When the end of the year arrives, many start making a balance of the year. This year was a surprise for all of us. But in challenging times, there is always a lot of learning and growth. Reviewing this year, here are some of the biggest lessons 2020 taught me:
1 | hokus Focus
At the beginning of the year, I decided to stop multi-tasking and start working more focused on each task or goal. It was harder than I thought, I must admit, at first. Throwing a load in the washing machine while saving a big file, randomly scrolling through social media, jumping back and forth from task to task... I thought I was achieving more but this was getting me stressed and worn-out. Once I set my goals for the year and worked towards them wisely, I used the time I had (it might be more or less depending on the situation you’re in: either full-time artist or designer, part-time artist, full-time mum, etc) and made the most of it. Try to break your goals into bite-sized steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed and work focused on that task.
2 | plan ahead
Following the focus-path, I started planning and batch-working in advance. I started planning my collections and Instagram feed in 2019 already and I knew I wanted to have this sort of 'control'
and overview over my whole work. Not having to think about what would I need to post that day. With some practice, you’ll find it easier to calculate better the time you need to get that task
done. Sometimes you might think it’s a quick step and it ends up taking more time than planned. Don’t worry, be patient, consider adding some time buffer in case something unexpected happens
(sick kids, no internet connection, life...)
Or a worldwide pandemic!
3 | Re-adjust and pivot when needed
COVID-19 came and turned the world and our reality upside down. All our plans and goals (one of mine, for example, was to attend several trade shows here in Europe) were compromised or impossible. Even working 5 hours a day without distractions was impossible, having the kids home. I fought against this “new reality” long enough until I noticed everyone at home was stressed and unhappy. So we all took a deep breath and decided to sort of split the day. My husband would work in the mornings and I would play with the kids, cook, clean, and all those boring house tasks and he would do the same in the afternoon, allowing me to work more efficiently, keeping the kids happy and the house somewhat clean. So again, be patient, be open, and ready to make some adjustments. You might have to review your priorities, not only the work ones but also those concerning your (mental) health. Being creative for a living gives us the advantage of creative thinking that can be applied to almost every aspect of our lives. Be creative and brainstorm a plausible alternative.
4 | never stop learning
I’ve taken so many courses this year and I have a few planned for next year. Because, you may know a lot about a certain subject but there is always a new technique, a new approach, or a quicker way of doing it. Knowledge opens big doors in terms of imagination and experimentation. My problem is, that I take way too many courses. I recently discovered that one of the reasons behind that is that I always hope for the next course to be the golden key that will solve all my issues regarding my work. The thing is that is almost impossible. Why? Because each one of us is different and has gained experiences going through different paths. Each teacher has a different focus and skill set. What may work for me may not be the best for you and vice-versa. That’s why I enjoy watching various classes and take what’s useful to me, what applies to my way of working.
5 | choose wisely
I struggled with this one a looong time and I refused to take action on the subject: Pick an industry!-they say. Pick a niche!-they advise. It seemed such a difficult thing to do! What if I write on my website I do patterns for fabrics and somebody likes my artwork and want to use them on stationery? Wouldn’t I lose that possible client? By having a fashion design degree, I have the skills to design for kids, women, men, even work clothes. But is it possible to design for them all? And also, do I want to design for them all? So this year I started to see the benefits of narrowing down my niche, especially in the freelance fashion design part of my business. My passion lies in designing clothes for babies and small kids and that’s the market I’m also most experienced in. I can sell my services and skills better if I know 100% how my client thinks and feels.
Besides, it’s not written on stone. If you don’t enjoy working for that niche anymore, you can always try something new! And if your industry is stationery and a fabric company really loves your designs, they will contact you and ask you if you also work or collaborate with fabric companies. And you can always say yes!
6 | try it out and decide if it's worth it
Try that idea out and decide if it’s worth your time and effort. Do you have a 'pushy' idea that won't leave your head no matter what? Or maybe you see other people doing it and you want to know
more about what it's all about and if it would work for you. You can do two things about it: either you try it out or you put it gently in your "Not-To-Do-Yet-List". If you choose the first
option I would encourage you to set clear objectives about it and a "try-out-period" for you to review your results and decide if the time and effort you put into it actually pays off. If not,
let it be, change your objectives or decide if you really want to make it work and how you can achieve that. If you put it in your "Not-To-Do-Yet-List" you'll have it on paper somewhere and less
on your mind. You'll have your focus on the current things you're working on. If in the meantime, you learn something new that would help or improve that idea, write it down too. You'll then have
a list of good ideas if you have time and/or energy to start something new.
