Today is Valentine’s Day. Most of us will see our social media feeds full of posts about love and family and romance and all that good stuff. I encourage you to post anything about love. Valentine’s Day is a good day to talk about love.
Love is dope.
Love also conjures images of commitment. It makes me think of the promises we make to the people we love. It also conjures images of my commitment to my creative work.
- What commitments are you making to your work in the world?
- How are you keeping your promises to your gifts?
- How are you showing your love for your work?
These are difficult questions for me to ask. Although I can say that I’m trying, I know there’s more I can do.
In January, I tried something different. Instead of creating new year’s resolutions, I wrote vows. I made promises instead of a list of things I wanted to accomplish.
Resolutions don’t seem to work for me. I write down all the things I hope to accomplish, but then I end up feeling defeated and the piece of paper finds its way to the back of the pile.
This year, I wrote vows instead of goals.
Let me tell you a story.
I remember my wedding day. I stood at the altar and pulled out a piece of paper and shared my hopes and dreams with everyone. I had plans. I had commitments. I wanted to listen, to pay attention to make room for my partner to be who he was. During my wedding ceremony, I recited my vows. My partner also shared his promises to me.
These were my vows. They were not something I would give up on if I didn’t achieve them within a month. They were not a long list of things I would do even though I know I was not yet ready to do them. They were a public dedication to my commitment and a blueprint for how I wanted to love his personality and myself in relation to him.
Creative Work Vows Encourage Us To Keep Our Promises
A vow is defined as a set of promises one makes to another person or thing.
I think of wedding vows. They are the most common. But something that’s also very interesting about vows is that they are usually made in front of others.
Having witnesses matters. During my wedding, I stood up in front of others. I wanted it to be known that I was committing to this thing, and why it mattered to me. This was my vow.
On the other hand, a goal is a defined task.
A vow encourages us to keep our word because it is a promise, a declaration that something will or will not be done. A goal is defined as the result or achievement toward which effort is directed.
- What if vows were not just for marriage?
- What if we could use them and apply them to our creative work and the impact we want to have in the world?
Is a promise a specific outcome whereas a goal is a result? It seems the person making the promise has more at stake than the person setting a goal.
How do they work?
- You are more likely to keep your promise.
- You are more likely to tell others about your vow.
- You are less focused on the outcome and more concerned about the promise.
I’ve been thinking about vows for valentine’s day because we associate vows with commitment. We vow to things we are committed to. But there’s something else I realized about a vow and how it differs from a goal.
We usually make vows over the course of a longer time period.
Wedding vows are promises we make and commit to keeping over the course of our marriage. Religious vows are promises we commit to upholding over the course of our time as a religious person. Even elected officials make a commitment that maps out what they will do and what they promise to uphold during that time frame.
So, here’s what I’ve discovered about my vows.
At the beginning of the year, I vowed to make room for my voice and to share it with the world. I do this via the “dear creative” letters. I vowed to use my voice and to use it to inspire others to do the same. I made sure I had witnesses. I made a promise to my creative ancestors and announced it on Instagram.
My creative ancestors are the people whose work has influenced mine and impacted how I created. I vowed to them. I vowed to them because there needed to be the public aspect of vowing.
I take my promises seriously. If I say I will do something, I do it. I don’t try to do it, I do it.
The goal is the weekly act of writing, publishing and promoting the blog post. The promise and vow are to say the things that I need to say and to share what I know in hopes of helping others.
I’ve noticed a few things about the power of creative work vows:
- I keep my promises because my word is important to me and others.
- I focus on the big picture. Instead of thinking about publishing a blog post, I focus more on my vow to share my voice.
- Making this promise in the presence of others keeps me focused and committed in a way a list of goals does not.
Creative vows can be more powerful than New Year’s resolutions.
Goals are a list of things you want to achieve. They are an outcome of your effort.
This is your word. This is a promise. Promises are never made lightly.
So, what do you want to vow to do this year? How can you make a vow to your work?
Keep going. I want to see your brilliance.
I want to talk to you about failure, and encourage you to reframe how you see your past. I’m going to say something that might not make any sense but bear with me.
