Burned Out? Maybe It's Time to Split the Creative from the Professional


Sovereign Standard, Issue 16

Well, that was unexpected: entrepreneurship = a soul crushing experience

Imagine What if  the paid work doesn’t have to hold all your creative energies? So many working artists and self-employed creatives are feeling the crush of entrepreneurship. It’s not the long hours or even the uncertainty that gets them. It’s the assumption that the goal has to be "build something bigger than you." They're told that success equals developing something that scales and sells.

Why have so many impassioned, independent souls got caught up in “make it bigger” even though that set them up for the dreaded “not enough” trap?

Because we mixed our creative passions with the reality of making a living. Instead of realizing a holistic vision of create-work-live, we've brewed up an unpalatable concoction that just isn't nourishing and definitely isn't sustainable.

Trying to make one sweeping entrepreneurial venture hold the creative dreams and the professional drive left them with too little time to create, too little in the bank account, and stuck in a chronic state of “not-enoughness.”

Oh, am I slipping into collective nouns here? I’m daring to speak for others on this  because so many readers - lets be specific: so many women business artists* - responded to my latest post, Nutella on a Spoon (Or, Why Entrepreneurship Can Leave You Starving).

We are sick of trying to get the mix just right. We're too tired to contort ourselves to fit into the entrepreneurial container.

What creative women in business want

We want freedom of creative expression and the power to earn an independent livelihood.

We want to make something that matters and we want to make some money.

Here's the kicker: we're mature enough to recognize that we won't always be doing both things at the same exact time.

For some, "what you want" may really mean being an entrepreneur and building a company (particularly if you’ve got a gift for sales). On the other hand, it may mean freelancing. It may mean getting a J-O-B in order to recoup the emotional and mental energy that went into being in business for yourself.

Living and working like the creative-in-business you want to be may simply mean adjusting how you do business by offering the basic, “useful” services.

You’re downshifting from entrepreneurship into freelancing. It’s time to do the work that immediate rather than pioneering a visionary program or building a firm (at least for now).

This is why I am shifting my attention to offering the right people my copywriting services while the “real” work gestates in the dark for a while.

In any case, it's about looking closely at what's working and what isn't working and making decisions for the future based on what really matters - personal relationships, creative practice, and earning a living.

When “I quit entrepreneurship” doesn’t really mean “I quit business!” or "I reject my passion!"

Things haven't been working for you? Maybe it's time for the “I quit!” epiphany. It feels so liberating to smash those glass walls and peel back those labels that were hiding who you really are.

But what if the “I quit!” breakthrough doesn’t really mean you’re collapsing your stall in the marketplace? What if abandoning entrepreneurship doesn’t mean you’re taking a vow of poverty or trying to remember how to draft a resume?

What if "I quit creative entrepreneurship" simply means that you're no longer forcing creativity to grow in the same container as the work you do for money?

You might be like Jennifer Boykin who boldly declared she’s quitting her Life After Tampons project. Really, it seems she’s rebirthing her relationship with her creation and finding a way to detangle her passion work from her purse strings.

The Wild and Wise Women Over 45 who love Jennifer's work will not see her as quitter even as she frees herself from the chore of building a business venture that didn't serve her. She's still going to show up, but she's not going to pressure her passion with the needs of her pocketbook.

My "entrepreneurial crisis" has been a personal one. I think Jennifer's was too. Many women are sharing their own stories about why the "e" word doesn't fit and how they're reframing the relationship between the creative work and the paid work.

Is your entrepreneurship problem actually about the relationship between life, art, and work?

My business woes were not about being self-employed. They were about how the “go big” entrepreneurial imperative was squeezing out what really mattered - being present when I was home with my kids, devoting myself to the real creative work, and earning the money to replace the steady income I abandoned five years ago.

Here’s the good news:

If you structured your business based on someone else's definition of success and basic misunderstanding of your own goals, you can readjust your course without tossing away everything you've worked to build.

When you make changes in your business in order to better suit yourself, most people will only notice that you seem happier all of a sudden. (They may also note you're wearing a new pair of shoes because you found a more reliable way to fill the bank account).

Big dreams got you into entrepreneurship. You're leaving entrepreneurship to preserve those dreams.

We know that many wise businesswomen feel trapped by their choice to mix creativity and entrepreneurship. The solution isn’t to abandon either. The answer - at least for me - is to decouple them.

Before you can mediate a peaceful split, however, you have to figure out why you hitched together your creative drive and the promises of entrepreneurship in the first place.

