Stop Thinking So Big Picture (ECA)
A three-step guide to getting out of your own way to get started on your dream life (ECA = Entrepreneurial Creatives Article)
Today we’re rewinding the clock back to 2019: a time when I was just getting started with my pursuit to write a novel for profit. At twenty-one, as a full-time college student, I was strung all over the place. Anything and everything that came to mind about my career as an author - I acted on instantly. In 2022, with higher stakes on my plate, my creative goals often live inside the calm eye of the tornado. Getting started doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. If I could throw a retrospective anchor to younger Linds trying to pursue her dream - I would. She needed what I’ve since found. The beginning of creative pursuits tornados of messy and destructive chaos. These winds don’t have to correlate with stress if you choose otherwise. So today, I’m sitting younger me across the table and telling her to stop thinking so big picture about her creative goals. This is what I’d tell her to save her from the whirlwind:
Visualization is a vehicle. And you’re not building a plane.
Often, when we’re dipping toes into our creative pursuits, we decide to conquer the moon. We visualize our names in lights, the line out the door to buy our work, and more. This is somewhat healthy. Visualization is a powerful, powerful tool that I urge all creatives to onboard with. The mental image of us, living out some other and higher timeline, is what forces us to act. And yet so often, we use the tool incorrectly. We do this by missing the essence of our creative goal. So let’s do a little visualization right now. (We’re timeline jumping all over the place, I know.) It’s the 1760s in Western Europe. You’re somehow alive and own a petticoat and a powdered wig and you babysit Mozart on the weekends. Let’s say that you’re one of the most esteemed engineers of your time and are funded by royal families who serve as the historic angel investors of the era. So on, so forth. You’re working on building the first steam-engined car to exist. It's a pretty big deal and you know that it could advance technology that changes the world of transportation forever. You’re right there on the brink of getting it to work. In fact, you’re about two weeks away from your name going down in the history books forever. Yet, in the midst of it all, you decide that you want to add wings. You want to make a vehicle that can move even faster without even touching the ground. How famous you would be. The plane wouldn’t actually come to fruition in over a century and a half, but you’re so determined it doesn’t matter. You abandon all progress to chase this bigger thing that you’re not ready for…and it doesn’t work out. Someone else invented the car. Now you have nothing. Because you took what visions you had and went too big picture. Did you envision something possible? Yes. Did you lose the essence of what your goal was? Also yes. This often happens to us on a smaller scale when we envision the product of our abundant success rather than the essence of our success. For example, when I’m working toward a creative goal, I often must remind myself of the why. Some abundant thoughts I often have are that I want to modernize fiction and the publishing world beyond their traditional barriers. These are good thoughts. I can envision the essence of this by imagining what impact my work will have, the pull to increase reader engagement beyond its historical level, and the reach my work could have (bookstores, airports, cross-countries, etc.) All of these visions are still tied to the artwork itself. When I lose sight of the essence here, what I’m embarrassingly envisioning begins to look a lot more like me being well-known and shaking hands with important people while having my face on a little button sold at bookstores in New York. (If that happens in my years - that’s fine, but being on a button is not the purpose of my life). The purity of my goals is diluted by greedy tendencies. This type of thinking gets tricky because I’m not saying that you shouldn’t picture abundance for yourself. You should. But when we miss the essence of our why and get caught in the fame trap or the I-want-to-be-on-a-button-at-a-NYC-bookstore trap, we stop making the best decisions for our art and for ourselves. It’s the late 1700s again and you’re on the brink of something amazing. The essence of what you’re there to do is make transportation easier and advance technology into a new frontier. Often, when we’re starting out on our own journies, we lose focus of the essence and start thinking about the product. So we put wings on the product instead, thinking that will achieve our goals. When in fact, the first car comes before the first plane. The car leads to the plane, even. Something I wish I knew when I was starting out was to stay clear on my essence. It will never mislead you the way our idea of being notable will. The artist's journey is a road trip. It takes longer, it’s more frustrating, you take wrong turns and run out of steam sometimes. It’s not a direct flight. But, you still get where you’re going because you never lose the essence of your why. It’s your roadmap and your lifeline on this adventure. And that why will always lead you to a gorgeous and undiscovered frontier. And who knows - they might even sell buttons at the bookstores there.
Your creative pursuit doesn’t have to be what the world told you it is.
