How comfortable are you? Do you like snuggling in your comfort zone?
I certainly do, and it seems I've been superglued to my comfy chair for the past 12 years.
I think Monty Python was right in the Comfy Chair being an instrument of torture because it can slowly poison you- robbing you of your creativity and of all the amazing things you are capable of...
I originally trained as a singer (I attended the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK after doing a university degree). After exiting into the "real world", I enjoyed singing wonderful music on stage, performing and getting to meet some great people. I also started teaching singing- something I really enjoyed.
A few years later, I decided I wanted to do something else in addition to all the music. I had always been a bit of a geek and interested in technology. I'd been fascinated by the World Wide Web and the internet which I had discovered at university back in 1995 (back when the WWW was only a few years old). My dad had just retired, and we decided to start our own business. We had already built a few websites for friends, and there was a definite need for websites being built, so we started building websites officially and my web agency was born.
I say "web agency", but at the start, it was probably more of a bit of a hobby. There was a huge learning curve and at the start we were charging extremely cheap prices for the amount of time we put in. Over the years, things improved, we started building bigger websites and charging more accordingly. Still, I continued to juggle my time with the business, with teaching and performing.
Now I really don't regret my career path. I've loved teaching and performing, and they have given me absolutely vital skills as a speaker, trainer and consultant today. However, I wanted to share with you some big problems I've struggled with. Ones that have probably harmed my creativity and what I am capable of. And do you know what, I think you will probably struggle with them to!
Holding on to certain things in your life can be a little like a child holding on to a comfort blanket for a little too long. For me, I was resisting focusing totally on my business and becoming a true professional. My question for you is, what is holding you back?
#1 Dealing with Imposter syndrome
What are you passionate about? Are you passionate about your business, or is it something else in your life?
For me, my family, friends and faith are the most important, and everything else I do comes under that (well, at least that's the aim!). But I am passionate about a lot of other things (and just for this article I'll exclude food, coffee, tea and whisky from the list). I'm passionate about people, relationships, pyschology, social media and technology. I'm also passionate about helping people.
It's taken me a while to figure all those things out. It's also taken a while to figure out what I am good at. Being British, I tend to be fairly good at self deprecation (is that just a British thing?). Actually coming to terms with what I am good at and admitting it publicly doesn't come naturally to me.
A book and online test, Strength Finders 2.0 was hugely influential for me. It was recommended to me by a few friends. The online test goes through many questions and afterwards it gives you a report with your top 5 themes- your 5 strengths. For me, it affirmed what I kind of already knew. I won't go in to all of this now, perhaps that is for another blog post. However, the reason I mention all of this is, because we all have our strengths- we are all good at something, or indeed many things. Does that mean we're an expert? Well, maybe...
I admit, I dislike the word "expert". We are all contantly learning, at least we should be. If you think you know everything about your subject and you've reached "expert" status, I think it's probably time to quit. My ironic article on social media gurus is basically poking fun at that kind of thinking.
I love this quote from the 15th Century Dutch Reformer John Hus, who sums this up very well:
"From the earliest time of my studies I have set up for myself the rule that whenever I discern a sounder opinion in any matter whatsoever, I gladly and humbly abandon the earlier one. For I know that those things I have learned are but the least in comparison with what I do not..."
Zooming forwards to the modern day, we have wonderful people like Mark Schaefer saying...
You see, we are always going to have a lot to learn!
But, does that mean we should give up?
Have you ever caught yourself (as I have done) saying anything similar to the following?
- Why do I bother? There are so many people who can do this much better than me!
- What on earth am I doing speaking at this conference? People will see I am a complete fraud!
- I've just seen someone else's blog, and it's so much better than mine. I may as well give up!
If so, you're not alone.
I think most people doing creative work think the same. And it's not just the "small guys". I know for a fact, that many of the big names in your industry are feeling the same. That's definitely the case in the social media and marketing world. We put speakers of conferences on the stage, we put them on a pedestal, worship them, and many of them are asking themselves "What on earth am I doing?".
