It’s much too easy to get distracted by the things that don’t matter when it comes to creative work.
There’s fame and fortune, but more than that: there’s reputation, status, trends, and others.
I remember when I first entered college, four or so years after I had started working as a freelance graphic designer. Right away I knew what field was right for me: design. The decision to continue pursuing design felt right because of the years of experience I had.
But when I got to the classroom on the first day of class, sitting next to about a dozen other students just as young and naive as I was, and the instructor started going over the syllabus for the semester, it hit me. For me the work wasn’t about doing something I enjoyed, or doing something that allowed me to influence the world. The work, to me, was about reputation.
For years I had become known as a designer. Not a global or even nationally recognized designer, but I had work published in a few books and occasionally connected with local designers or agencies.
What I wanted at that time wasn’t to do good work, or even fulfilling work. What I wanted was to fulfill some outside fantasy of who I was supposed to be. “Tanner the designer,– I remember my mother saying any time she introduced me.
Finally, just two semesters into college, I realized that wasn’t who I really wanted to be. I loved parts of being a designer, but not the act of designing per se. So I left design. I dropped out of college and started pursuing other endeavors, falling into the good graces of a fortunate opportunity to do marketing for an international brand.
I strongly discourage most people from dropping out of college. That was my way of coping.
Yet still, today, I see countless creative individuals who are pursuing things that are obviously in their way of true creative bliss.
Artists who are chasing riches in the field of law, or musicians who give up doing shows every weekend in order to work at their day job. Then there’s the designers and illustrators who are so keen on following trends that they don’t question “ even for a second ” the validity or value of any of the patterns they’re following.
And it’s all such an ugly trap that hurts not only the creative, but the world that could benefit from their more honest pursuits.
It’s not easy to see where you’re misguided either. For me, it took years before I finally sat down in that college classroom and realized that I wasn’t doing design work for the love of design. No, I was doing it to maintain my reputation, to maintain a status.
But there is a way to get hints about whether or not you’re heading in the right direction, creatively.
Sitting down to talk with someone about your hopes, dreams, desires…someone who can ask you questions about what makes you happiest and what type of work challenges you the most, that can help guide you.
Not always, but more often than not.
There are things we know about ourselves that nobody else knows – our secrets – and then there are things people know about us that we don’t know about ourselves. They’re the tics and traits that only outside observers will notice. And within those outside perspectives there are always telltale signs of whether or not what we’re doing is right or not.
Are you pursuing the right career? Is there something you could be doing more of, or something you should be doing less of? Are there options or alternatives that you’re not seeing, but should?
Simply working with or talking with someone could be all you need to get some answers.
That’s not to say that you could walk up to a stranger and, within a matter of minutes, have them tell you whether or not you’re on a good path “ unobstructed by the likes of greed, reputation, etc. ” but working with a trained professional or a close friend (or coworker!) could be all you need to confirm, or adjust, your course.
Don’t let distractions hinder the work you could be doing. Work with other people who can help challenge you or help you see the truth. Talk openly about your work, your ideals, and your creative vision, with someone who can be expected to give you constructive feedback.
Above all: remember that there will always be things there to distract you, often you will fail to notice them. Having good people around you who can help you notice those things is invaluable.
Seek out those people.