023: What I Wish I’d KnownApr 04, 2023
If you could go back to the very beginning of your journey as a creative entrepreneur, what would you tell yourself? What pieces of advice would have made your journey to this point a little smoother if someone had whispered them in your ear at that early stage in your career? Or, what pieces of advice were whispered in your ear, but you ignored them and learned the hard way, and now you wish you’d paid attention? What do you wish you’d known when you were embarking on this crazy, fantastical journey called creative entrepreneurship? Today, I’m going to answer those questions from my creative entrepreneurship experience and tell you the eight things I wish I’d known as a young, just-starting-out creative entrepreneur. Hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes and missteps along the way.
Hello, thriving artists, and welcome to the 23rd episode of the Starving Artist No More podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Araya, and I am so excited to be with you today for this look back in time at the things I wish I’d known.
Before we dig deep into that discussion, I want to make sure you’re aware that, as of the time when this episode is originally airing, on April 4, 2023, registration is now open for the next session of my Taming the Muse group workshop, a summer workshop session that will start in July of this year and run through the end of September. Right now, I’m a few weeks away from wrapping up the current session of the group workshop, and I have been amazed by the insights and growth and learning exhibited by all of the participants. If you’ve been wanting to work with me, or if you want to learn how you can build a creative business truly meets your needs and supports you in the ways you need to be supported, then my group workshop is a great opportunity for you. As I mentioned, this next session will begin in July and run through the end of September, and I am so excited to work with a whole new set of creatives as we learn and grow together. Visit my website, www.StarvingArtistNoMore.com, to learn more. And, keep in mind that workshop participation is limited so I make sure I have time to give individualized focus to every participant, so if this is something you’ve been wanting to do, you should check it out right away.
And if you’re listening to this episode way in the future and registration for this summer workshop session is long past, I still encourage you to visit my website. Information on my courses, workshops, and coaching programs, plus any special events I have coming up, will always be available on my website. So perhaps I have exactly the educational opportunity you’ve been looking for, ready and waiting for you. That website address was www.StarvingArtistNoMore.com.
Let’s now turn to today’s main topic: what I wish I’d known. Last week, I attended the Audio Publishers Association Conference and the Audie Awards Gala, the annual conference and calendar of events that celebrate all-things-audiobook. I had the amazing opportunity to talk with some new-to-the-industry narrators, and I found myself answering, over and over again, some variation of the question, “What advice do you have for new creative entrepreneurs?” That got me thinking about the things I wish I had known when I first started my journey as a creative entrepreneur.
So today’s episode is born out of those questions. This discussion is chock full of the advice that I wish I’d gotten early on in my journey as a creative entrepreneur (or in some cases, the advice I did get but didn’t listen to, and so it’s advice I wish I’d listened to). If I could go back and have a conversation with “brand new creative entrepreneur Jennifer” many years ago, these are the eight things I would tell her. I know they would have helped me, and hopefully they can help you, too!
The first thing on that list of what I wish I’d known is that it’s ok to play. I think that “baby creative entrepreneur Jennifer” sometimes felt that, if I wanted my artistic business to be taken seriously, then I needed to be serious all the time, and that is so not true! Play stimulates creativity and allows me to be my creative best. No matter where you are in your creative entrepreneurship journey, you can take time to play.
Sometimes we're so focused on growing our careers and being taken seriously that we forget to play and have fun. Enjoying creativity for its own sake helps us remember why we're creatives in the first place, and brings a fresh vitality to our work. Play is important!
I feel so strongly about this that it is part of my daily mantra. I’ve mentioned my mantra before on this podcast. It comes from the incredible audiobook narrator and coach Andi Arndt, and it reads like this: “Every day, I will make time to prepare and enjoy healthy food, and I will make time for exercise, hydration, rest, and play.” Play. I love this mantra so much that I created my own adult coloring page version of the mantra.
In childhood, play improves a child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. When they are playing, children are learning about how the world works and how they can relate to the world. They gain confidence and experience they’ll use for the rest of their lives. But play isn’t just important for children. When we as adults take time to let go and play, we give ourselves permission to access our inner creativity. We are our most creative and our most innovative when we play.
Part of the Merriam-Webster definition for the word "play" is that it is “free or unimpeded.” What artist wouldn’t want to be free and unimpeded in their creative work? I know I want that for myself!