The truth is, that if you are asking yourself these questions, you are on the right path. You are meeting resistance (more on that later). It's what all true professionals go through. I know there are people that keep going on about how amazing they are, but are they really like that inside? It wouldn't surprise me if they were just as frightened as the rest of us. So, see imposter syndrome as an encouraging sign that you are on the right path!
I had the real pleasure of meeting Kim Garst at Social Media Marketing World earlier this year. She is such a lovely person and most clearly incredibly knowledgeable in what she does.
However, she's passionate about authenticity and embracing the real you. She encouraged me, to be an expert in being myself. No one else can be you, can they?
Next on my reading list is her book, "Will the Real You Please Stand Up":
Takeaway - embrace your imposter syndrome as a green light to what you are doing. Yes, there are people who are better than you and know more than you, but as Kim Garst has said, no one else can be you!
#2 Dealing with the Haters
One of my struggles is that I love to be liked. Do you have that same problem?
I know quite a few people in my industry that are thin-skinned. When people say bad things about us, we take it personally. There have been times when I've cried or not been able to sleep, or maybe even wanted to give up after some receiving hurtful remarks. I think this will always be a potential problem for me, but there are a few things I've learnt over the past few years...
The first is to surround yourself with loyal friends. These are not friends that are going to sugarcoat everything- you need people who you can trust and will tell it how it is. However, you need people who will build you up and give you constructive criticism.
The haters out there are not out to build you up- they want to drag you down. They want to provoke. Or maybe it's not about you at all? Maybe they are dealing with ugly stuff in their lives? Maybe they've had a bad day at work, or going through a difficult divorce or some other tragic life event. Maybe, it's jealousy. They look at who you are and what you've achieved and feel upset that they don't have that. Instead of being inspired and learning from you, they instead lash out at you.
Secondly, from a business point of view, I think it is vital to embrace your critics and respond politely and rationally. The research from Jay Baer's upcoming book, "Hug your Haters", shows that responding quickly to all criticisms online will increase your advocacy. It makes sense.
If you see a customer lash out at a business on their Facebook page, and then you see the page respond in a polite and kind manner, does it not give off a good impression? Of course the converse is true, your opinion on a business if they lash out at criticisms is likely to plummet. There are many examples of this happening, such as this one in my home city of Manchester.
Invest in friends and have someone you can share with and be accountable with. However, most of all, be a professional and a business. You are less likely to take things personally if you can feel that the negativity directed at your business and not at you personally.
Takeaway - Make sure you surround yourself with loyal and honest friends and go pro!
#3 Dealing with your Demons
I do feel incredibly blessed. I have an amazing wife and two lovely children. I have caring parents and I get on with my parents in law like a house on fire. I love where I live too. However, that doesn't mean my life is like a bed of roses. It isn't. I've had my ups and downs. I've struggled with anxiety and depression. I still look at my life sometimes and wonder what I am doing.
Whatever things you struggle with, whether that is depression, anxiety, addictions, health problems or more, don't let them fester. If you leave something to fester, it is likely to go off more, and get bigger. Make sure you have close friends you can be honest with. Be accountable. Be honest with yourself. But once it's all out in the open, don't keep returning to it (don't, as the bible says "like a dog returns to its vomit"). You've delt with. Move on. Anything else and it will get in the way and become a powerful resistance to you being the real you and embracing your creativity.
Takeaway - Talk about it. Let it all out. Then don't let it fester.
#4 Dealing with Too much Noise
How busy do you feel? In a recent bible study, I came across the following gem (written by the guys at The High Calling):
"One of the biggest threats and challenges in our own culture is this constant frenetic busyness that simply prevents us from ever contemplating what we're creating; why we're creating it; what our ambitions are."
