Fear and financial pressure are lousy advisors, but a great kick in the…

When I decided to start freelancing as an illustrator over ten years ago, fear was a constant companion for a long time—the challenges of making a living doing what I love most seemed enormous.

After turning down a permanent contract with a global fashion brand and thus financial stability, I started from scratch. I had no personal illustration style, no portfolio, no contacts, and of course, no clients. All I had was my savings, which would only keep my head above water for a few months with a modest lifestyle, on the one hand, and my dream, on the other. This dream had stuck, and it would not let go of me now.

During these months, I woke up several times sweating and breathing heavily. In my dreams, I had given up on my goal. I found myself in a job interview or the office at one of my past jobs. It was a nightmare. That doesn’t mean that working there was a nightmare—quite the opposite. But the feeling of having given up my deep desire made me panic.

Those nightmares, and the fact that my savings were melting away over time, really chased me out of bed to my desk early in the morning. Who knows if I could be living my dream job as an illustrator today without that good dose of anxiety?

Looking back, I appreciate the pressure and value it for the future. Feeling fear can be a sign that we are right on track. It means we are serious, and it matters to us. Instead of paralyzing and blocking us, what scares us now can give us the last bit of motivation to get exactly where we want to go.

If it leaves us cold, let’s quit

When we were at school, we read books, learned different subjects such as math or languages, and did the sports we had to do. School education is a foundation. It’s where we first learn about our strengths and interests.

But when we graduate from school, a new chapter opens. Perhaps it is the most important in our life because now we begin to set the course for our future. It is crucial to be active, take up the reins, be curious, and break old habits, which open up unimagined paths full of adventure. To conquer these, we just must not stand still but keep moving.

The school conditions us to deal with things that do not touch or interest us, however helpful they may be in our lives. From now on, it’s 100% about us. We don’t read what we’re supposed to. We read what we want. We still continue to learn every day, but we focus on what excites us. We occupy ourselves with the things that are important to us, that make us happy and give us a sense of purpose. We try out everything and remain open to the unexpected. And above all, we find the courage to stop doing things if they don’t enrich our lives. A conscious no gives us the most valuable currency we have— time.

In school, I was used to reading books to the end. This compulsion has been hard-wired into me for a long time. Today, if I start a book and realize after a while that the content doesn’t excite me or is irrelevant, I abandon it. That doesn’t mean it’s poorly written or can’t be of value to other people. For me, it’s not enriching, and that’s ok. The fact that I could decide this for myself without consequence felt unusual at the beginning and took a little while.

The same goes for movies, events, video games, and sports. When we feel something isn’t touching us, let’s break it off and look for the things that won’t let us go instead.

We can create triggers to push our creative process

Creativity at the push of a button (if there even is such a thing) requires many years of practical experience. Even then, we can never be sure that ideas will pop out of our heads exactly when we need them.

In my experience, however, simple tricks give our creative minds a little support. We can build triggers into our daily lives that put our entire body into work and creation mode.

For example, I always run the same Spotify playlist when looking for ideas for my Mindshot illustrations. Sometimes I even start with the same song for months (i.e. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence by Ryuichi Nakamoto). Most of the time, I listen to instrumental music, like movie soundtracks or video game tracks.

Additionally, when I want to work concentrated and effectively, I go to my favorite café and order a cappuccino and sparkling water. So far, this is my best routine to get work done.

Through such developed habits, we condition our minds. We create a button that puts us on autopilot, just like we brush our teeth when we get up in the morning. It signals to our brain, now it’s time to work.

Inevitably, I am reminded of the famous example of the cow whose mouth fills with saliva as soon as the farmer rings the bell. By habit, the ringing signals to the cow’s subconscious, now it’s time for food, and the legs automatically move towards the jug.

Low job requests? Let’s look for patterns of annual fluctuations

That’s it. I had a good run, but it’s over now. In my first few years as a freelance illustrator, these words crept into my head from time to time. For months, exciting emails would flood into my inbox: client inquiries, interview requests, collaboration requests. I could barely keep up with responding and creating proposals.

But suddenly … silence. The only emails I was still receiving were the faithful spam from “Manuel Franko,” who was desperate to give me tens of millions of dollars if only I would click on his link.

