Be kind to you.
Being kind to yourself and having standards are two separate practices. Standards are your way of measuring good enough; they are your way of checking for what matters to you. Kindness, on the other hand, is a way of approaching something. It informs how you do the things you do. So you are just as capable of striving to meet your standards in a way that’s kind as you are striving in a way that’s unkind. And being kind won’t compromise your standards.
Of course, this isn’t the narrative that many creatives are familiar with. We have become accustomed to a certain cultural meanness as we develop our creative practices. In turn, we’ve internalized this meanness as our baseline. Any misstep or mistake or lag in productivity is permission for sharp criticizm or self-flagellation. It might even serve as what feels like hard proof that you are not the creative you thought you were.
While unnecessary meanness or unkindness for unkindness’ sake isn’t helpful when it comes to doing the work that matters to you, neither is inflated or disingenuous kindness. The coaching and self-help world is notorious for perpetuating the idea that everything must be done with enthusiasm or else it’s ineffective. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Being kind to yourself can be something you do hesitantly so long as you do it.
In his book, Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull shares how he learned to manage and lead the creatives who worked at Pixar. He quickly figured out that one of the necessary actions he needed to take was banning Steve Jobs from the building. Ed’s creatives were terrified of Steve’s blunt and crass feedback and anytime he was around, they shut down. Their creative ideas went out the window and projects suffered as a result.
Being a Millennial, I am all too aware of the cynicism that older generations feel towards my generation’s expectations about how we’ll be treated as professionals. It’s fed a false narrative that we want feedback to be sugar-coated. Which isn’t true. What many of us want is to be treated like humans. To engage with others in a way that’s emotionally nuanced and that recognizes our shared humanity and desire to do good work.
While you might have very little control over how others address your creative work, you do not need to match their harshness. This is especially essential if you’ve suffered creative trauma and are coaxing your inner creative to come out to play after taking a hiatus from your practice. You still get to have standards. And you get to meet yourself with kindness. Because you know that your best work will come from a place of love and not fear.
So, what might being kind to yourself allow for in your creative work?