Big creative dreams like yours deserve a big, beautiful container, so you picked the grandest, most promising one you could find: entrepreneurship.

But then you realized that it takes a lot more than vision and passion to build and sustain a business that is bigger than you are. Marketing, staffing, bookkeeping (if you could even get to that level) takes more time and attention that you have right now. Most likely, you got distracted from your original creative dreams because you were scrambling to structure an organization.

What if the work you do for pay doesn’t have to hold all of your creative energies? Suddenly your professional venture doesn’t have to be so big.

Liberating the creative from the professional - at least for a little while - is how you create the right size container for your dreams, your responsibilities, and your financial realities.

This is how novels get written. This is how debt gets paid off. This is how happy women support their families - with love and presence as well as money for groceries and the college savings account.

And saying "no" to entrepreneurship may really be about saying "not right now." It's in the pause, in the freelancing or the day job that the signature approaches that make life more beautiful, bearable, and bold get created: in their own time by creative, practical beings who refuse to see their creative ambitions vanish in entrepreneurial smoke and mirrors.


* Deep bow to Jeffrey Davis for bringing the term "business artist" to the fore and for being the community creator who introduced me to so many of the brilliant women who make up my readership. Not convinced that you need to separate the creative from the entrepreneurial? Dive deep into Jeffrey's work, starting with this video - his approach to "business as unusual" may be exactly what you're looking for.

Set Your Own Sovereign Standard

You know those magical creative moments when it all just flows? The story or the business idea or the picture emerges and it’s like it was just waiting for you to finally discover it. That’s what it was like for The Sovereign Standard, this new weekly curated newsletter.

In the midst of a typical family Saturdaymorning, the idea announced itself:

Set your own Sovereign Standard - livelihood, message, everyday creative magic

Set your own Sovereign Standard - livelihood, message, everyday creative magic

The Sovereign Standard takes its stand at intersection of livelihood, message, and everyday creative magic and aims to give creative entrepreneurs access to noteworthy insights from across the web.

But you know how it is - you careen from visionary brilliance to obsessive wordsmithing. All the initial genius leaches out and the concept begins to feel overanalyzed and underdeveloped.

Sometimes the fault line in an idea stems from a single word.

The flaw in the initial Sovereign Standard “download”? “Intersection.”

Intersection indicates that business and communication and creativity all merge, but it also implies that they’re distinct tracks that are only drawn together from time-to-time by a project like this one.

In truth, you're constantly braiding together of all those strands - all of the elements of life and work, body and soul.  To set your own Sovereign Standard, you take all aspects of your life into account and, consciously as you can, integrate them all.

Why Would a Writer Want to Curate Other People’s Stuff?

Thanks for starting with me from the very beginning. Here’s a window into the “why” of this new Sovereign Standard adventure.

In a word: connection.

The goal of a weekly round up + commentary is to expand your connections in a meaningful way by introducing you to fellow creative entrepreneurs as well as leading thinkers in business, creativity, and progressive leadership.

The Sovereign Standard community may be rich with solo entrepreneurs, but this is not a bastion of the DIY mindset. To borrow a term from a great community builder, Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder, it’s about DIT - Do It Together.

Jeffrey names the contradiction  that so many creative entrepreneurs face: “We want to feel supported in our work, but when we receive it, we don't know what to do with it. We don’t trust it.” In this detailed and, yes, lengthy piece he lays down a compelling case for why support and collaboration are vital to even the most brilliant solo acts.

That support may be found in hiring a WordPress whiz or a writing coach. You may get the support you need by simply opting into the e-newsletters that really speak to you.

In the process of building up this publication, I’ll also build my own connections as I read with your needs in mind. I get to create relationships with smart, tuned-in writers and media makers who are saying things that matter.

And, yes, I admit that I am working to build my email newsletter list. I trust that the insights carefully gathered from at least a dozen other sources will be more compelling than sending you the same single voice each week.

These aren't new ideas. They don't have to be.

Curation encourages connection and community

Curation encourages connection and community

Think you may want to build community in a similar way? You wouldn't be copying me. You’d be joining a growing cadre of content curators who understand that their tribe is plagued by information overload. Your tribe would appreciate it if someone they trust would handpick some “must reads” each week.

I trust Copyblogger products and after investing many car rides in the Rainmaker podcast, I can tell you I trust their CEO Brian Clark’s instincts.

He has launched his own new curation project. The process is detailed in three episodes beginning with this on Content Curation Positioning. I immersed myself in this topic over the last few weeks and can also recommend an earlier episode that gives an overview of the entire curation as content concept.