Seemingly from one day to the next, the requests stopped. The first two weeks I still enjoyed because the last months had been full of overtime. By the third, I was getting nervous. Still nothing … it seemed like someone had turned off the switch.

Then finally, the redemption. A new request. Then another one. Soon I was busy again, and my worries vanished until the next low.

Over the years, I could recognize a rhythm. The months in which I received fewer inquiries had always been the summer months, the vacation season. So it was no wonder the curve went down here before it shot up again in late August.

With that in mind, not only could I calm down when inquiries were low. I could plan with it for vacations, personal projects, website updates, and more.

Because of our inexperience, such fluctuations can cause existential anxiety. Over time, we recognize patterns, incorporate them into our lives, and use them best. The important thing is just to be on the lookout for them.

A finance warning by my accountant when starting a business

On one of my first meetings with my accountant, he told me that most startups and freelancers don’t fail with their businesses because their products, service, or ideas are wrong or bad. They fail because of financial mismanagement. Many find it difficult to internalize that the money in their account is not 100% theirs, but part of it belongs to the tax office. In Germany, you are on the safe side if you set aside 1/3 of your income (excluding sales tax) for the tax office and health insurance.

Wouldn’t it be sad if we had to end our long-awaited dream of launching our restaurant, product, or service just because we spent money on a vacation, a car, or a watch? Money that didn’t belong to us in the first place? Wouldn’t that be unfair, irresponsible, and negligent to ourselves?

And even worse, wouldn’t we be depriving our fellow human beings of the result of our passion? An invention, a film, a product, or a service that might have simplified or beautified their lives?

Especially at the beginning of our project, until we can assess the financial situation more accurately, humility seems to be the virtue with which everything stands and falls.

Good ideas will stay with us

From my experience, I say that writing down and sketching ideas, be they strong or weak, always has advantages. The more, the better. To see if an idea is good or bad, it usually helps to put it on paper. Once we physically capture it, for example, in a sketchbook, we can let it go. After all, we can recall it at any time. By doing so, we make space in our minds for new thoughts. Moreover, new connections between ideas can emerge at another time. In this way, mediocre approaches often turn into brilliant ideas.

But Stephen King has an entirely different opinion on writing down ideas:


“I think a writer’s notebook is the best way to immortalize bad ideas. A good idea sticks around and sticks around.”

Stephen King

German rapper Sido said something similar. He doesn’t give bad ideas a second chance. If an idea for a beat or lyrics doesn’t catch him in the first few seconds, he drops it and searches for something else.

Each of us will find our method over time. For me, it still helps to jot down as many ideas as possible. However, sometimes I think of Stephen King and Sido. Then I try to filter out the thoughts in my head that seem to stick with me, this particular idea that sticks around and around. Perhaps we would be well advised to pay special attention to these.

We are nothing special. And that’s great

We all have our own experiences, world views, principles, priorities, dislikes, and moral ideas. Each of us has unique talents, loves different things, and likes or dislikes doing something. Sometimes we do it better, sometimes worse.

This complexity can make us feel unique and special, which may cause some to feel good or bad. Perhaps it makes us feel especially valuable or even elevated to others. But maybe we also feel like we don’t belong anywhere, precisely because we are so different. We feel like outsiders who don’t fit the norm, which can be agonizing.

But the more we open up and the more people we get to know, the more we realize that we are not alone with our idiosyncrasies. We learn that there is no reason to feel shame or haughtiness about being the person we are.

We understand that the world and life are full of connections. People with the same interests do not find each other by chance. They are attracted to each other. They read the same books, attend the same events, comment on the same YouTube videos, and follow each other on social networks.

Perhaps this realization helps us accept who we are and find the courage to put this into the world so we can learn from each other and meet like-minded people.

Writing about the same topic a thousand times is okay

When I start to write about a topic, I sometimes think, “I’ve written about this before, haven’t I?” But that doesn’t stop me from writing about it again.

I know that today I will use different words. Maybe I’ll use another example this time because I’ve had a new experience in the meantime. I may even contradict my previous thoughts. That’s perfectly fine.

With each day and each event, we learn. We see things today in a new light than we did yesterday and tomorrow. This certainty makes it easy for me just to write away.