This is a big one that I feel like nobody talks about, so let’s chat about it. Often, especially in our day and age, I feel like we see a blueprint for how it’s supposed to be. In order to have a creative career, we have to be at recording studios, book signings, runways, and whatever-the-hell-else. Do I want to have book signings? Absolutely. But that’s not the trademark of when you’ve “made it” creatively. In fact, a successful creative career often isn’t what’s in front of our faces all the time. Teachers, engineers, technicians, and park rangers can all technically be creative careers too. It’s hard to see it that way because the media has glamourized making zoo creatures out of successful people in specific industries. Drop that thinking. Move outside the matrix and decide that whatever you're passionate about needs the unique and fresh fingerprint that you own. Something I affirm often is that God handles quantity. My visibility is quantified by a force higher than myself. The readers I will attract might not look anything like the target market in the industry that currently exists. If I want to push boundaries in my career, that’s fine with me. Gatekeepers do not control my limits and they don’t control yours either. I’ve let go of the idea that I need to follow a three-step-to-success process to be “an author” - I’m glad I didn’t land big-box on my first novel because it helped me let go of this antiquated idea of thinking. On my own, I’ve forged my own path through some of the quirkiest and universe-sent connections. I’ve gotten listed next to big names in magazines at 1/100th of their marketing budget. Does that mean I’ll never go big-box or have a six-figure marketing budget? No. But, I know that my success doesn’t have to depend on that because I don’t put my creative reach in a shoebox anymore. I affirm daily that I’m always creatively led into new corners that shine brighter than the ones I imagined on the supposed-to-be path. Why? You can be successful in whatever you want to do without having to follow a traditionalized route that’s spoon-fed to you about what winning is supposed to be. But, not until you believe that to be true. I bring a unique life to the table and I know that. And because of it, my carved spot is going to be just as uncommon as I am. Creative careers aren’t cookie cutter. Unprogram those ideas. And even move a step forward to realize the different types of what that might look like. Successful coders can push the same amount of boundaries that successful actors can. Will it be as glamorized? No. Who really gives a sh**? Both are creative careers that matter for the world’s wellbeing. As humans, we’re allowed to pursue our passions and interests at the same time. Our callings can be as rewarding and limitless as we allow them to be. There’s intersectionality to everything. When you surrender to your own unusual blueprint, you’ll find the paved road that takes you to your dreams. And not a moment before.
Don’t eat the elephant when there’s a pond insight.
If I could give 2019 Linds one lesson this would be it. Something I found myself doing often in my earliest stages was trying to size up to mammoth tasks when I really didn’t need to. Here’s something that my checklist probably looked like just a few years ago:
This week’s checklist:
Finish the first draft of the novel
Post 3x on the writer’s social media
Get new subscribers an email list
Start copy edits
Study for finance test
Work 30 hours
Apply for graduation
Go to friend’s birthday party
First off, copy edits come way, way, way after the first draft. Like years. But, little Linds didn’t know that yet. Some version of younger me was trying to do all of this in a week while remaining a full-time student with a part-time job. The whole thing was ridiculously “shoot for the moon” type thinking. Which leads to major burnout and lowered the quality of my first works. The first version of Better Off Guilty ended up totally in the scrap pile because it wasn’t getting the saturation and nourishment it needed when my brain was already trying to build an audience, an email list, and graduate business school simultaneously. There was only one writing-related task that should’ve been on my to-do list that example week: work on the first draft. (Not finish might I add). I was trying to eat the elephant. I still fall guilty to this pattern often. Some part of me thinks that it might be a result of our instant-gratification culture. I often have to remind myself that there’s always a pond next to me. Fishing takes time and effort. There’s a lot of white space on a fishermen’s day. But when you think about sitting down, eating an elephant “one bite at a time” as they say - it is rather sickening. You’re going to gorge yourself, lack enjoyment in a meal, and see everything you do as “powering through.” And when you see creativity as a checklist - your art is already in trouble. But when you instead think of yourself fishing for your creativity periodically, you’re forced to slow down, sit, wait, and think about why you’re doing the task. What is your purpose behind it? While you fish every day, it’s a much slower event. There’s little instant gratification in the sport. When you do eat a catch - it’s enjoyable, it’s needed, and it’s meaningful. Creativity can’t be rushed on a checklist. You have to put yourself out there and see it coming on the shore to you in waves. Plan to cast your pole out and see what you might bring up. It’s always going to be better for everyone if you take your time. Especially those end-users that consume your art. Whenever I have a mammoth-sized goal, I now ask myself one question: How can I break this into fours? If I want to finish a huge project, I break it into fours. For example, this year I created four three-month goals for where I wanted to be creatively by each season. (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) Then I break each chunk of time into fours again. The large overhead goal now has four checkpoints that live underneath it, each with a four-step plan of bite-sized things I can do to get there. I gave myself small stepping stones to work with, that I find manageable. These have helped me do a lot more with my time because they look like a lot less. I’m always nourished in my goals because I know where to cast my line. This works a lot better than trying to tackle the big picture like an elephant. When you do this, you’re going to lose. You need to enjoy your life on your journey. Trust the pond and give yourself the “white space” to do so. Elephants aren’t meant to be eaten anyways.
These are three simple things I do to live in the eye of my tornado. I learned these on the long route, but maybe you don’t have to. Remember that chaos is inevitable when you chase after your wildest dreams and goals. Carve a unique space for yourself that lets you enjoy the elements without getting swept up by them. It’s all about getting out of your head and getting started with essence and clarity. When you have those two things, your pursuits won’t meet any limitations.
Thanks for meeting me here again.