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Coping with negativity

Something I have been thinking about this week is how negativity clouds positivity in your creative work. Let’s say you are an author, and 1,000 things are going well for you: you have a good writing habit, you are working on publishing your book, you are slowly developing an audience, and you feel that your voice is becoming clearer and that it is beginning to resonate with others.

But you receive one negative comment from someone, and quickly that comment kills your confidence and diminishes your momentum.

It is like adding a tiny drop of blue dye to a bowl of water. Immediately, all clarity is lost, and the entire bowl looks blue, even if the dye was only 1 part out of 1,000.

An artist I know recently told me this:

The friend I got together with yesterday said something encouraging, she asked about my art with, “So how is it going with your Etsy shop?” But this was followed immediately by something not as encouraging, “Are you just gonna kind of leave it there and not do anything with it?”

I explained why I haven’t opened it up “full boar” with lots of prints because of the up front cost, and how I am having to be patient.”

Later, in thinking about this, I felt challenged and affronted. I hate that she (and maybe others) are perceiving my Etsy shop as half-hearted.

Her question is really discouraging to me.

The artist, let’s call her Stephanie, has been making incredible progress with her work and getting her shop setup. Yet, even a slight offhand comment can wipe away that work, because it challenges how we perceive the value of our efforts.

This is a pervasive roadblock for creative professionals.

I told Stephanie that her art becomes a mirror for those around her. That when her friend looks at the Etsy shop, she is not seeing art. Rather, she is seeing someone who is working to create something from nothing, share their voice, and redefining how the world sees them. And that can be personally challenging to her friend. Simply by creating art and selling it, Stephanie can unknowingly challenge those around her to redefine how they see her, and because of the “mirror effect,” how they see themselves.

When you follow your dreams, it can disrupt the world of those around you.

You force them to confront their own barriers. Where they may have a creative dream that they haven’t pursued. They may feel that they have good excuses why they haven’t, and when you go ahead and pursue your dreams, it breaks their excuses.

The easiest way for Stephanie’s friend to cope with this is to try to put Stephanie friend back into the box — the role — that she knows her: the always aspiring, never doing, artist.

I shared this story with some other writers and creative professionals I know, and they immediately shared their own versions of this story. I’m sure you likely have your own as well.

Can you use this as motivation — turning negative energy into positive momentum? Yes. A sense of competition can be healthy, because it is a reminder to live up to your own goals. To be competitive with yourself. I also think it forces you to own your progress and double-down on it.

I encouraged Stephanie to use her friend’s comment as FUEL, and that the next time this happens, consider giving a response like this:

The friend: “How is your Etsy store going?”

The artist: “Amazing! I posted a few pieces just to test it out, and made my first sale almost immediately. I’m learning all the ins and outs of printing, packaging, shipping, and customer service. I plan on adding 500% more of my art to the shop by the middle of 2017 — it feels incredible to finally be doing this.”

*drops mic*

She replied, “look at how much I’ve grown in the past 12 months – I began to take art seriously and then I had people want to buy some pieces, and then I opened an Etsy shop and then I sold a piece. That’s great! I’m making pretty fast progress, and I have a plan for making more progress. And I’m just going to take tiny steps forward until I’m posting and selling more work. I have a new goal in my plan: Have a “mic drop” conversation at least five times in the next three months.”

So much of success is about sheer persistence.

As a creative professional, even though it shouldn’t be, it is your job to reframe the conversations like the one Stephanie had with her friend. To turn negativity into positivity, even when the blue dye clouds your waters.

This also speaks to the importance of having a powerful support network. I run a small mastermind group, and this is a core value that we offer there — a group of 20 people who have your back 24/7. It is also why I include a “wellness” channel in the group — where we can discuss the importance of physical and mental health, which can be sidelined by negativity.

I would encourage you to invest in developing a support network for your creative work. Convert negativity into fuel that create momentum in what you create.

Filmmaker Kevin Smith shared the following on his Facebook page recently:

[In 1989 I] briefly dated a girl whose Mom knew I wanted to be a writer. After her daughter and I split up, the Mother handed me a piece of graph paper that was folded up so I couldn’t read it in front of her and said to me “If I’m wrong, come find me and I’ll eat this.”

