For the last few months, I’ve been diving deep into my own creative mission. Taking the time away from client work to focus energy on my own creative passion has been essential to the success of my creative career. Personal self-expression is at the core of every creative person—so if I’m not creating outside of work—for the sake of the process—I start to feel restless. Work fueled by my own curiosities and interests allows me to be self-expressive. In doing this type of work I end up understanding more about my own driving desire(s). Spending the time to follow my passion brings meaning and purpose to my life and work. Additionally, it naturally helps to lead my career in a direction that fits who I am in work and life. For those of you in creative careers who want to get started on your own passion projects, I’ve outlined the six essential steps to get you started below.
Step 1. Identify your Passions
In Robert Steven Kaplan’s book, What You’re Really Meant To Do, he encourages readers to take time to reflect over moments in your life where you felt like the best version of yourself. It’s important to spend time to doing this, as you might not be able to recall these moments right away. As you remember events, make a list. Spending time focusing on and remembering what makes you happy will not only help you figure out what you should be doing, but it will attract more of what you love in your creative career. What were you doing during those moments? The answers might surprise you. Most likely they won’t be linear. They could easily cross over multiple fields of interest. Those moments of happiness should give you an inkling as to what interests you and what you can explore next. Kaplan explains, “Passion is the essential fuel that allows us to find a professional home, to hang in there, and to work through our weaknesses. It gives us a reason to keep fighting to get better.”
Step 2. Attach a Purpose
Next, start brainstorming possible projects related to the ideas you are most passionate about. What problems can you solve by means of visual communication? Is there a particular message you want to convey to the viewer? Who is the viewer? Decide the purpose of the project. Having a goal for the end result will help you stay engaged throughout the life of the project.
Step 3. Select a Medium.
The beauty in crafting your creative career is that you are able to choose all of the pieces. One of the most important items to consider is the medium. What type of skills do you already have? What type of work would you like to be doing? How can you bridge that gap and learn a new skill? Or is there a medium—tactile or digital—you desire to be working with? In addition to the way you will create the work, you need to think about the medium of the final piece. For example, if you were going to create a poster series to promote a local cause in your community, you might be thinking about printed posters as well as a social media campaign. How can the design be created in a way where you are able to use it for both? Outlining all of the ways you plan to bring this project to life is an essential step in the process.
Step 4. Create a Schedule.
Conceptualizing is the fun part. Most designers enjoy this process—especially when there is no monetary value attached to the end result. But exploring your own passion project takes discipline. Set the project up just like you would for a paying client or employer project. Solicit help from a project planner to hold you accountable. Give yourself time to do the work, but commit to your deadlines. Create a deadline to launch and find a way to hold yourself accountable. Share it socially, solicit another designer as an accountability partner, or reward yourself with something only once it is complete.
Step 5. Share Your Work.
Your work achieves nothing if it remains unfinished or sits privately on your hard drive or in your closet. Part of the purpose is to share your work! If it’s appropriate, share the process or wait until the work is complete to unveil it. It will resonate with your audience so don’t worry about how many people like it, or how much attention it gains—do it for yourself. Share it so that it can reach others who will also enjoy it. This could create opportunities for collaborations, springs new ideas, or may connect you with your target audience (or employer).
Step 6. Fail and Repeat.
Realize that failure today doesn’t necessarily mean your project won’t go somewhere in the future—directly or indirectly. It is very easy to fall into the self-comparison trap, especially with social media. Healthy competition can be a good thing but allowing insecurity to keep you from being your best self is a trap. Even the most successful people fail from time to time. Remember that part of the joy of being in a creative career is the process itself. Stay connected with your motives, strengths, and passions throughout the process. Try not to be concerned with a particular outcome—instead create the work in connection with yourself, using your unique vision and voice. Just when you think you are finished, start again with step one.
When I was just starting out in my career I made a lot of decisions based on fear of failure. I was afraid of listening to my gut and following my passions. At that time, I had not mastered the ability to tune others out and focus on the desires of my own heart. It’s amazing how many successful people—people I admire—came up against failure during their careers. Beatrix Potter was a childhood favorite of mine. Her work always inspired me and helped me to see the magic in everyday life. She explored her curiosities from a young age, studying animals and nature. Her famed book, Peter Rabbit, originated in a letter to a friend. She decided to find a publisher for it when picture books became trendy almost 10 years later, in the late 1800s. She printed the first copies herself and sold out in two weeks. Only then was she able to convince a publisher that it was worth their while. At the age of 36, Beatrix began her career as a storyteller and artist. I turn 36 in a few short months. Her story inspires me to chase harder than ever after the things I’m passionate about.
Robert Steven Kaplan. What You’re Really Meant To Do, A Road Map For Reaching Your Unique Potential. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2013.
Susan Denyer. At Home with Beatrix Potter: The Creator of Peter Rabbit. London: Frances Lincoln, 2009, 6-13.