Yes, our work as artists is serious. We are sharing our work with truth and honesty, and that is important, critical work that is not to be taken lightly. But that seriousness and focus can, and should, live in harmony with play. It is ok to play.
Another thing I wish I’d known when I first started my creative business is how important it is to celebrate every success, no matter how small. I’ve had some big wins in my creative career recently. I won my second Audie Award last week. I won three SOVAS awards back in December. I recently held my first in-person workshop for my new business coaching enterprise. These are all really big, incredible, amazing wins in my work, and you’d better believe that I savored and celebrated every single one of them. But those big wins are not the only moments in your creative career that are worthy of savoring and celebrating. Every win, regardless of how big or how small, should be noted and appreciated.
The life of an artist is not an easy one. Owning your own creative business is hard work that always seems to throw new curveballs your way. One antidote to burnout in your artistic work is gratitude for every moment of triumph, whether big or small, that comes along. I have developed a daily gratitude practice that helps me celebrate every moment of success, and I talked about that at length way back in episode 4 of this podcast, so if you feel like you could use some help knowing how to truly savor the good and celebrate the joys of your creative work, that episode might help.
One thing I remember doing as a young creative entrepreneur is moving my goalposts. So often, I’d have a goal in my sights and I’d then achieve that goal, but the instant I achieved it, I’d already be thinking about the next milestone. I never let myself feel the joy of a job well done because as soon as the job was done, I was looking at the next one. That is not a recipe for thriving and fulfillment in your creative work. Rather, it’s a recipe for burnout and exhaustion! Let yourself celebrate the current win before you start striving for the next one. Celebrate your successes.
If I could go back in time and have a conversation with myself right as I was getting ready to start my first creative business, the next thing I would tell myself is to listen to my creative peers, but don’t be defined by them. Listening to the advice of others who have walked this road before you can help you, and it is definitely a good thing to do. I have learned so much thanks to the guidance and perspective of those who have walked this path before me. I would not be where I am today without the sage advice of my teachers and coaches and mentors, to whom I am incredibly grateful. In fact, seeking out the guidance of other narrators when I started working as an audiobook narrator was the very best thing I could have done!
But you need to find a balance. There is such a thing as too much mentoring and guidance. It can become too much of a good thing. Don’t let yourself be defined by others in your creative industry. Your journey is yours alone.
Early on in my journey as a creative entrepreneur, I at times listened to advice that wasn’t right for me. It was good advice, but it wasn’t advice that applied to my situation. But I followed it and allowed it to define me and my work, and that led me down a path that wasn’t a good fit for me. Listen to the advice of others in your field, but balance that with an inner confidence that your work is unique and that no one else can define you. Listen to the advice of others so that, when you make decisions to vary from that advice, you’re doing so with the courage of knowing that you’re following the path that is right for you.
Be open to the advice from veterans in your creative industry, but balance that by wholeheartedly embracing your unique creativity as an artist. Be willing to accept constructive feedback from those who are further down this creative path than you are. The creative world is such an amazing and giving community. Embrace that and accept the advice that’s out there. It really is given with your best interests in mind.
At the same time, if you allow yourself to be defined by what others are telling you to do, you won’t ever allow your unique artistic self to develop. Always doing what everyone else is doing will have the inevitable effect of making you just like everyone else. Embrace that you are not like other artist, and that is a good thing! The places where your creativity will lead are unique and special to you. Listen to your creative peers, but don’t allow yourself to be defined by them.
Item #4 that I wish I’d known: Mindset is everything. Scarcity is not true; abundance is. When I first began working as a creative entrepreneur, I had no idea how important mindset is! I had no idea that the way that I thought about my work and my identity as an artist had the power to completely change the shape of my career, for better and for worse.
What I believe to be possible determines whether or not I see opportunities that come my way. My mindset controls whether or not I have the confidence to pursue those opportunities once I recognize them.
The world teaches us that the art industries are characterized by scarcity and lack. After all, that’s where the “starving artist” stereotype comes from. But that is a lie. It is not true. Our world is one of abundance and creativity and possibility, but only if I am intentional about shaping a positive mindset will I be able to recognize that. I talked about the importance of a mindset of abundance all the way back in Episode 2 of this podcast.
