I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to take something from the idea stage to an actual reality.
We like to think it’s simple – make a plan, follow the steps, achieve the imagined result. And in practical terms that’s pretty much true. The problem is, much to capitalism’s dismay, we’re not automated robots that can just keep working at a task until it’s complete. Our humanness tends to get in the way.
Making something new in the world, whether it’s a course, piece of art, service or entirely new venture takes a shit ton of self belief. And most of us, as creatives/misfits/women/humans have a pretty rocky relationship with our selves and our worth, which makes it incredibly difficult to stay the course.
This came up for me recently when we were building Orla’s new bedroom walls. I had a picture in my head of something cool – an idea that excited and inspired me, and motivated me enough to consider the hows and costs.
I shared my plan with my husband, and then with the joiner, and they both seemed to be on board. Amazing! It was happening! We were making a thing!
But then a few weeks later, the walls were half done. And it became increasingly clear that my idea hadn’t been factored into their constriction at all.
I finally found the courage to ask the joiner about it. He looked genuinely surprised when I brought it up. “I don’t think you’ll ever really get around to doing that, will you?” he said.
I told him, firmly and politely, that yes, we were getting around to it now, because he was here to build it for us. Shocked, I went to find my husband and tell him the story, but his response was similar too. “Do we really need it? Maybe we could just think about it later.”
None of this should be that surprising. People outside of our heads cannot see our ideas or the brilliant vision we have in mind. It’s really completely sensible for them not to be wholly on board with our slightly outlandish creative ideas (although arguably, my husband should have learned by now that mine always are worth following to their exciting conclusions 😉). So it wasn’t their responses here that gave me pause; it was the fact that they didn’t affect my own belief in what I was chasing.
That’s pretty new for me. In times gone by, I would absolutely have been derailed by these gentle expressions of ‘what’s the point?‘. They would have been enough for me to start doubting – myself, the idea, whether it was worth the time, trouble and money. They would have stirred up all my old feelings of being ‘different’ – of wanting things other people don’t seem to want in life, of being difficult and weird and not doing things right. Most of all, they’d have made me afraid of it not turning out. Because doing something nobody else believes in means taking full responsibility for however it turns out. It meant that if it ended up a bit crap, both my husband and joiner could legitimately say “I told you so” and I would have nowhere to hide from that truth.
Staying the course and making new things requires us to hold fast in the stormy onslaught of all these turbulent emotions. It requires us to face doubt, to consider the worst case scenario, and then to decide to keep going anyway.
This month my new program 15 Minute Magic began, after months of planning, writing and dreaming. There were so many moments in that path where doubt reared her head – when I first voiced my idea, when I had to start marketing it, when somebody said “are you sure people want to learn anything but instagram from you?“.🙈 That doubt got loudest of all in the weeks prior to beginning the program: What if everybody hated it? What if I’d somehow got it all entirely wrong? Should I quickly try and rewrite the whole thing?
Today as I sit reading the amazing feedback from my happy members, it’s easy to see that it was worth weathering that storm and that those doubts were nothing more than frail and frightened thoughts. But if you don’t have past experience – if you don’t have anyone who believes in you, including yourself – how are you ever supposed to get to the place where you can realise that?
There’s no easy answers, of course, but I do know a few things that have helped me before.
How to Keep Going
1. Don’t take any shit from your brain. You know that old adage about talking to yourself as you would a friend? I like to turn that around and remember not to take any abuse from my brain that I wouldn’t accept from a friend in my life. If a friend said, “you’re rubbish at this” or “nobody will buy your products‘, most of us would naturally be hurt, maybe angry, and stop hanging out with that bish. Yet when our own brain says it, we totally take it on board. We think it’s some sort of essential truth that we have to pay attention to, or try to fix in ourselves.
There is so much blissful freedom in recognising that our thoughts are just noisy opinions, and that we’re allowed to ignore those which aren’t helpful to us. Now when my brain tries to chime in with this crap, I’ve learned to step back and just watch. Why is it saying that? How is it helpful? Like an abusive friend, it’s up to me to draw the boundaries and show my chattering mind what I will and will not tolerate it saying about my work.
2. Don’t make it about the end result. Often when we’re starting to flounder, we turn to our motivation to keep us pushing ahead. We think about what we might achieve, the money we might make, the success we might find. That’s all well and good, but it’s important to separate out the value if the doing from whatever the end results. Instead of thinking, ‘I need to market this program so I can make X amount of money’, I like to think, ‘I need to market this program so I can see where it takes me’. I leave open the possibility that it’s not meant to succeed, because that would still be a lesson I needed to move on. If our worst fear is “this wont work”, the very best thing we can do is to test out that theory and find out asap if that’s factual or not. Because if it’s true, that frees us up to move on to the next thing that might work. And if it’s not, then it’s pointlessly holding us back.
3. Find somebody who gets it. Nobody in my life thought I could be a photographer. My family made fun of me; my ex boyfriend warned me not to try selling my prints. Then along came Instagram, and within months I had 35 thousand people telling me they loved my work and wanted to learn how to take photos like me.
So many of the clients I talk to have nobody in their life who understands what they’re aiming for. If the only feedback you’re getting is “your dreams are unrealistic“, it’s easy to lose your grip on the belief that they’re not.
Social media still remains my go to place for the people who get me, always. Orla’s hideaway, that my real world connections thought was kind of ridiculous? It went viral on Twitter, got picked up by a bunch major tabloid newspapers and brought so many brilliant and moving DMs.
If you don’t have a supportive cheer squad in your life already, head to Twitter or Instagram and start cultivating one now. Actually, this seems like a good time to mention my brand new community, The Flock – a free space for likeminded creatives to hang out, share resources and generally cheer one another on. Hop onto the list and start talking to people who get it, and believe you can succeed.
4. Keep moving forwards.
I used to love playing The Sims because of how you could stack up their tasks for a day, and then just leave them running through the list. I’ve often wished the same could be true for my brain.
We can’t be robots, but we can learn a little something from this way of working. By taking the big milestone and breaking it down into its smallest individual component parts, we can map out a road map from here to the finish line. While the whole task will often feel daunting, doing small steps of action is always achievable, and almost inconsequential if you make them tiny enough.
It’s a little like parenting a recalcitrant toddler. Sure, they might be refusing to go to the shops, but they can still put their shoes on and pick out a coat. When I’m working on a big goal, I like to promise myself never to go to bed without taking some kind of step forwards: whether that’s just googling a question, or building a whole sales page with copy. As we’re learning in 15 Minute Magic right now, it’s amazing what you can do in tiny windows of intentional action!
How do you stay the course from idea to eventual actualisation? What works for you when the doubts and disbelief start to creep in?
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