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How to stay creative in the design industry

Makin - Graphic Design advice

We are often asked by students and freelance designers as to what our number one piece of advice is for getting ahead in the creative industry.

Is it networking?  Is it collaborations?  Is it funding?

These are indeed important for making headway in business but I think something else is far more important… a positive mental attitude.

Many business mentors often cite a positive mental attitude as being the key factor that separates the successful from the unsuccessful and, while it does sound a bit arsey, these very shiny self-proclaimed hotel function suite gurus are in essence correct.

Finding work as a freelancer or your first job in the creative industry can really be a rough experience at times. I know from the early days of twohundredby200 that it can drive you to despair and put more than a few dents in your self confidence. This is why developing a positive mental attitude is important as it will help you get over the various bumps in the road that will come your way. Having a positive outlook enables you to forge on and allows you to assess situations in more of a “glass half full” perspective. Yes I know it sounds like another line from the shiny brigade but it is true.

So how do you become more positive in your thinking?

Think positive

Yes sounds obvious but beginning to think positively is the best way to start. Life can throw all sorts of challenges at you and if you react in a negative way you will quickly feel drained and in the creative industry that is a bad thing to happen. Look for the positive in every situation.

When working with students I often talk about the Malcolm Tucker character in Armando Iannucci’s brilliant television series “The Thick Of It”. Malcolm is a government spin doctor whose drive and determination (coupled with tons of explicit language) constantly turns incredibly bad situations on their heads by looking for the positive no matter what it may be. I admit that Malcolm is an extreme example of positive mental attitude but he does demonstrate the mindset that creatives sometimes have to adopt in order to succeed. So keep looking for the positives.

Move forward not backwards

It is important to keep yourself moving forward rather than focusing on bad experiences or past failures. It is important to set yourself goals.

Some people find that writing a list of their goals and carrying it with them helps them to focus on them. Some cover walls with moodboard-like displays that they add to as they focus in on their objective. At twohundredby200 we gave our goals a physical form. In our case we selected or made an object, name it and place it in the studio where it could be viewed at all times. I have likened it to having a toddler constantly tugging at your hand demanding attention (if you are a parent you will know that sensation well). Having that constant reminder of our goal really worked for us and kept us moving forward. No matter the route you take it is important that you set yourself some kind of long term goal that you can work towards.

Embrace life

Embracing every aspect of life even in times of setbacks is important to developing and maintaining a positive outlook. This benefits both your personal life and career.

I know of many creatives who have become incredibly stressed over what many would see as being trivial matters and often I have seen people in this sort of mindset become very ill physical and mentally as a result. I myself have had bouts of stress induced illness over the years and it was mainly due to losing focus of my goals. Yes it is right to have concerns over lack of work, late payments or whether your portfolio is correctly optimised for the web but at the same time it is important to take a wider view of your situation. I have found that the key to achieving a positive mental attitude is to stop worrying so much about minor things and focus on what really matters.

Taking the time to enjoy life will help you to develop a positive mental attitude towards every aspect of your career.

Make friends

The slicked-back hair stage prancers often state that ‘we are who we surround ourselves with’… crumbs more nonsense!

Well I am being slightly unfair in saying that as there is an element of truth to that much repeated statement. If you find that you are surrounded by people who through their behaviour are having a negative impact on your career or business then it is time to make some new friends. Being surrounded by people with a positive outlook will make it easier for you to maintain a positive approach to life.

Each year the creative industry puts on thousands of events from talks and presentations (Long Lunch) through to large design festivals. These events are a great opportunity to make new friends, to learn new skills and seek out advice from others in your field. Every time I attend a creative event I find myself reinvigorated and ready for the next challenge.

What I don’t do is something that the mental mentors often insist on you doing to help build a positive mental attitude and that is to attend business networking events. The reason? I have found that such events often drain your positivity rather than enhance it. In my experience 99% of those in attendance are set on transmit and not receive and this can be a very dis-encouraging experience especially for someone new to business.

If you want to work in the creative industry make friends with other like-minded creatives and as a result you will find that you become more positive and this positivity can lead to all sorts of benefits and opportunities.

Be honest with yourself

This is something that is really important when maintaining a positive mindset especially for the creative. I know of many creatives who fool themselves in to thinking that they are capable of any task and, when life throws a spanner in the works, they can quickly become unstuck.

You have to be honest with what your abilities are, what you are comfortable in doing and what you really what to achieve in life in order to be able to react positively in the face of adversity no matter what it may be. Throughout the years I have met many former designers and illustrators who have experienced the dreaded “burn out” and 9 times out of 10 it was due to them fooling themselves in to thinking that they were capable of more than they actually were. Being honest with yourself is key to a healthy positive mental attitude and success.

Enjoy being creative

Enjoying what you do is the most important part of developing a positive mental attitude. As creatives we often get tasks that can be quite dull and boring and it can easily suck the positivity from you but it needn’t do.

Even dull jobs can be made to be enjoyable. Simple things such as changing your surroundings or playing music can quickly lift your spirit and maintain you positive attitude. I know of illustrators who have produced work sitting on the side of a mountain. Some freelance designers find working in coffee shops to help keep the enjoyment in their lives. Basically find a way of bringing some fun into your life.

Positively creative

So there you have it, my number one piece of advice is for getting ahead in the creative industry is developing a positive mental attitude and having fun.

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