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How To Not Fail In A Creative Career (Don't Be A Struggling Artist)

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On paper, 2020 looked like my most successful year.


I starred in my first feature film as the lead actor.

I started posting comedy sketches on TikTok.

I gained 500,000 followers in 5 months.


I was getting millions of likes, thousands of comments, and hundreds of DMs.


Brands were reaching out left and right.

Successful creators wanted to collaborate.

Agents and managers wanted to meet with me.

Podcast hosts were inviting me onto their shows.

Filmmakers were offering me roles without me doing a thing.


I had been waiting and wishing for this since 2018.


So what did I do?


I quit.

 

PS: I usually send out these articles via my personal email list. You can sign up at the top of this page to join!

 

The 3 Big Issues Holding You Back


If you want to:

  • actualize your potential

  • do what you love for a living

  • use your creativity to earn money

  • provide value to an audience that you connect with


Then I’m sure you’ve heard the words:

  • “it’s not worth it”

  • “choose a safer route”

  • “the market is oversaturated”

  • “save your passion for your hobbies”


Here’s the thing: the advice above isn’t bad - it’s uninformed and lacks context.

It comes from people who haven’t done the things that you want to do.

Though they are trying to protect you, it doesn’t help in the long run.

It doesn’t address the bigger issues.


Big Issue #1: If you don’t see business as art, you will never respect it enough to understand it.


Artists that hate business don’t see it as art.

They want nothing to do with it.

They just want to create.


Hence the term struggling artist.


Big Issue #2: If you don’t have the proper skill stack, it doesn’t matter how good your art is — no one will see it.


If people do in fact see it, you won’t be able to sustain the operation without:

  • persuasion

  • marketing

  • influence

  • outreach

  • financing

  • negotiation

  • management


Your invoices go unpaid.

You’re blindsided by scope requirements.

You sign contracts and get backed into a corner.

You say yes to partnerships that don’t align because you’re broke.

You feel lost, overwhelmed, and struggle to find purpose in your passion.


Big Issue #3: If you don’t have the right mindset, it doesn’t matter how good your art is — you won’t make it anymore.


The stress of misunderstanding business takes a toll on a creative person’s mindset.


Your focus narrows.

Your attention scatters.

You’re no longer having fun.

Your frustration turns into stress.

Your perfectionism kicks into gear in response.

Your standards are too high for your baseline motivation.

Your procrastination skyrockets and you start to question your worth.


You’ve tied up your identity with the creation and the outcome.


Enter the shame, doubt, and judgment:

  • “You’re a failure.”

  • “You should be doing more.”

  • “This should be better than it is.”

  • “Maybe you’re not cut out for this after all.”


The 3 Big Issues feed into each other.

If you don’t respect business, you won’t understand what skills to develop.

If you don’t understand what skills to develop, you won’t be clear-headed.

If you’re not clear-headed, you won’t see business as art.


It’s a vicious cycle.


Is it any wonder people give up on their dreams?

 

Struggling Artist to Empowered Entrepreneur?


I was still thinking of moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting (I didn’t know what else to do).

I wanted to know once I moved I’d be able to get a restaurant job.

I wanted fast cash to build up an emergency fund.

I started bartending and serving at an Irish Pub.


Even though it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, I could feel myself learning valuable skills:

  • scheduling

  • active listening

  • communication

  • problem-solving

  • time management

  • prioritization of tasks

  • maintaining a positive attitude


10 months passed and I wanted nothing to do with LA, acting, or serving.

An actor I worked with got me a remote job at a start up.

This is when things changed.


In the next 10 months, I went from Assistant Producer, to Project Manager, to Operations Manager.


I participated in almost every strategy meeting - marketing, sales, finance, operations.

I started reading business books and watching videos on entrepreneurship.

I started attending lectures and networking events.

I started to develop more valuable skills.



Front Cover Of The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber

This book opened my eyes and made me understand and respect business in a way that I didn’t before. It reframed my view of my “failed” creative career. Everything started to make more sense.


I started to zoom out and see the bigger picture.

I started to stack different skills that I’d developed.

I started to understand what I could offer the market.

I started to make decisions out of clarity instead of fear.


My 2.5 years away from creative work allowed me to handle Big Issue #1, #2, and #3: respecting business as an art, developing the proper skill stack, and cultivating the right mindset.