Your failures can be part of your creative lineage.
Let me tell you a story.
3 years ago, I closed the doors and turned off the lights at wedOcracy. I walked away from the startup world.
I did this because it was clear that the growth we were hoping for was not arriving anytime soon. My co-founder and I had been invited to major tech events and even pitched at SXSW. We had raised an initial round of funding. We attended a well-known tech accelerator where mentors guided us.
I immersed myself in the world of weddings. I studied wedding statistics. I know things that I probably have no business knowing about weddings. A few years after we launched, we closed wedOcracy’s doors because we were not growing as fast as we needed to. We had worked so hard, and I felt like a failure.
Our goal was to make weddings more social, more engaged and more fun. We didn’t find the technology, so we built it. In many ways, we succeeded. We helped couples from several counties make their weddings more fun and social. But I also had to make the difficult choice of closing the doors when it was time to move on.
As the startup founder, I had to write a final blog post to send out to our subscribers.
It was a horrible feeling.
Fast forward to today, and I realized that the things I learned about weddings can now help my wedding photography client. This month, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to use the things I learned in the wedding industry. While running this company, I researched weddings. I know more than I should know. I became a nerd in the wedding industry.
This month, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to use the things I learned in the wedding industry. While running this company, I researched weddings. I know more than I should know.
I became a nerd in the wedding industry.
I’ve started working with wedding and event photographer Chris Wodjak. Supporting her web design and marketing needs allowed me to reframe how I think about failure.
Your Creative Failures Can Lead To Your Future Creative Success
- Your past creative mistakes can be the ancestors for your future success. It is an honor to work with this talented photographer and bring all the skills and research I gained from my wedding startup days to support her in growing her business.
- The knowledge never leads you. While I moved on from the startup world, I still learned how to design and develop applications for startups. I still learned how to create effective marketing strategies for millennial brides. The knowledge stays with you.
- Sometimes, your true purpose is different from what you can imagine. When I closed the doors, I felt like a failure. I could not see (or understand) how I could use all of my efforts towards anything else.
Questions To Ask Yourself When You Feel Like A Creative Failure
- What if your failures are part of your future success?
- What if you were not meant to succeed in one area, but instead learn something to take you to the next stage?
- Can you learn to see your failures as the legacy for your success? What if your past failure is a creative ancestor for your future success?
I hope you find that day when your past mistakes feel like ancestors in your creative lineage. They are teaching you things. They are supporting your journey in ways that might sometimes feel difficult.
Keep going dear creative. I want to see your brilliance.
Your Future Self
There will always be haters. That’s part of the risk that comes with choosing to take your place in the world of creativity.
Not everyone will love your work. There will be those who do. There will be haters. There will be those who do not like your drawing, poem, photo, painting, essay or the filter you used just before you publish Instagram.
Let me tell you a story.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to share my work/my words as a poet with audiences in Mexico City. I remember this young woman who came up to me after the reading in Coyoacan. She asked if she could speak to me privately. She spoke softly as I leaned in closer to hear what she had to say.
She told me about her best friend who died the week before. She told me about how she was not there to sit with her in the hospital bed. She wore a cloud of guilt on her face and sat there sobbing. She must have been 22 years old. Her friend was also very young. She thanked me for the poem I read. I shared my sadness about the ones I had loved and lost in my life. I realized that she needed to hear that poem in the same way I needed her to tell me how it impacted her.
There were people who loved the poems, but there were also those who needed it. They came up to me and told me that poetry was the thing that was sustaining them right now. ⠀There are those who need your words like they need air and good. Focus on them.
Focus On The People Who Need Your Creativity
But if there is anything I have learned to help me be a more resilient creative it is this: Are you listening? Write this down. Type it into your phone.
Use it as a screensaver. Say it to all of your fellow creative friends. Put it on a t-shirt or get it made into stickers.
Ready for it?
There will be people who love your creative work and people who hate your work. There will also be those people who need your work. Focus on the people who need your work. Let that sink in for a minute. Are you breathing a bit easier? Is the tightness in your chest easing up? Are you feeling a little bit more courageous when it comes to sharing your work out into the world? I hope so.