About the future of creativity

So many great thinkers write and talk about creativity and their experiences in finding ideas and solutions. Remarkably, there seem to be methods, incentives, exercises, and guides for creative thinking. There are common denominators for such a complex and, at first glance, intangible topic. One example is the so-called Osborn Checklist.

If there is a pattern behind creative thinking, it means that it can be analyzed, categorized, and measured. And we know from our own lives, for example, on social platforms, that systems can be automated (keyword algorithms).

Therefore, we should not be surprised if the development of advertising campaigns, illustrations, logos, movies, or even election campaigns will eventually be taken over by artificial intelligence.

4 Steps to develop a new habit

When I started to work as a freelance illustrator, I was forced to develop new habits in my life more than ever. There was no longer a boss telling me how and when to work. All the critical decisions were up to me from now on.

How do I find my illustration style? How and where to present my work. How do I get the attention of potential clients? How to use social networks? The list was endless, and I didn’t even consider time for family, friends, and sports.

I knew that I needed a plan. And to fulfill it, I had to create new habits. Drawing alone would not be enough. I had to get into the habit of taking small but consistent steps. Every day I worked on my style, I informed myself about the benefits of social networks and marketing methods for illustrators. I set fixed times for sports, which is essential because you move even less in your own home than when you work in a company.

Over time, I’ve noticed four methods for myself that help me develop new habits:

  1. Baby steps:
    Let’s do a little bit every day. Our motivation for the next day fades as soon as we overload ourselves. For example, we can set a limit if we want to read more. 5 pages, 10 minutes, or half an hour. It’s up to us. It should only be realistic and not overambitious. In a few weeks, we will have internalized the habit of reading like brushing our teeth.
  2. Track our new habits:
    A simple calendar helps. As soon as we read, we make a checkmark for the day. The best thing is that the chain of checkmarks eventually motivates us over time. We don’t want to break it.
  3. Backup plan for super-busy days:
    Some days are just different than others: deadlines, personal commitments, or dark days when we can’t get our minds up. No problem. We have already made a plan for that. In those days, we don’t read for x minutes. We read one paragraph only. It takes a few seconds, and that’s perfectly fine. We make our checkmark here, too.
  4. Having mercy on ourselves:
    If the chain breaks, it’s not the end of the world. If it happens, it does not mean we have failed—quite the opposite. If we get upset or feel bad about it, we take it as a sign that we care. Let’s keep going tomorrow.

A simple hack to do more of what you love

Let’s make the tools we need more accessible. Do we want to draw or write more? Let’s put a sketch or notebook in our back pocket. Do we want to jog more? Let’s put our running shoes by the front door. Do we want to read more? Let’s put it on our nightstand.

If we have to search for the tools first, we’ll quickly lose motivation. The trick is to keep our future self away from as much resistance as possible. Going home after work to pack the gym bag requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation. After all, the couch and the remote are already in sight. However, if we prepare the bag already in the morning and put it in the trunk, the way to the gym will already be easier later.

2 methods to develop good habits and achieve goals (2/2)

No. 2 – The introverted method:

The last post was about the extroverted method. Now it’s about sorting out most of our plans with ourselves first. Here, especially in the beginning, we don’t discuss it with anyone. At this stage, my grandma used to say, “It’s not yet ripe to speak about,” while my grandpa used to say, “Never say I will, always say I did.”

The advantages of this method:

THE SECRET – Our dreams are the most precious thing we carry inside us. But they are so fragile. People, circumstances, words, and ourselves can easily shatter them. Therefore, we must protect them from ourselves and from others. By not talking about it, we create our secret and put it in a save. We do not allow people to judge or decide our goals, influence us, or dissuade us. The temptation to talk about it is enormous. After all, we think about it all the time. But the more we resist the urge, the firmer and stronger our will to achieve the goal develops. We become aware that other people, be it our loving parents or best friend, cannot make the decisions and take the path for us. So who benefits from talking about it?

AVOIDING TOXIC PRESSURE – When we work on our goals, we already put a lot of pressure on ourselves and have expectations of ourselves. We are our worst critics and work daily to develop better habits. The fight against our self-doubt and inner resistance requires much effort from us. We quickly feel alone in the process. But if you look at it closely, that’s where the power lies. We learn a lot about ourselves, how we work, think, and decide best to get closer to our goal. Since we don’t talk about it, we eliminate any outside pressure. We don’t have to prove anything or be accountable to anyone. Only ourselves. And that is by far enough.

