Since I quit my day job to pursue my passion full-time last summer, I’ve been in some situations where I felt my work is not taken seriously.
For example, I visited my old work place the other day, and one of my old co-workers asked me, with a grin on his face, “So, what time do you get up nowadays?” I told him 5:30am every single morning. He was really surprised to hear it. He thought I get to sleep in every morning since I don’t have a job to go to!
Or when my mom and some friends make a comment about how nice it must be to have the slow lifestyle and get to enjoy making art at my leisure.
Or when some people assume I could get together in the middle of a weekday on a whim because I have so much “free” time.
Situations like these bother me.
It bothers me because I feel like people think I’m just having a relaxing, semi-retired life, having lots of hobbies and mooching off of my husband or something!
Or more accurately, it stirs up my insecurity about what I choose do and how well I’m doing it.
I’ve been working very hard. I’m learning and growing. I’m moving forward towards my goals. And many people on the outside don’t know exactly what it takes to actually “make a living doing what you love”. Heck, I didn’t understand it 100% before I started doing it either!
But because I’m not making any significant profit from my business yet, situations like these fuel my insecurity and self-doubt. It makes me question my ability to build a successful creative business. Am I going to make it? Am I really cut out for this?? Or is it just going to be a hobby I spend a lot of time and money on?
I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s scary and keeps me up at night.
People ask you about your business because they care about you and are curious. And since I don’t know how to explain everything that goes on in my business, my vision, and fears in a way that’s reasonably understood in a casual conversation, I don’t usually get in to the hard aspects of it.
I’m worried that my sharing the “unsuccessful business” story will make them worry about me and my future.
And if I sense that they’re worried about me, 1) it’ll make me feel even more insecure and 2) I’d feel the need to take care of their emotions. And that’s not something I have the energy or willingness to do in a casual social setting. Especially when I’m caught in a self-doubt downward spiral! Eeek!
So, What do you do when people around you don’t seem to get what you do? Or you feel they’re not taking your pursuit seriously?
Here are 5 things I do to manage my response to these situations:
1. Try not to take things personally and try to appreciate that your friends and family care about you.
You just don’t know what other people’s intentions are and why they do what they do. For the most part, your friends and family are curious about what it’s like to run your own show and want to know that you’re OK. So try not to turn it in to something unhelpful or untrue.
Someone might think your life is stress-free and luxurious, and you get to do whatever you want whenever you want to. Know that it’s merely a projection of their own thoughts and ideas. Maybe that’s what they dream of doing once they’re retired from their day job. Who knows??
Try not to think that it’s a reflection of what you actually do because they don’t know what you do! Remember, it’s not about you. So don’t make it. It doesn’t serve you.
2. Share your successes and what you’re excited about with them.
When people ask me how my business is doing, I immediately translate in my brain that they’re asking me how my business is doing financially. And I cringe.
But that’s not what they’re saying – it might be what they’re thinking, but that’s not what the words say. It’s an open-ended question. You can make your answer about anything you want, and not just about how successful (or not) your business is financially.
In a casual conversation, I try to share a couple of my recent successes or what I’m excited about next. It gets people excited and be happy for you, and it’s a helpful reminder for myself to focus on what’s going well, too!
I love seeing other people get inspired by hearing about what I do! So do more of that!
3. Have a safe place to share your struggles and fears
Inevitably, your business will have ups and downs. Sharing your struggles and fears with family or friends who don’t really understand it or trying to convince someone to see things your way might not be the most helpful thing to do.
But you gotta get support somehow. It will be a rough and lonely road if you don’t!!
Here are some suggestions on how you do that:
- You can get an accountability partner. Find someone to meet regularly (in-person or on-line) who are on a similar journey with you and check in about your goals, successes and challenges. I wrote a couple of blog posts about my experiences with accountability partners here and here if you’re interested. It’s been one of the most helpful things for me!
- Work with a professional. You can work with a mental health therapist to get help on a deep-seated fears and insecurities. You can also work with a business or creative coach to get practical help with achieving your goals. (In case you didn’t know, I help other artists individually as a creative coach 🙂 You can learn more about it here.)
- Join an online community of like-minded people. As a busy, introverted artist, finding on-line communities of like-minded people has been really helpful for me. I don’t have to leave the house or make a special arrangement to ask for help?? GREAT! It’s also helpful for people who live in rural areas and struggle to find your people in-person. I’m part of Seanwes community, Building a Better Business in One Year (though this has been a little inconsistent) and Creative Online Presence with Meighan O’Toole groups on Facebook.
