Updated: Nov 15, 2020
*Initiate cheesy salesman commercial*
Hey, you! Does this sound familiar?
"I'm just not feeling it."
"The inspiration just isn't there for me right now."
"I do this for a living... why am I not able to think of something???"
"Maybe I'm not cut out for this?"
And of course, the famous
"I have a creative block."
I think the common misconception with being considered a creative, maker, designer, director, craftsman, etc. is that you need to be “on” 100% of the time in order to be the most productive, efficient, and creative person you could possibly be. People (including myself sometimes,) tend to think that our creative heroes & heroines do what they do so damn well because they are just "born with it (probably not Maybelline though.)
How about this thought though:
A big fat LOL – because frankly, absolutely not.
And this is just my opinion and all, but entertain these thoughts for a sec and feel better about cutting yourself some slack ;)
1. We Just Can't.
I mean this physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your human capacity for these components are divided in chunks throughout the day. There's 24 hours in a day, so what do you actually accomplish?
Personal/household tasks (hygiene, cooking, cleaning up, attending to pets, etc.)
Exercising (God willing)
Probably a lot of sitting to work from home (I still can’t feel my butt cheeks.)
Not to mention actual work!
Simply figuring out what you want to accomplish that day.
Getting yourself motivated and in the mindset to do said tasks
Just remembering to do things can be tricky!
Taking time to recognize how you're doing that day or week.
(Side tangent:) especially with everything going on this year of 2020, it can be too easy to go into autopilot mode and forget what day it is or that another month has just passed us by. It can be depressing to feel like you're in an underground hole and can't differentiate the days enough. I'm personally working on trying to mix up my days as much as possible, so it doesn't feel like a never-ending Groundhog Day. I hope you can do the same for your mental health and stability :)
Simply staying positive!
Staying in touch with your wants and desires as a human being, and thinking how to keep those met... at least halfway.
Remember that you are NOT defined by your job. You are more than the work you produce and the people who truly value you should understand that more so.
Hold up with your relationships. Check in on your people.
Do something that brings you pure joy at least once a day – like reading, petting a real good dog, getting yourself a coffee down the street, or buying a new plant and maybe naming it Richard.
& among many other things than these lists ^^^
One of my favorite content channels for creatives and entrepreneurship, TheFutur, has a great episode about what you can actually do in a day and where your time is truly allocated. There's even an exercise in this episode to figure out where most of your time is going, and if any changes should be made.
2. We need to take things in to produce things out.
I mentioned earlier that there’s this idea – that for us to be super productive, successful, awarded, experienced, etc., we have to be “on” 24/7 – but where’s the time allocated for soaking in what’s around you in order to make the things that you do?
You know the portion in an airplane’s safety guide, where in the event of a cabin's oxygen loss, your oxygen mask releases down from above for airflow? “Put your mask on first before helping others,” they say. I think there’s a very similar concept when taking time to help yourself creatively – even if that means not being creative for a little bit.
This can mean all kinds of things for people, whether it's going outside, taking a total hiatus off the grid somewhere, spending some time with family, or even just sitting in a chair with your favorite beverage and a loving doggo on your lap and just looking around the room, thinking about nothing. There needs to be some balance.
We have to circulate – that’s the key word. Out with the old & in with the new. If we don’t, old ideas and thoughts can linger, fester, and possibly take over our creative bias. And we don’t want that! Our employers don’t want that. We want ourselves to be fresh, on top of our game, and keep doing what reminds others why we’re so good at it.
3. We are not what we create
Often in our jobs we feel as if we’re just the monkeys who make the work to get the job done. Behind that, there’s stress, exhaustion, lack of mental stimulation when your talents & skills are being strained too thin – And, it can reflect on the work itself.
There’s a reason artificial intelligence and machines can’t do what we do. Creativity & artistry takes thousands, if not millions of sub-levels of who we are (like memories, trauma, new places, books we read, people, etc.) to influence what we make in this world. And we can’t take our humanity for granted.
That goes to say that we should always recognize this in our friends, colleagues, employees and employers. There’s so much more going on under the surface whether we know it or not.
As Shrek once said to Donkey,
“Ogres have layers. Onions have layers… you get it – we both have layers.”
So, us as artistic ogres need to remember that while we may be good at creating the things we do, it does not define everything that we are. It is truly a product of us and who we are. So be sure to give more attention and nurturing to your humanism, and the product will always follow.
4. The more your skills (aka superpowers) are exploited, the more you don’t want to use them
This kinda goes with my last point how we’re not who we are because of what we produce. The difference is that sometimes when these circumstances aren’t recognized, you can see your “superpowers” as evil.
And frankly, that’s just dumb and awful.
I’ll use myself as an example: In this last year I can easily say that I’ve never felt more stress, pressure, and constantly churning deliverables as a graphic designer in my life. Those feelings can easily be related back to art school experiences for most current & graduated art students. (Sorry in advance for the art school PTSD, guys and gals, lol.) But the difference between that stress in art school and my grown-up-big-girl job, was that in my job I felt I was rarely given proper time and opportunities to create the quality of work I was always used to producing in school.