Starting a blog and a newsletter were jumping ideas in my mind but I put them on the list for 2021. Mainly because I really wanted to do it but I was overwhelmed just by the thought of it. What should I write about? Why would anyone sign to my newsletter? Etc. But when Covid-19 hit and freelance work suddenly stopped, I had the time to think about these ideas and put them in motion.
7 | build a smart working system
I know many people realized this in 2020. Don't put all your eggs in one basket! Think of your work as a 4-legged table: Each leg should be a part of your work or business so in case one breaks, the other 3 can still hold the table. You know what I mean? BUT also don't get overboard with this! If your work system is made of too many pieces, it might become a struggle to keep the whole thing running. Do you want to try P.O.D sites(*)? Perfect! But choose one and focus your efforts on that one instead of having Spoonflower, Society6, RedBubble, Zazzle, and an Etsy Shop on top of that.
Even if I'm still adjusting my working system, I feel I'm going in the right direction and finding the balance. Once I defined my services I gained so much clarity and the overwhelm went down. Setting special days of the week to work on a certain part of the system really helped me. If the task is going to take way more than a day, set a whole week for that.
If the project doesn't bring you joy/money/experience it might be the time to let it go in order to make room for the other ideas and projects that do. You may not enjoy it anymore or it take too much effort for the money you are making out of it. Make room!
(*) P.O.D Site: Print-on-demand websites, where you can get products with your own artwork and the product is produced on-demand.
8 | community is key
KEY (yes, bold, italic & capital letters) Working from have might be super practical and great especially in times of pandemic. But it also can become super lonely. Family and friends might be super supportive and happy for you but there's nothing like talking to someone that will really understand your struggles as well as your big wins!
Nowadays and thanks to social media, there are lots of ways to connect with like-minded without having to leave your house. Facebook groups, masterminds, WhatsApp group chats, memberships, coaching calls to name a few. Not only can you learn so much from other people but I think, when a group of creative minds get together, they create a special kind of energy out there that makes brainstorming a great source of ideas, inspiration, and encouragement.
9 | share it
This one is closely related to the last lesson about community. This year by joining different groups and memberships, and particularly when I started this blog 6 months ago, I started sharing either my point of view or parts of my process, as well as tips that might help others. Some may say "But, why on earth? You are giving away what you know and generating more competition."
See, I don't see it that way, for various reasons:
- I am thankful for the people that did share their experiences with me as I was starting out
- They're not competition because they're not me and we all have our points of view
- It's the right thing to do, it's about paying it forward and become a better human being
- I enjoy helping others and watch them succeed
- Knowledge doesn't belong to me, it's out there, for everyone who seeks it
10 | just start!
I had been reading about the importance of starting an e-mail-list for a newsletter. Originally, I had planned it for 2021, as I said before. Another designer I know said in one of our zoom
calls: “Just start! You'll be able to tweak it and twist it as you go and you'll start learning by doing”. And damn she was right. I was super nervous about hitting the send button, but even that
got easier with time. I even made some mistakes with the links, and that's alright! I'm not a robot, I'm a human being, so mistakes can happen and you can also learn from them. A few months
later, I realized that people subscribed to my newsletter for different reasons, so I worked on creating different lists according to their needs and interests. Yes, learning Mailchimp got me
growing pains and it was overwhelming, but somehow I managed it. I'm sure there are many better and easier ways to do what I did, but for now, it works.
So many things keep us from starting, fear of failure, fear of success (yes, that's a thing!), negative thoughts like "Who am I to start doing this?" or "What if I seem green and unprofessional?" That's fear talking. Fear is normal and kept us from getting eaten by a saber-tooth tiger back then. Don't ignore it, don't repress it. Acknowledge the fear and do your thing anyway.
Besides, we all started from scratch at some point, right? Never forget that!