Yesterday was not a good day. Actually, that's putting it mildly. Yesterday was probably one of the worst days, professionally, that I've had in my nearly three years of freelancing. It was so bad that I even began to (very seriously) doubt my abilities as a writer and creative entrepreneur. I almost threw in the towel. I almost turned my back on everything I've worked so hard for just because of one bad day. Yup - it was that bad.
Don't get me wrong: I've doubted myself before. Who hasn't? And I've had moments when I questioned my decision to leave the traditional workplace for something with more freedom, a path more fulfilling. But yesterday was different. Yesterday, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I questioned whether or not I was actually a good writer, whether I had what it takes to 'make it' on my own. Yesterday was the result of many weeks' worth of frustration, sent hurtling over the edge by something every creative deals with - a difference of opinion. And boy, did I learn a lesson that I've been learning and re-learning for three years:
YOU ARE NOT ONE PERSON'S OPINION OF YOUR WORK. In fact, you are not your work!
Yes, as creatives, our work is the fiber of our being. It's what we eat, sleep, and breathe. But it is not all that we are. We are so much more, and that's so important to remember, especially when dealing with a client you cannot seem to please no matter how hard you try.
You see, the beauty of art is that it's so very personal and up for interpretation. In fact, that's probably the reason you fell in love with your craft to begin with. But the problem is, when you get to a point where you're making a living off of your art, and where your work, more often than not, comes to you rather than you pursuing it, you start to believe that your work is great. Period. No question about it. I mean, why else would so many people pay you for it?
This is a creative's danger zone because nothing in this world is 100% anything. There will always be someone who doesn't love what you do - they may even completely hate it! And that sucks. But that's art. And that's life.
But the sting is still real. Even though, as a creator of any kind, you always live with a crippling self-doubt, it can be a deafening blow when that little monster inside of you is validated in the outside world. As makers - of writing, of objects, of music... of anything - we are constantly putting ourselves out there to be analyzed, weighed, and measured. And it can be exhilarating and soul-swelling when those judgements fall in our favor, but it's also risky. Sometimes it's downright devastating.
Getting paid for your art can also be demoralizing. When you get into the business of being paid for what you love, you think, 'Wow! This is great! I get to do the thing I enjoy most in the whole world, every single day, and get paid for it!' - until it hits you. You're not creating what you want, how you want, when you want. You have deadlines, and clients, and parameters, and metrics, and bills, and BILLS. Sometimes the thing that made you tick can end up making you cringe.
And that's where I was yesterday: exhaustion + stress + validated doubt. There was, I admit, a meltdown - not quite of epic proportions, but there was sobbing and hair-pulling and body-flopping. It wasn't pretty, guys. But I let myself feel it. I let the emotions wash over me. I gave into them and it felt amazing and awful all at once. And when the tears dried and I was able see clearly again, I remembered a few things:
- Freelancing never gets easier, the challenges simply change.
- You can't please people who don't know what they want, or who have built up what they want in their minds so much that they will never be satisfied with what you produce.
- Art is subjective; what's beautiful to some might be garbage to others.
- Some days, your work will genuinely suck and someone will call you out on it. That's ok too - no matter how talented you are, you will not produce perfection every single time you try.
- And it's absolutely normal, expected even, to (momentarily) forget all of this, scream at the top of your lungs, eat a sleeve of Oreos, and then ugly cry in the shower. Just be sure to pick yourself up when you're done, take deep breaths, and read numbers 1 through 4 again.
Bad days are going to happen. They even serve a purpose - they ground us, help us refocus on what's important, and remind us what we do and don't want out of our personal journeys. Bad days provide definition, but they should never, ever define us.