For freelancers and self-employed people, “no” is a powerful tool, like the computer, the Internet, Excel, Photoshop, pen, and paper. We use it, for example, when we don’t feel comfortable with a project request or when we’re negotiating prices.
Over time, we become more confident in using “no” because we can justify it with our experience. We learn to use it at the right time and realize that it does not imply any personal valuation, neither when we say it nor when we receive it.
We see it as an adjustment, similar to when someone on the street asks us if he is on the right way to the train station. If he is going in the wrong direction, we reply “No” and show him the right way. “No” is precious for both sides. Let’s use it.
In his book “The Art of Game Design,” Jesse Schell writes about this formula. I read it in my 20s when I was thinking about becoming a game designer. Even though I eventually took a different path, I often think of passages from the book, especially this formula.
Originally it came from the experiential design of roller coasters and thrill rides and is a trademark of Sotto Studios. Horror movies, survival games, and even harmless pranks that scare our friends are based on this simple formula. This brief thrill and adrenaline rush are usually followed by relieved laughter. I think this is because we feel very alive at that moment.
There are always situations that can make us sweat. Even as designers and freelancers, whether it’s before client presentations, harsh criticism of our work, or when we feel that tasks are overwhelming us. In those moments, I try to think of this formula. Despite the external “threat,” we are never at real risk of losing our lives.
It helps me to take things a little easier. Stage fright and the tingling in the stomach before a presentation are exciting emotions. If I can suppress the initial panic and flight instinct, I start to enjoy it. This formula helps me do that because I realize that there is nothing that can really harm me.
Let’s imagine that we would do something important to us every day from today on. This could be, for example, a drawing in our sketchbook, a page of our novel, a sports practice, or a Spanish lesson. We can create a minimum amount of activity even on our most stressful days. A rough sketch can be done in a matter of seconds. Instead of writing a page of the novel, even a few lines will do. Instead of 30 minutes of workout, we do only push-ups. Even repeating vocabulary takes only a few minutes.
It’s not about how much time and effort we put in. It’s about doing it daily so that we develop a new habit. Day after day, we reprogram ourselves. Before we know it, the activity becomes second nature, like brushing our teeth.
Now let’s think about what we could have in front of us in a year. The sketchbook is full of drawings, the novel may already be finished, physically we feel fit, and on vacation in Spain, we can now communicate. Making and creating every day has exclusive benefits for our personal and professional development and is quickly done.
Competition stimulates business is an old saying in economics. I had a D- (4- in Germany) in my Abitur in geography. But for some reason, I have not forgotten one thing: The agglomeration advantage. In retail, an agglomeration advantage is an increase in sales through spatial proximity to stores with a similar assortment or a similarly pursued pricing strategy (source: onpulson.com). A street full of restaurants and snack bars attracts the hungry. Even though each vendor is in competition, they all benefit equally.
Can it be a coincidence that some of mankind’s most significant artists lived in the same place in the same era? Names like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Botticelli ring bells even to the art philistine. The great masters learned with and from each other. And they were also in competition with each other. For example, Da Vinci found his personal and professional rival in the young Michelangelo. Both of them were commissioned in the early 1500s to each decorate a wall for the Florence’s Council Hall in the Palazzo della Signora with their art. The mere presence of the other will have affected and motivated them somehow. They will have benefited from it. How exciting it must have been to watch these two ambitious geniuses at work in direct comparison.
Our environment affects us, and we affect our environment. Depending on where we move or who we meet, the place and the people influence our path. For my studies in communication design, I moved to Dusseldorf, the fashion city par excellence. As a graphic design student with a passion for illustration, it’s no surprise that I ended up creating t-shirt graphics for fashion brands like Esprit while studying.
We have our minds set on it: We want to apply to grad school, write our novel, develop the app, start the relief effort, or plan our wedding. Our mission is clear. Suddenly, something magical happens: tedious work turns into mission tasks under the light of our motivation and determination for the major goal.
My mission was: I want to do illustrations for a living. I quickly realized that making “beautiful” drawings wasn’t enough. I needed a website, used social networks, designed advertising materials, wrote my first invoices, improved my English, and visited fairs and events. I even picked up the phone to call agencies and drove to distant cities to deliver my postcards in person. That’s something I would never have done before. Suddenly, I was a programmer, social media expert, graphic designer, salesman, and I read books only in English.
Each task on its own would not have brought me joy. On the contrary, I would have hated them. But since they served my mission, all negative feelings disappeared. I just did it.
In Italy there is a saying, “Hai voluto la bicicletta? Adesso pedala.”, “You wanted a bike, right? Now pedal!” I used to roll my eyes every time my father said this. But it just seems to be true: We can’t have one without the other. And when it’s blowing the warm summer wind in your face, pedaling is fun, too.
In video games, a power-up temporarily strengthens the player. The most famous one is the mushroom in Super Mario. Time pressure can be our power-up.
Let’s say we have an appointment at the bank in 45 minutes. If we subtract 15 minutes for the trip, we have 30 minutes left. We often fritter away this precious time until the appointment. We say, “It’s not worth it to start something new now,” and bang goes Youtube. But that short time can be our mushroom. We can accomplish so much in 30 minutes, whether it’s work or personal activities like exercise or household chores.
The best part is that we always keep an eye on the clock, which boosts our concentration. I am often amazed that I can accomplish something in an intense 30 minutes that usually takes much more time, like writing this post, for example.
At first, it tastes bitter, and you want to spit it out. But once it is down, it works wonders.
This only applies to constructive criticism. Criticism has the sole purpose of bringing the criticized person closer to her goal. This can be during the logo design process, the realization of a business idea, or the improvement of shooting techniques in football.