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?