But, that’s also just reality: you’re working on a sh!t ton of stuff simultaneously.
Initially, I was ecstatic to be able to provide anything and everything my team needed at the drop of a hat because I know my skill set – both creatively and technically – and could always provide.
But, over time, that expectation (from my team, but mostly the expectation for myself,) was that this was now my normal grind to be this reliable, always on my feet, creative machine. And to a degree, I was. Still am. But eventually, I started to notice that my drive to make something fresh, “out of the box,” unique, and professional dwindled more and more with everything I did. I began to lose my fire I constantly had in middle school through college, and almost every task seemed to be a mountain – almost a burden.
This point is not to scare anyone in school looking for a job as a designer; it’s only my experience, and being a creative and designer is truly the most fulfilling part of my life :) This example is to say that the more I gave my heart, soul, and energy into giving everything I did with the same effort I gave everything else, the more I hated being that creative resource to others...
Which is the TOTAL opposite of how you want to use your superpowers!
Being a designer, for me, means that I can create something from nothing – I can create something when it was just mere, abstract thoughts beforehand. I can bring things to reality with my personality & edge (not to mention seeing great reactions from clients) and makes my skill feel like a genuine superpower. And that should be nurtured for good; not to be over-churned, extorted, and abused. We will begin to resent being able to do what we do, and sometimes attach negative feelings toward our talents, not wanting to use them as much.
This might be a familiar notion to some of you, which is completely understandable. It’s one of those “it’s a blessing and a curse” things, “double-edged swords,” etc. We can relate to this all we want – but how can we prevent this from happening?
I have a great team of people that sometimes live this same kind of hell in their roles as well, and don’t want this to happen to their people either. These are some things I’ve found very helpful that have alleviated that feeling; and it's not to say that these things will happen overnight, it will definitely take time to see improvement in your day to day if this applies to you. But if you have the right people around you who want to help you, it will get done :)
Talk to your “people” – this can mean friends, a close coworker, past professor, someone who you feel “gets it.” They may have some advice and words of encouragement to help shift your mindset a little and get you through some things, and learn a little on the tailend.
Bring it up to your immediate manager – It’s important to phrase things carefully; basically drive the point home that you don’t feel like you may be producing the best work you possibly can because of time, lack of resources, face-to-face time(which I guess in COVID terms would be face-to-screen time,) or other pieces you’re missing to do your job the best you can without sacrificing your inner fire and mental/emotional stability.
(Having actual evidence and examples of those experiences, and even ideas of how it could’ve been handled differently to make it a better project are great ways of showing thought process, initiative, and proactiveness even while you’re feeling like nothing but a workhorse. They will certainly appreciate that, and can take those suggestions to their management and your entire team as well.)
Be freakin proactive – It can be so easy to stay by the wayside and say “it is how it is. I just have to deal with it.” That mentality can only last so long. While it's important to talk to your people about these concerns, there are things you can do that can get you through certain ebbs & flows of a heads-down work day. Do what you can to survive certain days, and use the other energy you have to initiate change and action.
There’s a great article I found about how much time you should actually work in a day and what kind of work ethic is found most productive (which seems to be sprints of work divided by dedicated break times.) It's always good to find other resources and mentalities that observe these working circumstances differently, and who knows, it could change your work day forever!
Keep at those things that do spark your inner fire – Personal projects are also a popular thing for creatives to rekindle their flame when it feels lost in the work day. Some people (like me) like to make creative briefs for themselves and create very real projects that could even be portfolio pieces in their downtime. If you don’t have that kind of time (and frankly, energy,) there’s always the idea of doing something every day, and seeing the ideas & skill improve over time – even if you’re not feeling that creative.
5. Inspiration can be just around the corner, you just have to look out for it
The Creative Gods & Goddesses work in mysterious ways.
Due to our amazing humanity and experiences, we can find that strike of lightning for our next big idea in the oddest of places. It may be harder or easier for some people, and everyone has their own methods of coming across it – despite the biggest mental block or wave of monotony.
Some things to do to help get that train rolling:
Watch/Listen to TedTalks, even if the subject is totally unrelated.
Check out your “saved for later” videos on YouTube that you probably forgot about but you found interesting for some reason. You might even end up going down a rabbit hole!
Just read something. Anything.
Be among nature – a designer’s best friend and counterpart.
Change the scenery & sit somewhere different when you work, if possible.
Talk to your people about anything & everything
Write down every little idea & spark that pops into your head – dreams, funny things you hear when eavesdropping on strangers nearby, “what-ifs,” lists of anything, etc. It may not seem like anything at the moment, but when you open that notebook up later you might be making your next big piece from it!
It’s important to remember that great ideas come in many shapes and sizes, and often in the most peculiar of times and circumstances. It takes time to understand how you function as a creative and what tickles your creative fancy. And, when you know, it almost seems as if those inspirational moments fall right on your lap.