Photo by Kévin Langlais on Unsplash
On your hardest days, I want you to look back and reference yourself. Reach back into your history find a time when you, yes you, found a way to become your own creative superhero in spite of everything. This will be your defining moment. This will be your blueprint. this will be the guidepost for the way forward.
Yes, I’m encouraging you to reference yourself.
Let me tell you a story
I love old photos. I love the ripped edges, the looks on the faces. There’s a snapshot of who that person was, and it’s also an acknowledgment of who they were becoming at that moment. This is how we document history. I’ve been looking at my old photos again.
Honor Your Creative History
I’ve been thinking about how our histories as creatives are being made each and every day. Old photos are no longer black and white images from 100 years ago. They are the photos from my college graduation, the awkward itchy dress from that birthday party. They become personal and professional reference material of who we were and who we are becoming. On my hardest days, I’ve pulled out these photos. I needed to remember the girl I was back then. I needed to remember the creative strength it took to do some of the things that seem so impossible today.
I needed to reference myself.
How Do We Create In the Face Of Devastation?
This week marks my younger brother’s anniversary of his passing. It is also the week of his birthday. He would have been 35 this coming Monday. But he is not here.
I’ve been meditating (and crying) a lot this week. So, as I was meditating and holding my hand on my chest, I started crying. I was remembering the 22-year-old girl who went through so much in her last year of university. The things I learned from the woman I was (and became) during his passing are still there. I had just forgotten them.
- My brother died 3 months before I graduated. I had to finish my 50-page honors thesis and cry my way through all of my classes. I was not a fully functioning human being at the time. How could I be?
- My world blew up. Everything I knew was turned on its head and aI no longer knew who I thought I knew myself to be. This was a devastating time. During my last few months, my mentor, teacher, and friend June Jordan’s cancer came back with a full force and she died within a year.
- As I stood up there on that stage and gave the valedictory address, I laughed and cried at the same time. This was the best and worst day of my life. My mentor was supposed to introduce me, but she was so sick. My brother was supposed to be there, but he was dead.
The Power Of Referencing Your Past Creative Work
As I look back, I think about the sadness of the day and the joy of the day, but there was also the triumph of that day. How was I able to do the impossible. There was also breaking life into what seemed impossible and doing it. There was also my ability to hold my grief and my fear and my sadness and my joy all at the same time. So now, as I sit here meditating, I come back to that young woman. She was only a few years out of girlhood, and she had to find a way to get through that day.
I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know how she held the best and worst day of her life in both hands. I don’t know how her hands didn’t shake and collapse her to the ground, right there on that stage in front of everyone.
Honor Your Creative Courage
I don’t know why she did not give up. She could have said screw this whole thing and stayed in bed for weeks. She could have chosen to not graduate and take the remaining classes when she could have just left and never seen the walls of a university classroom again.
I would not blame her. Most people would understand.
It is hard to imagine that I am that same woman. I know she is strong and I know she cried in the bathroom while she waited to take the stage at the graduation theater. I know she cried while she was on stage.
Think back to a time when you were own creative superhero. What did it teach you? How did it change you? What lessons can you apply now?
Keep going dear creative. I want to see your brilliance.
Your Future Self
No one has your creative DNA.
If you do not do the thing that your heart knows it needs to do, no one else will do it for you. No one else can do it for you.
Of course, there will be artists to come after you. There were artists that came before you. They paved the way. they lit the path so you could see where you could place your foot and continue walking.
But they were not you.
They inspired you, they gave you ideas. they showed you just how far you might be able to go.
They arrived in the world with their own biological and creative DNA.
Let me tell you a story.
DNA is defined as the master molecule of every cell. It contains vital information that gets passed on to each successive generation. It coordinates the making of itself as well as other molecules (proteins). If it is changed slightly, serious consequences may result. If it is destroyed beyond repair, the cell dies.
No two people have the same biological DNA.
But the lineage we come from does inform our DNA. So family members can have shared (but not the same) DNA.
The same is true for creative DNA. It’s the creative information that gets passed on to each successive generation. Our creative DNA does not come from shared blood but shared the creative experience.
Last month, I wrote about creative ancestry and defined it as the lineage of creative people from whom which your work is descended.
Our creative ancestors may not look like us or may come from a different time period and a different country, but they have informed the cells and the base structure of our creative work.
In the same way that no two people share the same biological DNA, no two people share the same creative DNA.
We might have the same relatives (people who informed our work) but our creative body will do something different with this information and make it something that only we can claim, own and share with the world.
Is this making sense yet?
No one else can do your creative work.
If no one has your creative DNA, then no one can do the work you were meant to do in the world. They can do the same type of work, but it will not be infused with the distinct creative molecules that only you have.
On your hardest days, remember this. On the days when you feel like you have nothing to contribute, remember this. When you think that your voice does not matter, remember this. If not you, then who? There will be no one to share the truth in the way only you know and only you can.
Remember that there is always room for your unique voice. There has to be room for you. You have never existed before. Your creative DNA has never existed before.
Trust yourself dear creative.
Keep going. I want to see your brilliance
Your Future Self
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