When I got to my car and opened the note, I read something completely unexpected. In tiny words on the large piece of paper she had written “Kevin Smith will never be a famous writer. He does not have the drive. I do wish luck.”

It was also dated and signed, as if it was an official proclamation about my future. I was only 19 years old and someone had informed me in writing that my dreams would never come true. So I cut away the empty page until only the sentiment itself was left and tacked it to my desk. Later, I put it into a small baseball card frame. It was important to preserve – and not because I wanted the woman to eat it one day.

The note served as a constant reminder that NOBODY writes my story but me. Rather than believe this adult who had some minor insight into my character, whenever I looked at this piece of paper, I’d start typing.

And one day, I typed a screenplay that changed my life… Remember: nobody writes your story but you… Don’t let someone else define your future for you: sing your song and show ’em what you’re made of.

How do you deal with negativity that clouds the waters of your creative work?

Thanks.
-Dan

  • Shawn Spjut

    We can this apply this same grid for ourselves as a way to define feelings of jealousy. When we see or read about a fellow writer who is more successful than we are or who has published more books or has more followers than us, and experience feelings of jealousy, what we may actually be doing is projecting our own sense of failure or disappointment on them.

    • Shawn,
      Wow — what a great point! Thank you.
      -Dan

  • Laurie Harper

    Putting your creative work “out there” for all the world is more challenging than the creative work itself. This is a very helpful commentary and discussion on it, thank you Dan.

  • Julie Mayerson Brown

    I truly believe some of my friends (dear and loving friends) would secretly be pleased if I said, “I quit.” Writing is a solitary and self absorbing passion. We must work hard to balance our time in order to nurture our relationships and writing pursuits every day.

    • Indeed. Thanks Julie.

      • I’ve been thinking of this same concern lately. My writing is going strong, and I’m giving a lot of time to my family, but my friendships do not receive much of my time lately, and therefore they suffer.

  • Donna Miranda

    Thank you Dan for sharing this piece–it’s rather timely as I’ve been developing a blog for the past year and have struggled with my own expectations and those of others as to why I haven’t been more visibly productive. I’m learning that the only person I need to prove myself to is me and as long as I haven’t given up, I’m still in the game, so to speak.

  • Carriece Jefferson

    Great blog post Dan! Us creatives still struggle with being viewed seriously by those who don’t express themselves creatively. Sometimes we can compare ourselves to others and start to feel inadequate.

  • Wow, Dan, you really struck to the heart of negativity with saying that others tend to be pessimistic about our work, because it convicts them of why they haven’t pursued building their dreams.

    My childhood dream was to become a published author, but over time I listened to others’ negativity and put that dream on the backburner. I honestly never believed it would happen.

    Then, about 20 years later, our life was forever changed when Sarah was born with a rare disease that required 20-60 surgeries. The first one was at 6 months of age, cutting open her skull.

    I was jarred to the core and fought everything I knew to be true. Life was no longer comfortable, so I prayed to see how some light might shine forth from this darkness. I wanted to do something that mattered in a big way, and writing was my answer.

    So it took a crisis in my family to wake me up and realize that my dream could be possible, but it would require intense perseverance, especially through the outside negativity and pessimism from the committee in my head.

    Now I have 3 published books, working on 3 more, and have traveled for speaking engagements, done national radii interviews, and share our story in the hopes of inspiring and encouraging others to pursue their passion.

    • Wow — what an incredibly powerful story! Thank you for sharing this. I have to say, I have heard things that resonate with this from others who have gone through incredible challenges. For instance, someone who would say “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.” Not because it didn’t come with incredible hardship, but because they found that it “woke them up” to appreciating life in a new way. Your story is so inspiring, on both a personal level, and on a creative level. THANK YOU.
      -Dan

      • Thanks, Dan. Your story is inspiring, as well. Looking forward to the release of your book!

  • Dan, this is inspiring, as your posts always are. The blue dye clouding the water is such an apt metaphor for a negative thought bringing us down. And the answer to that negative thought-turned-mood is so practical: keep working. I love the Kevin Smith story that proves that point– thanks for sharing that too.