I find that very profound and true! I love the fact that we can become closer in this digitally connected world. I've made some amazing friends round the world through social media. However, is not also true that it has disconnected a little from the world around us as well as sometimes putting a huge road block to our creativity? I'm a huge fan of collaborating, sharing ideas projects and communicating online. But do we also plan in time to unplug?
There are some recent statistics that are rather alarming, such as this one from OFCOM:
Or this one from, Nielsen:
Some staggering statistics from Brandwatch:
On an average day, a retail brand will receive over 821 mentions EVERY day! Some of course, will receive a lot more. Clearly, brands aren't dealing very well with this, because the data shows that on average they are only replying to 40 of these each day.
For most businesses, it's really important to engage with your audience. There are too many one-way communication machines out there. Responding quickly to your mentions and comments will improve your advocacy, build trust and relationships and increase your reach. But you must have a strategy in place. Engagement by itself is not a strategy (Mark Schaefer, again!). Engagement is hard to scale, and you'll need to have the right tools, systems and resources in place to be able to deal with it. Quite a few of us, have had to change the way we engage online. Sadly, I can't respond to all my Twitter mentions, and the humble Thank You, has all but lost its meaning. If you're interested to know more, read my article on "Stop Saying Thank You on Social Media & Say Something Meaningful!"
Once you've got a strategy and a system, you need to plan in some down time.
Go for a walk.
Spend time with your friends and family.
Learn to delegate.
Hire a VA (Virtual Assistant).
Tools, systems and VAs all cost money and/or time, but they are vital if you want to keep being creative and not burn yourself out.
Takeaway. Make sure you have a strategy and systems in place to deal with all the noise. Plan in time with yourself and your family and friends - and you are not allowed to use your phone, tablet or computer. Unplug yourself!
#5 Dealing with Resistance
If I wanted to describe the previous 4 points, I'd probably call them "resistance". They are a resistance to your creativity. They are a resistance to helping you grow your business. Becoming a better... well, you fill in the gap!
The use of the word "resistance" comes from a book I finished recently called "The War of Art". No, I don't mean the "Art of War", I did mean the "War of Art". I know it is confusing! The book was written by Stephen Pressfield and is written to all of us who are seeking to be professionals but struggle with resistance. So that will be all of us then!
Whilst I am not a fan of his writing (maybe that's my Britishness coming out again), it's an amazing book and it has been a big influence on me recently. Pressfield says that if we are being creative and aiming to be successful in what we do, we will face resistance. It's actually a war! You could call that a war of your mind or a spiritual battle. Maybe a bit of both? The fact is, if we start doing creative work, work that is beneficial to us and our business, we are likely to have a push back. That push back will usdually come from ourselves. The battle is usually within.
Take my blog. Each blog post usually starts with a massive battle...
- I start having imposter syndrome.
- Or I worry about what people think about my writing
- Or, I feel tired, so I need a sleep. Afternoon naps rule!
- Or, let me just check my email just once more.
- Or, I start reading a book on gardening (and I'm not into gardening, just anything to stop me from starting produtive work).
It is a battle. And, to be honest, I am only just starting to understand its power and how hard it is to resist. What I do know, is that you can trick reistance. Put a plan together. You are allowed to be creative, just make sure you schedule that creative time in your calendar. Have an accountability partner. Trick yourself into thinking that you're only going to do a little of the work. You'll probably find that you trick your brain into actually finishing the task.
Michael Stelzner said at Social Media Marketing World (and in reply to a Facebook comment of mine) that fear (which is resistance) is like a green light. It's screaming at you - "Go Dog, Go!"
Takeaway - Learn to see fear as a green light. Plan and schedule your creative time. It will be a struggle, but keep moving forwards and you'll break into the wonderful sunlight of creativity!
I've been a bit deep in this article, but I hope you've resonated with it. Do you? What do you struggle with? Do you have any tips to share? I'd love to know. Maybe, we can all help each other break this resistance and do some amazing things!