I grew up going to ad sets; my father worked in automobile advertising. I remember the fake smoke and the bright lights and the electric feeling in the air. I also remember my father being happy. In those early years, before his job became more corporate and less creative, my father had energy to spare. But the money was always at the top and my father had mouths to feed. So I watched him grow tired and his creative spark wane.
While I couldn’t name it at the time, observing my father made me afraid for my own creative path and emotional wellbeing. It reinforced the starving artist narrative that to spend more time in the studio and less time in the boardroom was to never make enough money. Financial wellbeing was possible but only by giving up the one thing that truly brought happiness. It was a daunting prospect although it didn’t deter me from choosing the life of a creative.
Then social media happened and suddenly artists—beyond mainstream musicians and creators—moved from being obscure to being celebrities. I remember clipping an article out of the paper that talked about the shift happening in creative culture whereby designers’ lives were now as much a part of their brand as the work they produced. I was in art school and many of my peers were trying to strike out on their own instead of wooing big firms or galleries.
As I stumbled through my 20s, I did my best to avoid getting stuck in the creative-corporate trap that I’d seen my father fall into. I worked for myself, I explored alternative lifestyles, and I eventually found my way to freelance writing. Yet, despite my best intentions to avoid anything that felt too big, it seemed like success when it came to running an online business still required an entire team of freelancers. Which I had no interest in having to manage.
This is something I’ve been grappling with over the past almost seven months as I work on my first creative project in six years. I regularly come back to Kevin Kelly’s essay on 1,000 true fans. Not only am I focused on serving the small group of people whom my work is for, but I am also trying to create a professional creative practice that’s right-sized. I don’t want to scale my business and get out of the studio; happiness for me is being able to create on a daily basis.
One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to launch what I’m working on is the fact that I’m doing it all myself. Of course, there are things I could outsource and I don’t want to. I don’t want my work to become managing others who are doing the work I want to be doing. So I am figuring out how I can increase my creative earning potential without having to go that route. Because bigger isn’t better if it changes what makes my days good.
So, how do you know that your creative practice is right-sized?