No one will give us time to inhale. We have to take it

We are all expected to keep climbing in many parts of life. Our society is built on growth. Businesses strive for a higher profit than last year. A soccer team strives for a higher ranking in the coming season than last season.

Each of us also usually strives for more, be it a higher salary, a bigger apartment, or a better cell phone. Lowering our newfound standards is perceived as a step backward, or perhaps even a failure – by others and ourselves. It’s hard to feel comfortable again in a second-hand Nissan Sunny when we’ve driven a Mercedes for years.

But to move forward, we need time for ourselves. To think, to reflect, to survey. We need solitude and tranquility to be able to learn from our mistakes and realign ourselves. Only then will we come back stronger. We sometimes have to take a few steps back to take a run-up.

One thing is sure. No one will voluntarily give us this time—neither our society, Netflix, or Instagram. We have to take it.

If I’m not nervous about a project, I get nervous

Creative service is not an exact science, whether it’s creating illustrations, an advertising campaign, or a corporate design. Uncertainty resonates throughout the creative process. At the end are questions like: Does the illustration, the ad campaign, or the logo convey the intended message at first glance and unambiguously?

No matter how often we go through it all in our heads, the truth always emerges when we present our design to others. Therefore, personally, a basic sense of nervousness is part and parcel of every project. That helps me stay focused, effective, self-critical, and objective in the service of the client.

When I think of a commissioned project, and I don’t feel nervousness but a sense of calmness, all alarm bells immediately go off. That’s when I get too confident about, for example, the deadline or the illustration idea. The rude awakening occurs at the latest when I sit down at the desk and notice that the execution takes more time than planned or when the idea in my head doesn’t work as well as I thought once it’s on a sheet of paper.

The nervousness that cost me sleepless nights in my studies and the early days as a freelancer has become a well-dosed motor for creative work over time.

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.

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 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. That 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 on the inside 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 them. 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, 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 our search for our calling.

What we do is not who we are

It starts with the language. In Germany, we say, Ich bin Illustrator, Ich bin Maurer, Ich bin Psychologe (I am an illustrator, …). This formulation creates a strong connection between work and identity: I am what I do.

But this attitude is risky and can be unhealthy. From a connection, dependency may arise. So, as part of society, I am measured by what I do. At the same time, I begin to measure myself by it. It’s constraining.

What happens when a serious injury forces a professional football player to end his career? Or when a 5-star chef loses his sense of taste? Is his identity lost with that? 

In Italy, they say Faccio l’illustratore, Faccio il muratore, Faccio il psicologo. This means as much as I make … or I work as … The language creates a distance to identity.

Once we realize that what we do is only a by-product of who we are, our lives will become easier. We deal better with criticism, detach more easily from expectations, and take the freedom to redesign our lives.

Boredom: A crucial part of creating an illustration

Creating a portrait is a process full of ups and downs. Some parts of the face are always exciting to draw, while others drag on torturously.

The most exciting and crucial part is the eyes. The eyes never lie, they say, and this is just as true in portrait drawing. A perfectly drawn ear cannot save the work if the look is not on point.

It’s pretty different when drawing long, dark hair. I often put off this part as long as I can because it’s by far the most monotonous. For hours I draw one line over the other. In the process, I usually feel boredom at the beginning. Sometimes even frustration and the feeling that I am wasting my life. In the best case, a kind of meditation develops after a while, where my thoughts drift away and time flies.

But I know hair is also part of the finished portrait, just like the eyes. Knowing that this part also has its place and needs my full attention helps me deal with the monotony. Better yet, I can adjust to it. Often, that’s when I turn up the music loud, talk to friends on the phone, or run an episode of Breaking Bad on the iPad.

Every “dream job” has its small and large downsides. However, if we enjoy doing something and are passionate enough about it, we can counter these phases consciously and positively.

Creativity isn’t good or bad, nor holy, nor wicked. It’s simply human

When we create things, shape our environment and develop ideas, it triggers the most diverse feelings in us. Often it is frustrating, sometimes fulfilling and satisfying. Even a sense of pride in our own work is possible.

Creative work, it seems, has something magical about it. Sometimes we are overcome with the belief that we alone can change the world, improve it and reach for the stars with our work. To live a creative life is to live a valuable, contributing, good life. Without becoming blasphemous, creation from nothing inevitably has a spiritual, religious connotation. It must therefore be positive.

The truth is that creativity is just as cruel and destructive in nature. Torture methods of all eras are full of creativity. So are smoking campaigns, propaganda tools, and any weapons. Even the targeted starvation of the enemy by cutting off supply passes as a war strategy came from creative thinking.

I’m not sure why I’m formulating this thought on creativity right now. Maybe because I find myself putting it on a golden pedestal from time to time. Sometimes in front of others and sometimes in front of myself. Yet, like everything else that makes up life, it is dual. And thus, responsibility arises within the creative process. I find it grounding to keep this in mind from time to time.

About the two types of impatience

In creative work, there are two kinds of impatience. One moves us forward. The other gets in our way.

For example, let’s assume we take a video game design class and have an idea for a new kind of gameplay. We spend hours late at night and on weekends developing and testing. We impatiently long for a result.

A web designer feels similarly, sitting in front of a programming error and knowing that the solution can’t be far away. His curiosity is on. Even in bed, he thinks about a possible solution and can’t wait to test it first thing in the morning.

When I decided to go into illustration, I couldn’t wait to get my portfolio website online and share it with the world. I worked obsessively on illustration projects, tweaked the design and presentation for months, and prepared my social media channels. I made a detailed plan and worked every spare minute to reach my goal as quickly as possible.

This kind of impatience, triggered by passion, is unbeatably productive.

Another kind of impatience, on the other hand, has a toxic effect in the long run. The impatience for the reaction of others. The reaction to our video game, website, or illustration portfolio. 

Frustration is not far away when we begin to measure appreciation and respect through receiving job requests, likes, comments, or any other feedback. The healthiest thing to do is not to expect anything. We can only experiment, observe, adjust and adapt to our possibilities. Everything else is out of our hands.

Let’s use the time when we hypnotically check our accounts for likes to throw ourselves back with zeal into the projects we passionately can’t wait to realize.

Feeling burning stress is a warning shot we shouldn’t ignore

We all know that nagging feeling of procrastination when we put off a job, a study project, or a simple call to the tax office. The task is stuck in our head and keeps popping up, whether we wake up, work, watch a movie, or are at the gym.

The best solution is to just get it done. But sometimes, things get in the way and make it difficult or even impossible. There comes the point when we think about the task and feel more pressure to get it done than we did yesterday. Perhaps the client or professor has asked about the status, or the deadline of the tax office is about to expire.

Suddenly, an uncomfortable heat rises inside us that stirs us up. We should never ignore this moment. Our subconscious fires a final warning shot that we should listen to. It means that it is not too late yet… but it will be very soon. Even if our head could suppress or postpone it for a long time to do the task, our subconscious does not.

The precious power of using “No”

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. An honest “No” is precious for all sides. Let’s use it.

Fear minus death equals fun

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.