I look back on my early years as a creative entrepreneur, and I see someone who was hustling, someone who was uncertain, someone who was constantly on the edge of burnout, someone who wasn’t sure if she had a place in the creative community. I see an artist whose mindset of scarcity held her back and kept her from truly thriving in her creative work. Sometimes, I wish I could go back and give the younger version of myself a hug and have a heart-to-heart chat with myself about the importance of mindset. But, I can’t do that, so I’m telling you instead. Mindset is everything. Be intentional about shaping and cultivating a mindset of abundance.
Along those lines, the next piece of advice I wish I could give my younger self is the knowledge that, if you’re not finding the opportunities you want, you can create your own opportunities. Especially in my work as a professional musician, I spent most of my time waiting for others to give me work, waiting for personnel directors to hire me, waiting for concert organizers to contact me. It was a very passive way of being an artist business owner, and it did not serve me well. This piece of advice goes hand in hand with the mindset of scarcity I just talked about. Because I believed that there wasn’t much work available to me, I accepted the lack of work and didn’t do the things I could have done to change it.
In any creative industry, we're not going to be handed opportunities just because we're awesome. We first have to let people know we're awesome! Making your own opportunities does just that. Take charge of where your career is going, and if others aren't opening doors for you, open them for yourself.
No artist is helpless. If you aren’t finding the opportunities you wish were available to yourself, then figure out how to create them! When I look around at the artists and musicians I went to conservatory with, I have plenty of examples of artists who took their career into their own hands and created the opportunities they weren’t finding. I know a musician who started her own chamber music concert series, a conductor who founded his own opera company, a composer who build a new summer music festival for contemporary chamber music. I know artists who began their own teaching programs and now have thriving studios of young musicians that they have the privilege of watching grow and evolve. I know creatives who began their own nonprofits to reach a population that they realized was underserved by the artistic services currently available in their neighborhood. If you put in the work and use the depth of your creativity to find solutions, I know you can do it. You can create the opportunities for yourself that you want. If opportunities aren’t being given to you, go out and create them.
The sixth piece of advice I wish I had known as a young entrepreneur is to know your own worth and charge for it. This would be an example of advice that I was actually given but didn’t really listen to. More fool, me! And I truly have no excuse. As I’ve mentioned in this podcast before, my parents are small business owners, and all of their friends when I was growing up were also small business owners, so I had plenty of examples of what it meant to know your own worth and charge for it. As a child and teen, my examples of what it meant to be an adult in this world were all successful small business owners, so I truly had no excuse for not charging appropriately for my creative work.
And yet, I didn’t. It’s hard to go to someone who is hiring you for a gig or a job, and to tell them that while you’re excited about the work, you’re only willing to do it for X amount. Talking about money is hard in our culture. It’s something that’s just “not done.” I struggled to get over that cultural hesitation, and I accepted wages I shouldn’t have as a result.
You are an artist. Your work has value. You have value and provide a needed service to those around you. You are important to your audience and your customers, and you deserve to be paid appropriately for the service you provide.
Don’t be afraid to talk money with your clients. Truthfully, the worst they can say is “no,” at which point you have the choice of either doing the work at the originally offered rate, which isn’t always a good idea but which is an option you have, or turning down the project and using that time to pursue work that will pay you what you’re truly worth.
Exposure is never payment. You are pouring your heart and soul into the work that you do, and you should be paid for that work. If someone isn't willing to pay you what you’re worth, then they weren't going to be willing to give you the respect you deserve as a thriving artist.
The next piece of business advice that I have to share is one that I’m still learning, and that I think I will forever be learning in my walk as a creative entrepreneur, and that is that self-care is business-care. Taking care of myself equals taking care of my business. I am the most valuable asset my business has. My business runs on my creative energy, and so if I’m not here to do the work, or if I’m tired and not functioning at my creative best, then my business suffers. My business relies on me being at the top of my game. Taking care of myself so that I can do my best creative work is part of being a responsible business owner. Hustling and pushing myself to the point of burnout isn’t the answer. When I take care of myself, I am also taking care of my business.
I’ve had to learn this anew in the last few years. I’ve shared before that I have a chronic pain condition that has direct impact on my daily life. If I’m not taking care of myself physically and mentally, then I am literally unable to do my creative work. If I want my business to thrive, I have to prioritize the activities and attitudes that keep me healthy and whole.