4. Try to focus on the progress you’re making.
I feel low when I get asked how my business is doing when I feel like my business is not doing so well.
For example, I experienced a dip in sales in January compared to November and December, which is to be expected. Holidays are the biggest sales season of the year after all.
So instead of beating myself up about it, I compared my sales from January – February of last year to the same time period this year and noticed a significant growth! It definitely helped with my confidence, and I’ll continue to do so every month from now on.
I also try to measure my progress in other non-financial ways:
- I track how many followers I gain each month for my social media accounts. Though these numbers aren’t the only way to tell how successful you are, it’s one indicator of your business growth.
- I document what I get done every day on my calendar. Did I accomplish top 3 things I wanted to today? If yes, then that is a successful day for me.
- I review my old work and recognize my growth as an artist. Occasionally, I look at what I posted on my Instagram a long time ago or some of my old work on my portfolio and see the progress I’ve made as an artist. Yes, I cringe 🙂 but also feel compassionate towards the artist I was, and it gives me hope that there is no limit to how much I can grow years from now!
5. Say yes to fewer social invitations and schedule them in advance
Your friends and family might think your schedule is super flexible when you work for yourself. And in a sense, they’re not wrong about that.
I do enjoy the flexibility of not having to clock in and out, actually. For instance, my husband Dave works from home too, so we do our grocery shopping during the week avoiding the craziness at the grocery store on weekends. Or I can go in for a doctor’s appointment in the middle of a weekday. Or I can take a nap on the couch in the middle of the afternoon if I’m not feeling well.
These are just a few benefits I get to enjoy while pursuing my passion! And I’m not complaining about that at all.
But I still keep a daily routine and treat it like my “real” job. And because I don’t have a boss to answer to, in a way it takes more discipline and commitment to stick to it.
So while I do have the flexibility and could make time to get together with friends during the week if I wanted to, I’m more intentional about what I say yes to.
When you think about it, your lunch or tea with friends might only take an hour or so. What’s the big deal, right? You have to eat anyway. Why not just do that with someone you like, right?
Here is the thing. You might be spending only an hour or so for the actual event itself, but you also need to consider the time you’re getting ready to leave, get to/from the location, and then transition back into your work mode again.
And if you’re an introvert like me, interacting with people, even if it’s someone you love spending time with, takes energy out of you, and you need to account for the time to refill your energy reserve after socializing.
So in reality, you’re spending more like 3-4 hours per social event you engage in during your workday. And that’s a big chunk!
At the end of the day, what I care about is not so much the time itself, but the loss of focus and flow of the work day. You can sort of get the time back by working extra later or on a different day, but it’s a lot harder to get that focus back. And focus is absolutely necessary for me to produce quality work.
So here is how I deal with engaging in social events during the week:
- I say no to most of the social invitations. I might say yes to 1 event per week, but usually no more than that. I let the person know I appreciate being asked but can’t make it.
- I schedule the social events in advance. While I say no to most invitations (especially last minute ones), it doesn’t mean I don’t want to see my friends! It typically means no I can’t do it then. I make sure we plan a get together for a future date and get it on my calendar in advance so I can plan around it. My regular sabbatical weeks are great for scheduling get-togethers with friends!
- I schedule my events early in the morning or later in the afternoon. I usually like to schedule something at either the beginning of the day or later in the afternoon so my work day and focus won’t have to be broken up too much.
- I combine the event with other business-related errands. I do this often when I’m needing to go out of my immediate neighborhood to see someone during my work day. I try to hit the art supply or hardware store or get done other business-related errands while I’m out and about.
- I combine multiple social events in one day. It’s similar to my point above, but if I’m driving somewhere to see a friend, I’ll see if there is anyone else I’d like to see in that area. I might see someone for lunch, and then invite someone else to have coffee with me afterwards etc.
- Enjoy your time with friends when you’re with them. Once I’m there with my friends, I try to be present with them as much as possible. There is no point in worrying about the work you’re not getting done or the focus you’re losing at that point. Nobody forced you to do this, so let it go and enjoy the here and now with the people you love!
Ok friends, I hope you find these tips helpful! The most important thing for me to remember when I feel discouraged by someone’s comments or behavior is to just appreciate the privilege I have to be able to follow my passion and having people in my life who care about my well-being.
The negative voice I’m hearing is mostly a reflection of my own insecurity. Life is much more enjoyable when you’re kind to yourself and replace the negative voice with the positive one ❤
Know that your art creates value for lots of people even if you’re not making money yet!