Soon you’ll notice that many of the people you trust most on the web are building a community by assembling useful, compelling resources all the time.

The day before I announced a weekly feature that would speak to livelihood, message, and creativity, I came across Gina Fiedel’s article that drew those exact ideas together - and curated the hell out of some quality content too.

Her post, which ostensibly focuses on how to connect to your creativity even when trying to feed the content beast blossoms into a chorus that celebrates the blending of writing and marketing, creativity and productivity, and work and play.

Gina offers: “Here’s a secret I told myself. If I start with play and if I continue in that vein, what I end up with contains more overall creative style and elements than if I hadn't done that. I achieve both creative process and (hopefully) a creative product.”

This is the delightful pivot point. All this writing, all this curating, all this community building that our work depends on is enlivened by play.

Play is How We Make Friends and Build Connections

"We are fully human only while playing, and we play only when we are human in the truest sense of the word." - Rudolf Steiner

"We are fully human only while playing, and we play only when we are human in the truest sense of the word." - Rudolf Steiner

Play is the space we learn how to engage with others.  Play is also the space we learn to engage with ourselves.

Play makes taking risks feel less threatening. Play is riddled with successes and failures.  It’s suppose to be. Failing means learning.

Play is how we learn and grow; long into adulthood. Play is a doing activity, not a trying activity. We don’t try to play, we play.

When you're hooked on productivity, play seems like a chore. We work to build community (yep, I say above that I am "working to build my email list"). But really, do we win friends through work or play? Really, any newsletter list worth having is full of people you'd like to call friends.

Better to attract new friends to your hive with the sweetness of play rather than the sweat of work, right?

Recently I’ve been redefining play in my house to make for our collective imagination and really see one another. If knocking a few Disney Princesses off their thrones appeals to you, check out When You Wish Upon Someone Else’s Marketing Star.

Saundra Goldman of The Creative Mix is a self-professed “serious girl” (but I can attest she has a great laugh!). She is making 2015 the year of #ContinuousPractice. This #365project is intended to document her daily writing practice and to encourage others to show up to their creative endeavors each day.

Though not ostensibly about play, sharing evidence of your daily practice can build connections in much the same way that playing can… You show your authentic self and you dare to be vulnerable. You invite people close in a way that efforting never quite permits. Since you're not a photographer it's ok if every image isn't perfect.

It’s an honor to know that Saundra credits me with inspiring her photo-a-day project. My 365 Project as a Creative Process appeared on her blog recently. Just a few other creatives who have picked up the 365 habit include Brenna Layne (#rootsandwings), Ginny Lee Taylor (#livetrue), Deirdre Walsh (#justbreathe), and Lauren Ayer.

As Saundra asks, “What would it take to make today Day One?” If you need a little more encouragement or incentive to consider launching your own #365 project, here’s a post on how daily photos make you a better writer. If it feels overwhelming you may want to modify the yearlong project to suit your needs and resources.

But Is Everything Supposed to Be Integrated?

I’m a self-avowed #365project evangelist, but what are the downsides to all that photo snapping and sharing? Is it play or process? Is it obsessive brand building? Is it an exploitation of your own intimate moments?

In When a Picture Breeds A Thousand Questions Blair Glaser asks some probing questions about why we’re motivated to capture a sunset and then share it. Blair concludes “I write this post not as a judge, but as a witness: A witness to the changes that are happening in my business, in my brain, in my life, and in the way our culture is shaping these changes.”

#365SovereignReality blank slate for the #newtechcity Bored and Brilliant challenge

#365SovereignReality blank slate for the #newtechcity Bored and Brilliant challenge

She then introduces the Bored and Brilliant project from WNYC’s New Tech City podcast. It’s a collective experiment in putting down the phone and embracing the power of daydreaming. This is “challenge week” and they’re putting out daily podcasts encouraging you to change your phone behavior.

Tuesday’s challenge: don’t take a photo.  Not only do I have a photo-a-day commitment, but it was my daughter’s first birthday, so I failed miserably (but cheerfully).

Listen to the episode (only 6 minutes) and make up your own mind about the “photo taking impairment effect” and whether it’s detracting from life as you’re living it. I won’t be quitting my #365SovereignReality practice, but I will be monitoring how I’m using the camera to witness the moment and decide if I'm shortchanging my senses and my memories.

Setting Your Own Sovereign Standard

This is the first step in a new adventure - finding the Sovereign Standard that serves each of us as individuals, but doing it collaboratively.

To get The Sovereign Standard delivered each week (and to let me know you'd like to be featured in future editions), sign up today.