That brings me back to the mantra I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, “Every day, I will make time to prepare and enjoy healthy food, and I will make time for exercise, hydration, rest, and play.” As I mentioned, this mantra was originally given to me by Andi Arndt, but I have taken it and made it my focus as a creative entrepreneur.
When I do those things for myself – when I eat well, exercise, hydrate appropriately, rest, and play – I am a better artist. I am better able to perform at my creative best. When I am a whole and healthy human being, I am a creative and innovative artist. My business relies on me, and so taking care of me is a business priority. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. Taking care of yourself is what allows you to freely give of yourself in your art. Self-care is business-care.
And finally, and most importantly, piece of advice #8 that I wish I had known as a young creative entrepreneur is to be kind to everyone. No man is an island, and no creative solopreneur can do this alone. You need those around you. Walking the path of creative entrepreneurship with others is so valuable to your work.
From a purely selfish perspective, that engineer who is proofing your books today may become a casting director in a few months or a few years. The audition monitor at the orchestra audition you’re taking may become the personnel manager next year. The audition pianist at your musical theater audition may actually be the music director of the show, and not just a rehearsal pianist. The facilities manager at that concert venue may eventually be promoted to assistant artistic director and be in a place to recommend you for the next opening. You never know who may someday have the ability to give you work! Being kind to everyone is a good business practice, one that will help your bottom line.
But that is far from the only reason to be kind. From a purely human perspective, artists frequently work in very solitary ways. Sure, we may have collaborators and colleagues, or we may have team members and contractors we’ve hired to help us, but often our work to grow our creative business is essentially something we do alone. Forging real, meaningful relationships with those we're working with is a valuable way to bring human connection into an otherwise solo activity. Be friends with everyone!
As I mentioned earlier, I recently attended the annual Audio Publishers Association Conference, or APAC, in New York City. It was the first time this event had been held in-person since 2019, and so it was the first time a lot of narrators who started in this work after the 2019 conference had ever met their colleagues in real life. Standing back and observing the crowd, it was completely obvious which new narrators had made a priority of seeking out peer relationships, and which had not. I saw narrators who have only been working in the world of audiobooks for two years or less be swarmed by friends and colleagues, people they had build relationships with in the online narrator community. Those friends and colleagues provided them connections at the in-person event that will allow them to grow their businesses and careers in the coming months and years. And, in contrast, I saw narrators who have not been intentional in that way stand awkwardly alone.
Now, that’s not to say that standing alone was necessarily a bad thing. After nearly 4 years away from in-person events, the APAC experience was incredibly overwhelming, and I took plenty of breaks away from the crowd myself. But I could visibly see the difference between those who are intentional about reaching out to others, and those who are not.
Relationships with others in you creative field will grow your business and expand your creativity in ways you can’t even imagine right now. Be kind to everyone. It will be the best business decision you ever make.
Thank you so much for your time today. I know that time for creative entrepreneurs is a precious commodity, and I truly value that you spent some of your time with me today. I hope this episode helped you. I know these are bits of advice that the younger version of me would have truly appreciated, and I hope it spoke to you as well. As always, I would truly appreciate any ratings or reviews you feel led to give me. Especially on Apple Podcasts, ratings and reviews really help new listeners find me. And of course, don’t forget to subscribe using your podcast player of choice so that you always are notified when new episodes are available. If you know a creative entrepreneur who you think might be helped by the content of today’s episode, or really any episode of this podcast, please pass this along to them. Sharing is caring!
Regardless of where you are in your creative journey, I hope the ideas and advice in today’s episode helped you think about your business in a new light. Give yourself permission to play, and take time to celebrate every success, no matter how small. Listen to your colleagues and peers, but don’t be defined by them. Cultivate a supportive mindset, one of abundance and not scarcity. Mindset is everything. If you're not finding the opportunities you want, be bold. Create your own opportunities. Know your own worth, and charge for it. Exposure is not payment. Self-care is business-care, and actions taken in support of your own health and wellbeing are always good business decisions. And most of all, be kind to everyone. These are the bits of advice I wish I’d known, and now I’m passing them on to you. I’m so excited to see what you can do and where you can go with them. Truly, I can’t wait to see what you create.
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