 

The Top 10 Things To Learn If You Want To Succeed


Since the 3 Big Issues feed into each other, you need to deal with all of them. You do this by having a creative vision, using your creativity to strategize a way forward, and applying your expertise.


Triple Venn Diagram Of How To Succeed In A Creative Career

The Creative Vision Zone is when you’ve handled #1 and #3.

  • You combine your respect for business as an art and your mindset to imagine a unique enterprise.

  • Without #2, you’ll stay stuck in a wishful thinking phase.


The Strategic Creativity Zone is when you’ve handled #1 and #2.

  • You blend your creative way of thinking about business with your skills in order to excel.

  • Without #3, you’ll burn out, quit, or take things personally.


The Applied Expertise Zone is when you’ve handled #2 and #3.

  • You effectively apply your skills and mindset to grow in your professional life.

  • Without #1, you’ll resent business if you hit a lull.


When you’ve handled all 3, you’re in the Success Zone. This is when things start to click and take off.


The following 10 lessons have helped me get closer to the Success Zone.


 

1. Business is art.


“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” — Andy Warhol


Any artist knows how to:

  • tell a story

  • solve problems

  • push boundaries

  • notice intricacies

  • explore their creativity

  • express their authentic selves


Along the way, they acquire new skills, hone their craft, and offer something of value to the world.


Business is no different.


In music, there are different instruments, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms.

In business, there are different industries, markets, revenue streams, and objectives.


Painters use different mediums, colors, elements, and textures.

Businesses use different advantages, management styles, strategies, and innovations.


The teeny tiny parts all work together to create something wonderful.

It is an extension of oneself.

Just like art.

 


2. Understand yourself and others.


“There are no facts, only interpretations.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Everyone has a specific lens through which they see the world.

Everyone has an emotional brain beneath their rational brain.

Everyone has desires, triggers, and biases they fall prey to.


The more you understand human nature and psychology, the less crazy the world becomes.


You start to understand yourself on a deeper level.

You start to see that people think, act, and feel different than you.

You stop taking things so personally and reacting to everything around you.


You can now focus on:


  • creating the best product for yourself and others (because you know what people want)

  • promoting your product to the people who want it (because you know how to catch their attention)

  • providing true value to the buyer (because you know how they’ll feel when they finally get it)


The more you understand yourself and others, the easier it is to see why your business is working or not.


 

3. Focus on the product, not the commodity.


“The commodity is the thing your customer actually walks out with in his hand. The product is what your customer feels as he walks out of your business…The truth is, nobody’s interested in the commodity. People buy feelings.” — Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited

When I was making viral content, I had no idea why it was being received in the way that it was.


This was because of 2 reasons:


  1. I had very limited knowledge of human nature and psychology.

  2. I was thinking in terms of commodity.


The attention was such a whirlwind to me that I kept thinking, “This is so crazy! I should make more!” I didn’t analyze further.


When I finally reflected, I realized there were 3 types of comments and DMs I got over and over again:

  1. “This is stupid.”

  2. “I’ve always thought this way!”

  3. “Wait…why have I never thought about this?”


After reading the E-Myth, I realized that I was offering 3 main products:


  1. Annoyance: People hated the content, did not resonate with it, and left comments telling me so. Even though they were not “buying” what I was “selling,” they were using the video as a way to voice their own opinions.

  2. Connection: People felt seen, heard, and understood for the first time. Many of them sent me messages telling me how lonely and lost they had felt and how my videos made them smile.

  3. Wonder: People started to think about everyday things in a new light. Learning something new is exciting for us. Novelty releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine feels really good.


Start focusing on the product.


 

4. Slow and steady wins the race.


“Be extra wary of sudden success and attention—they are not built on anything that lasts and they have an addictive pull. And the fall is always painful.” — Robert Greene, The Laws of Human Nature

In the E-Myth, Gerber talks about the Comfort Zone — “the boundary within which [the business owner] feels secure in his ability to control his environment, and outside of which he begins to lose that control.”


When the business starts to outgrow the Comfort Zone, there are 3 courses of action it can take, one of them being Going for Broke. This is when it keeps “growing faster and faster until it self-destructs of its own momentum.”


People in this category, (me), focus on the commodity instead of the business itself. They don’t create systems, structure, or order.


When the business grows, the foundation cannot support the additional weight…because there is no foundation.


I focused on the wrong goal: follower count and views.


