Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Beware of the Fire of Crisis

For many people, moving from one crisis to the next is a life pattern. Living in crisis mode allows them to feel like super heros, rushing in to save the day, putting out fires just in the nick of time. The thing that crisis-minded folks don't understand is that the difference between them and mythical super heros is that the fires that they are putting out are largely ones that could have prevented in advance.

Some people thrive in the crisis environment. I've spent a great deal of time around people who, in a crisis vacuum, will go to great lengths to create a crisis. It allows them to boldly step, in take control, and tell people what to do. Narcissists are often like this. But this blog is not for narcissists. This blog is for creatives. So as one who makes my living in the creative field, I want to caution you, my fellow creatives, against living your life in crisis mode.

I've found that where crises exists, creativity is stifled. When we are in crisis mode, we're often in search of the most expedient solution to get us out of whatever trouble we find ourselves in. But the quickest and easiest solution is rarely, if ever the best solution.

My husband and I are both creative professionals. I am a designer and writer; he is a musician. But often, we find ourselves spending the bulk of our time doing non-creative tasks. So how does that happen? The better question is, how does that not happen?

Life is busy and messy, and it's so easy to get wrapped up in seemingly important tasks. Answering emails, running errands, attending meetings, dealing with clients, fixing broken equipment, searching for files, sitting idly by while an old slow computer churns away... And meanwhile, at the end of a 40 (or 50 or 60) hour work week, we look back and realize that we've only spent 5 hours on creative endeavors. For me, my creative endeavor is document automation. For others, it's software development. Still others make music, or videos, or fine art. Whatever creative itch you have to scratch, once you make that creative outlet become your career, the business-end of things will undoubtedly creep in and try to take over.

So how to deal with this?

How can you deal with a boss who thinks meetings are more important than creating stuff? If you're self employed, how to deal with the reality of being your own IT person, marketing department, accounting department and purchasing department, in addition to being in responsible for product development and production? How to produce creative work when you're being pulled in a dozen different directions with kids, pets, and needy clients?

I don't have a great answer for this. When I became self employed, I kept my day job for five months. I worked at my day job 40 hours per week and then an additional 30 hours per week on my business. At the end of five months, I was a wreck. I hadn't exercised for months, I was sleep deprived and was living on sugar and coffee. I was burned out and I had just started my own business. So I obviously don't have all the answers, but I can share with you a few tips that will help you have more time for your creative endeavors.

If you're self employed in a creative field and want to stay that way long term, it's especially important to plan ahead to avoid the pitfalls of falling into crisis mode.

Be organized

Let's say as a designer you edit 100 different files per day. That's about 35,000 files per year. If you stay in business for 10 years, that's roughly 350,000 files. You'll need to come up with a good file management system so that you can quickly locate the files you need and get back to your creative work.

Set up automatic backup

If your computer crashes, will you have your files backed up somewhere else? A few years ago, I was excited to have CrashPlan backing up my files. I thought I was safe. But apparently, I had the bandwidth set at the default rate of transfer and after 4 months, my initial backup was not done. And then my hard drive died. I lost hundreds of files. So check in on your backup from time to time and make sure it is backing up at the right speed. You may even want to contact your backup company and have them walk you through some of the more advanced settings so that your backups will be done in a timely manner.


Don't wait until that stiff back and sedentary lifestyle have caused you enough pain that you can't do your job. Get out from behind the desk. Get out and get moving before your body forgets how to and is locked in the typing-on-the-keyboard position.

Spend time with other Creatives

When I started the Raleigh InDesign User Group a couple of years ago, I thought I would be doing people a service by sharing with them my InDesign knowledge. But to be honest, I'm fairly confident that I've learned more from my fellow IDUG members than they have from me. They have introduced me to new features, plugins, and tools. They've shown me new ways of working that speed up my workflow and allow me to spend more time on the fun stuff. Your fellow creatives can offer insight and encouragement and keep you from making rash, career-impacting decisions after an exceptionally hard day.

Dream big

If you're still reading this blog, chances are good that you aspire to more than typesetting business cards for the local accounting firm. So write down your big ideas about what you'd like your future to look like. Share your big ideas with a friend. Set a measurable goal, and then work toward it methodically. This is important because when you're working toward a big goal, it puts into perspective all the petty annoyances that you may have to deal with on a daily basis. I remember back in college when I had to take dumb courses like macroeconomics and astronomy. I managed to get through those classes because I knew that I was working toward a larger goal: earning a college degree. If I hadn't been working toward a defined goal, I likely would have dropped out of those waste-of-my-time classes in the first week.

I speculate that one of the reasons that people experience mid-life crises is because their lives have been in a state of crisis for years, and over time, they have lost themselves in the sea of crises, waking up one morning thinking that suddenly, everything needs changing. Of course, I'm a mid-thirty-something, so I have a lot to learn.

But I do know that crises will get in the way of, and eventually burn out a creative career, reducing your flexibility and limiting your choices. And so with that in mind, I aim to prevent crises before they happen. Don't let the fire of crisis burn out your creativity, your health, or your career.

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