Your true creative fans will become more important than the haters.
When you doubt yourself, feel the doubt but also remember the people who need your work. What would they say? Keep their voices in your head.⠀
We forget about the people who need our work. They are not always so obvious. Sometimes they skip into our DMs with a note of thanks and a tale of the life they’ve lived and how our work has supported them. Sometimes they cry while reading something you wrote. They need your work like we all need food and air and water, necessary things for physical survival.
They understand that there are also necessary things for emotional survival and necessary things for creative survival.
The people who need your work check your Instagram feed first thing in the morning, just upon waking. Sometimes they don’t leave the bed before scrolling through your feed.
They keep their phone there just for you. If they see you’ve tweeted or shared a story, they immediately scroll through to find you and your work.
Your work is a lifeline for them.
I recently wrote about the late poet Mary Oliver, and all the people she touched. We all so desperately needed her work.
Through meditating on language, nature, and belonging she taught us how to belong to ourselves by taking our place in the world and belonging to the universe in the process.
Thank them, create with them in mind. Put their picture up where you work.
Give them your energy. They will give it back.
If you focus on the people who need your creative work you will realize that you are one of those people.
We often try to solve our own problems, and then we realize this is how we can help others. This is the beauty of this approach. The haters will be there. The lovers will be there too. But there’s also the needers.
Focus on them.
Keep going. I want to see your brilliance.
Your Future Self
You are not lost. You are just getting resourced.
There’s a narrative that says if you intend to focus on one thing but end up doing something else, then you are lost. That narrative about creativity needs to die. It no longer serves you.
Let me tell you a story.
I’ve often felt lost. I studied creative writing and education, but I was not always getting paid to write. Sometimes I got paid to teach, and other times I received a check with many zeros for reading at literary festivals. I’ve also paid my bills by working as a personal chef, copywriter, public speaker, tech startup founder, and UX web designer.
I did not understand the connection and power of the things I was learning along the way.
I taught writing and thought that it was because I was not meant to be a writer. I worked as a web designer and business owner of a software company.
I did all these things and was unsure about the next step. I felt conflicted. Maybe you feel conflicted between the work you love and the work you get paid to do?
May I suggest something that helped me?
1. Start seeing the pause or shifts in your creative career as pivots with a purpose.
2. Start telling yourself that you are not lost, but just getting resourced.
3. Remember that one day it will all make sense and come together in a way that allows you to leverage your very own intersection of creative value that you can offer. And there will be those who need exactly what you are offering.
I know things feel challenging. I know you feel lost. I know you are wondering how you started on this path and ended up over here. I know none of it makes sense.
One day it will make sense.
Try to ask yourself what each pivot is teaching you. Try to bring something from one career path into the other.
I love these wise words from the beloved late poet Mary Oliver, who passed on last week and became one of my creative ancestors.
In these words, I found an explanation that stitched together the very idea I’m trying to convey here. Your greater vision is not a profession. It is a lens through which you see the world and put everything inside it.
Maybe Impact Matters More Than Career Path?
Maybe we are not searching for careers? Maybe, in the end, we are searching for a world view through which we can look out on this world and decide how to have the greatest impact.
Today I proudly refer to myself as a multidisciplinary artist-entrepreneur. The title matters less than the impact.: to help fellow creatives find, share and use their voice to support their purpose.
I do this by writing this blog, digital strategy for web and marketing clients and building web and mobile applications. I also use those same skills I learned along the way to build my own website and market myself as a poet and web designer.
I did not realize that the work I was doing, like technology, could not yet be understood by me. It was still forming the way social networks were still forming years ago.
One Day, This Will All Make Sense For Your Creative Journey
The needs of our culture changed and made too for keeping multicultural connections through our devices, so we graduated into a greater digital literacy that made room for social media.
The same is true for your work. The works we live in now is more nuanced and demands a more multidisciplinary approach to complex challenges. This is why we have graduated to a place where we not only understand your approach, but we so desperately need it.
One day, this will make sense and you will take your place in the world of work that only you can do.
Trust yourself. Keep going. I want to see your brilliance.
Your Future Self