I was more consumed with the algorithm than with serving myself (by creating systems) and my audience (by providing value).


The fast growth lead to a lack of purpose and burn out.


You can serve your audience more by:

  • relating and connecting to them

  • inspiring and entertaining them

  • teaching and guiding them

  • actually sticking around


Much more worthy, fulfilling, and lifelong endeavors than getting dopamine rushes and crashes.


 

5. The obstacle is the way.


“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is The Way

Life is not a race to the finish line, it is the race. It’s okay to not be where you’re trying to get to — you’re not supposed to be there yet (nor should you ever get there). You have things to learn and skills to develop. As you learn and grow, the goal post develops as well.


With time, the obstacles become triumphs. They build character and contribute to wisdom.


Depiction of The Emotional Cycle Of Change

Don’t let the Valley of Despair fool you into pivoting to a new uninformed but optimistic endeavor. If you keep going, you will rise. If you keep starting new things, you’ll be no further ahead than you are now.


 

6. Detach.


“When you are detached, you gain a higher vantage point from which to view the events in your life instead of being trapped inside them.” — Eckhart Tolle

One of the worst things you can do is tie your identity up with the thing you’re creating.


When your creation does well, you feel great, accomplished, on top of the world.

When it doesn’t? You make it mean something negative about you.

Self-worth hinged upon external validation is a recipe for disaster.


When you judge, you get stuck in one perspective.

When you detach, you can see the bigger picture.


Observe what happens when you create.

Observe what happens when you share it with the world.

Observe how you feel if your expectations don’t match reality.


The more curious you are, the more you zoom out, the better your next creation becomes.

You’ve looked at all the pieces, made sense of it, and can test a new way.

There is no time to do that if you’re stuck self-flagellating.


 

7. No one cares as much as you do.


“No one cares about you. No one cares. You will die and be forgotten.” ― Frederick Lenz

Detaching from preconceptions and understanding psychology can uncover phenomena like the spotlight effect:


“when people overestimate the extent to which their actions and appearance are noted by others.” ¹

While it is true that we are the center of our own world, it is also true that others are the center of theirs. No one notices us as much as we think — they are too busy noticing themselves.


How often do you actually think about other people?

Of that percentage, is it actually about them or is it about how they’ve affected you?


Create your art, share it, and move on.


No one really cares.


 

8. Experience over outcome.


“The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.”James Dean

Be proud of what you built, not how it did.

You got up, felt inspired to create, and made it a reality.

It takes thought, planning, action, persistence, and courage.


That’s something to be proud of.

No matter how the creation does, you learn from doing.

Keep doing.


 

9. The grass is rarely greener.


“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet.” ― James Oppenheim

Again, everything is about perceptions.


Comparing where you are to where you perceive another to be robs you of your present.

Where another is, is none of your business.


Comparing where you are to where you perceive you should be does the same thing.

Where you’re not yet, is also none of your business.


The only thing that is your business is where you are now.


Make the most of it.


 

10. You only fail if you do not try.


“Life opens up opportunities to you, and you either take them or you stay afraid of taking them.” — Jim Carrey

Imagine you’re old and gray, looking back on your life.


You think to yourself, “God, I wish I did more, tried more, explored more. I wish I wasn’t so scared. I wish I didn’t hold myself back. I wish I had more time to fail.”


Is it fair to do that to your older self?

To make them grieve for the life you didn’t live?


There will always be a million reasons not to do something:

  • “It isn’t the right time.”

  • “I don’t know enough.”

  • “I’m not good enough.”

  • “What will people say?”

  • “What will people think?”

  • “I don’t have enough money.”

  • “I don’t have enough energy.”


You owe it to yourself to find a way to do it anyway.

Do it scared. Do it on a budget. Do it bad.

But for god’s sake, just freaking do it.


When you do, you will have already won.


 

An Idea Worth Working For


“What makes people work is an idea worth working for, along with a clear understanding of what needs to be done.” — Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited

The best part about a creative career? It’s already an idea worth working for.

Respect business, develop useful skills, and cultivate the appropriate mentality.

You’ll be able to do what you love, find fulfillment, and give back to humanity.

That beats about every other desk job there is.


So, what are you waiting for?

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I write about the connection between personal growth, online business, and psychology to offer you tangible steps for your own transformation.

I'm emma

Actor, Writer, & Content Creator

Small changes,

big impact:

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