The downside:

A SOLID BUT LONG ROAD TO GO: as mentioned in the last post, people can support and encourage us along the way. They can give helpful advice and introduce us to people who can get us to our goal faster. If we don’t talk about our plan, we will have to learn only from our own mistakes. This will strengthen us internally. But there is nothing reprehensible about learning from the mistakes of others and embracing help. For that, however, we would have to tell them first.

I have somewhat exaggerated both methods, and there is not only one or the other way. As always in life, the dose makes the poison. The more we try and observe ourselves, the quicker we find out which method is more appropriate for our personality.

Personally, I have found that the introverted method suits me. Looking back, this has always been the case. The most significant decisions in my life I first negotiated with myself, i.e., the decisions to study design, travel abroad for several months, and to become self-employed. Only when the determination in me has grown enough, do I find the courage to share it with others.

How is it with you? Where do you see yourself? Feel free to let me know via email.

2 methods to develop good habits and achieve goals (1/2)

No. 1 – The extroverted method:

We tell everyone about our plans. Do we want to quit smoking, write our screenplay, or exercise more? Let’s share our ambitions with family, friends, and people around us. 

The advantages of this method:

THE PROMISE – We consciously create an external pressure and a constant reminder of our intention. “Are you still smoking?” “What about your movie? “Have you lost any weight yet?”. We have not only made a promise to ourselves to achieve our dreams. By telling others about it, we’ve also made a promise to them, or at least a statement that we don’t want to break. 

THE TIME AND MOTIVATION BOOST – People with the same interests attract each other. We connect with whom share a common passion, ambition, and dreams by talking about them. These encounters can help our project move forward by receiving feedback and advice. We may even be introduced to more people willing to believe in us, support us or invest in us. Unexpected opportunities can arise if we just share our vision. Each encounter can be a valuable piece of the puzzle or a shortcut to our dream path.

The downside:

BECOMING A PAIN IN THE A… – We will find people interested in us and in our dream sooner or later. But most people will have no interest in it. They will not relate to it at all, and our passionate fire will not touch them. If we constantly talk about our goals with friends and relatives, it may cause them to be annoyed with us. In the worst case, they will not look forward to meeting us. To avoid this, we should read the signals of the person we are talking to.

BECOMING A WINDBAG – Everything around us is constantly changing. This also applies to our dreams and plans. In the beginning, we may have found them exciting or even for weeks and months. But suddenly, we stop. We lost interest in them. The fire we felt was a flash in the pan instead of a torch in the dark. If that happens once or twice and we actually have a concrete result the third time, that’s fine. But if we constantly over-promise and under-deliver, we become nothing but chatterboxes. Not just on the outside. Much more threatening is that we might get used to it instead of changing our attitude that leads us to the goal. 

In such cases, we might want to try the second method: The introvert method, which I will write about later.

Every dream job is packed with little nightmares

We usually refer to earning a living doing what we love most as a dream job. Waking up every day and can’t wait to get started is what we all want. But let’s not delude ourselves. No dream job comes without nightmares.

The dream of owning your own restaurant means taking a loan, seeing your family rarely, dealing with the health department, looking for capable employees, etc.

Being a film producer means being responsible for dozens of people. It means keeping a cool head when the lead actor gets sick on the day of the shoot, the requisites don’t arrive in time for the shoot, or the director doesn’t act on the schedule.

Being an illustrator means years of practicing, experimenting, working alone, enduring frustration over one’s own inadequate skills, acquiring clients, and tough price negotiations.

Even ultimate dreams of being, i.e., a professional soccer player, means that other people make decisions about us. A professional soccer player must be ready to pack his bags at any time, separate his children from his new friends, and move to another city, another country, or even a foreign continent. A professional must be aware that a severe injury can mean the end of his career and a financial downgrade.

When we decide to go for our dream job, it is essential to know that even then, deep dark days with stomach aches and headaches are inevitable. We are prepared for this, so we don’t turn back when facing the first headwind. We must be honest with ourselves. Are we willing to put up with the downsides of our dream job? If love and passion are such that we can answer yes to this question, then there is no stopping us. If the answer is no, great. We were honest and can now leave this illusion behind and continue on our search for our calling.