going to fire you! You’re horrible at this!
I went back to the US for Thanksgiving, and despite claims that I’d actually give myself a holiday, I ended up working through the entire trip for fear of missing deadlines. After a particularly extravagant meltdown, I realized (and don’t all the best realizations come after a meltdown?): the space of stress I create from is not sustainable. I decided once and for all that it’s high time I say goodbye to stress and hello to joy.
I’m in the wonderful position to make a living from digital work, and anyone who is in a similar situation can appreciate the incredible flexibility and creative freedom that comes with it - with our design work or our blogs or our online courses or our Instagrams - I mean, how fucking cool is that? So let’s relieve ourselves from the stress we and we alone place on ourselves, because these careers are way too amazing to let them become a source of negativity.
So, during a particularly introspective meal at Five Guys, I decided to settle on a new motto for myself:
Create from a place of joy.
The process of creating content can so easily be driven by ego, an obsessive adherence to a very specific visual identity. Branding can be so static that anything less than perfect is panic inducing. We all want to carve out our corner of the world and digital mediums are the best way for it, so of course so many of us want to carefully cultivate a certain online presence. But this is where the inauthenticity of social media comes in, the overly curated accounts that make us feel like we need to push harder to “keep up”. Just have one more photoshoot, spend that extra 20 minutes manicuring our feed, type one more blog before finally going to bed. And so the stress sets in. The creative process is compounded to the point where if something isn’t perfect at first draft, if I’m not available for a call at 9pm on a Friday night, if Instagram posts aren’t going out every single day, then I’m a failure. It’s a particularly toxic thought process I’ve seen both in myself and my clients.
I’ve been implementing a few strategies I’ve found particularly helpful so that I wake up each day excited rather than anxious for what’s ahead.
No is my new favorite word.
I used to chase opportunities and “yesses” like it was my job. This normally translated into working with difficult clients because I was desperate for money, working for little money because I was desperate for work, or doing things for free because I was desperate for exposure.
None of these things make for a joyful work experience.
Done is better than perfect.
Thank you Jenna Kutcher for this gem. This was a hard lesson to get through this perfectionist’s brain, but ultimately it helps to shine a light on the incredible pressure I put on myself to perform at higher standards than I am often actually capable of. No, this one Instagram post won’t bring in 500 new followers. No, this one newsletter won’t inspire $5000 in sales. “Done is better than perfect” allows me to release the unrealistic expectations I have of myself, because the truth is, my life is far from perfect. I am in desperate need of forgiveness, compassion, and grace from all those around me, but most importantly, from myself. And once that pressure is off? That’s when the creative process actually flows.
I have two main criteria for determining who and what to create for:
The First: Mission-aligned zen.
Much like an organization has mission/vision/values statements, I have these for myself as well. These goals and values make it incredibly easy to set the boundaries for the type of work I choose to get involved with. They make saying no so much easier, because, in truth, it’s really saying yes to the boundaries I set for myself so that I give my time to projects I know I will actively be engaged with. No client wants a freelancer who isn’t enthusiastic about their project, and I don’t want work that I find boring or morally out of alignment.
The Second: The work love triangle.
I heard a speaker at a Get to Know event discuss this, and for the life of me can’t figure out who first developed what I love to call the work love triangle, despite a fairly solid Google search. If you know, drop me a line.
The idea behind this triangle is that you have three criteria when deciding to partner with a new client or go for that promotion at work:
Will this work advance my career?
Does this work pay well?
Do I enjoy the work?
You must say yes to at least two of the three in order to justify it.
Because really, life is too short not to have fun. And joy ultimately comes with a particular mindset rather than particular experiences. It’s an internal process, rather than something we must wait to happen to us.
So if I’m intentional with my work and continue to build a resilient mindset, then creating from a place of joy becomes second nature.