FROM MY EXPERIENCE and from talking to many other creatives, staying positive when things go wrong can be challenging – especially as freelance work often means working alone with little or no cheery support from others.
If you’ve been pipped to the post for that part you so desperately wanted or your book has been rejected for the umpteenth time, the temptation may understandably be to throw one record breaking ‘Violet Elizabeth’, hurling yourself to the floor and thcreaming and thcreaming until you’re sick. Or is that just me?
Such an extreme reaction might be cathartic in the short term, if a little unnerving to those sleep-deprived yummy mummies in Caffè Nero, but setbacks (fair or not) are an inevitable part of life that we need to overcome if we’re going to keep our eyes on that creative prize we yearn for and so rightly deserve (or is that just me again?). I find the following points help me stay on track in the face of adversity:
Rent a vent
Telling someone how you feel can help you get things into perspective. However, choose your vent buddy well. Ideally, they should be someone who offers encouraging reassurance (not someone who is likely to bring you down further) but also someone who helps you stare down the black dog of self pity by delivering a gentle, metaphorical slap around the chops when you’re indulging yourself too much and focusing on all that’s wrong rather than looking ahead to your next plan of attack.
For example, one excellent friend of mine is happy to listen to me to the end of a double chip choc muffin (my treat of course) before that spine straightening ‘get a grip’ look appears on his face. I always thank him for it later even if I feel short-changed at the time.
Actually, I do the same for him and we’ve developed a mutually beneficial vent zone that helps us navigate the sometimes choppy and murky waters of creative life.
Be discerning when venting though. If you’re always whining about ‘poor me’, you’ll soon find that people lose their ability to empathise and become sick of being nothing more than your verbal punch bag.
Not everyone finds verbal venting helpful however. If this is the case, find something that gets all that frustration out of your system – running, judo, eating chocolate – anything that clears your head so that you can move on with a chirpy skip and a hop.
Learn from what's happened
Oh...yawn. How many times have I heard this? And, what’s the point of being wiser than Socrates if you still haven’t got what you want anyway? Indeed. But the sometimes irritating truth is that you have a choice whether to take the positives from each experience and use it to press on to your ultimate goal or remain captive in the jaws of bitter inertia or some other destructive thought process that will contribute to holding you back rather than spur you on to better times.
If you feel down at heel, it can take effort to mine for the gems of wisdom from a recent disappointment. However, experience used well is a rock solid stepping stone to success and, the sooner you get around to seeing what went wrong and what you can improve, the quicker you’ll be able to get back on to the proverbial horse.
Gauge your thought processes
Taking advice from ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’, where the premise is that the way we think about things will have an impact on our well being, it’s useful to recognise and change some common ‘thinking errors’* that can keep us trapped and unhappy. These include:
For example: “I didn’t get the part. That’s the end of my career.” Really? People who catastrophise tend to project worst-case scenarios (that don’t equate with what has happened) on to their future.
If your head is full of scary thoughts that haven’t even taken place, it is unlikely that you will be able to focus on what to do for the best in the here and now. While recognising your feelings, it’s important to be pragmatic too: “I am really disappointed that I didn’t get that part. I’m not sure where I went wrong so I’ll ask for feedback to see if there is something I could do better next time. It’s probably just the luck of the draw though and I’ve got another audition coming up soon so I’d better start preparing for that.”
For example: “Things always go wrong for me.” Here, a single dodgy experience may lead to a sweeping negative statement. To check this, find exceptions to what you’re saying. If you think about it realistically, there is usually a long list of specifics that disprove your generalisation: “I’m a failure,” becomes, “It’s really annoying that they didn’t use my idea. However, they’ve commissioned me plenty of times before and I’ve got lots more ideas. I need to find out what sort of angles they are looking for over the next few months.”
For example: “They are going to try to rip me off.” If you’ve a tendency to make assumptions about what people are or aren’t going to do or are or aren’t thinking, try exploring the facts first: “I’ve heard that they don’t pay very well. So, what I’m going to do is decide what is an acceptable rate for this work and then discuss it with them so I can find out for myself.”
“It’s all their fault.” Spending too much time blaming people for what has happened can be counter-productive to problem-solving and lead to a whole host of destructive emotions such as bitterness, anger and resentment. It can also stop people looking at their own behaviour to see where they could improve or at least what they could do differently next time.
Taking responsibility to change what you can, even if someone else is to blame, will help ensure that things go better for you in future: “They haven’t lived up to their side of the bargain and now I have to do more work to meet our deadline. It’s really unfair and I’m livid. However, I can’t do anything about it now but next time I work with someone, I’ll ensure that they have the skills to deliver what we’ve agreed, make sure I have something in writing and have a contingency plan in case of unavoidable delays.”
On the other hand…
Of course, as a creative, you may thrive on drama and some deft exaggeration may make for a much more interesting or amusing tale. The knack is to be aware of how your thought processes make you feel and act, and adjust them accordingly. On that note, I’ll die if I don’t finish this blog now...
If you’d like to learn more about ‘Overcoming Freelance Challenges’ that many people come across, just sign in to our e-course, which is free to members.
*Brilliant Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dr Stephen Briers