If you have seen my recent work you will probably have had a good laugh at my expense, reading the put-downs I have received since pursuing a creative career. The logical thing, of course, would be to follow up with a post on 'how to deal with criticism in the creative industry.' But then, you could probably Google that. You can't, as yet, Google my story about why encouragement has saved my bacon and why the creative industry needs more of it. Lucky you, I'm going to tell it.
Or, if all else fails you get to find out why I've been wearing a massive pair of pants. It's win-win.
See, there are plenty of blog posts about how to fulfil your dreams: how to achieve your ambitions or become a millionaire, but the people who read these things are already on the ladder of self belief; they're already on Linked-In, connecting with like-minded, self-confident people (or just sharing ridiculous motivational quotes). They already have a plan: they just need a little more motivation in their already stuffed pockets. But there are those who daren't even click on the link - those that probably don't even have a Linked-In password. There are those who don't even allow themselves to think bigger in case they're met with huge disappointment. There are plenty of resources for those that already believe in themselves, but very few for those that have received very little encouragement in their lives. They've always been told: "you're not good enough."
As a kid I was encouraged because I was good at drawing. Encouraged, that is, until I actually had serious intentions of pursuing it as a career or if I mentioned that dreaded word: ambition. After telling a teacher I wanted to be an illustrator, he told me that I would become an art teacher instead because that's what girls who were good at art did. I didn't want to be an art teacher, I wanted to make stuff, but a career in the creative industry also scared me - I'd heard how hard it was to get anywhere, let alone for a smaller than average girl who was desperately shy. And where I come from you just didn't do things like that for a living, you got a 'proper job' (and contrary to those who think that means a well paid job, where I come from that simply means a secure one - one where you stay forever). And coming from a working class background, it's seemingly common sense that you don't take risks - you play it safe at all costs when you have very little in the first place. Life teaches you to think smaller, to risk nothing, to put up your borders and only trust those close to home. You value a simple life over having any sort of influence or voice. You keep quiet and do as you're told.
It's incredibly difficult to break out of this rut, especially if encouragement is hard to come by. We probably all know people who have been told by their teachers and parents that they would never amount anything, and for a lot of them they never got to see past the criticism. This is why I want those in positions of authority to give others a leg up where they can. I've seen so many people get overlooked in business because of their personality, race or sex - regarded as less important; disregarded for being 'a bit quiet', when they are full to the brim with ideas if they'd only be given a chance. Encouragement increases motivation and productivity. It helps people think a little bigger. It gives them confidence to open up and share ideas. It's common sense to incorporate it into business and get the best out of people.
But its not like you can go up to someone and say, 'hey, just believe in yourself!' As though there is a self-belief switch hidden under everyones left armpit. I have met a lot of people with no self belief, usually less-privileged families who have had to work incredibly hard just to make ends meet. Self belief doesn't even come into the equation for them; work is purely about survival - earning enough money to make sure children have hot dinners and a decent pair of shoes. "Who do you think you are with your poncy self belief malarky?! Just get back to work", they say (said in a broad Yorkshire accent for full effect). But the false economy is that a lot of people stick with low paid jobs because they don't think they can aim any higher. No one's ever told them they are good enough. And superiors may think they can get away with a half hearted "good job, Steve" at the end of the week, but we are not talking about hollow praise here - encouragement is a culture; an investment; a slow burner; a recognition of where someone's at and a gentle nudge to take another step forward.
So, I don't care if you're a Cleaner or a Chief Exec, I don't care how many people have told you you can't, you're able achieve great things. I don't care if that's making millions of pounds or millions of smiles, whatever makes you tick you can achieve it. I was told I would never make a career out of art, and now I'm doing it. And I don't know how long I'll be doing it for, or how many difficulties I'll have in the future, but the fact is I'm doing it and there's not a day I'm not thankful. And it's in part down to one or two people who told me I was good enough; they believed in me and my work, and they told me to go make stuff, despite my critics. Contrary to popular belief, there were no fireworks on the day I quit my day job; no one shook my hand; no one gave me a placard with 'living the dream' on it. Instead I was met with a lot of hard graft, a heap of condescending comments and a p45. But I don't think anything can prepare you better for a fulfilling career than small steps of self belief. And let's be perfectly clear, self-belief isn't about having a self inflated opinion of ourselves. People easily confuse arrogance with ability, but that is not what self belief is about. There are plenty of people who learn confidence before they've even learned substance – their attitude is all about self importance - and it's these people who pull the wool over the eyes of those with heaps of self doubt. Self belief is not something you're born with but something you cultivate, and something you cultivate in other people. I have been intentionally practicing it; surrounding myself with more positive people and challenging myself to take new risks with my work - and with each success feeling all the more confident. And with that confidence comes a responsibility to reach for those a few paces behind, to tell them they can achieve the things they thought impossible.
Perhaps if you're reading this you are already passionate about something. Perhaps you're well on your career path, fulfilling your ambitions and adding more to your list. But if, like me, you've also battled with self doubt, let me be the first to tell you that you are perfectly capable of achieving your ambitions, albeit with a lot of hard graft. And if you're currently surrounded by people who are critical of you, or who do not take you seriously maybe now's the time to surround yourself with encouragers. If you've never been told you're good at anything, let me be the first to say it:
You are good enough.
You are good enough to achieve brilliant things if you just take small steps to do so. Forget the non-constructive criticisms you've been told or how little you currently know, if you're up for learning then you can do it. That's not unrealistic, I'm not pie in the sky. I'm not telling you you won't have failure or experience huge setbacks. I'm not telling you you won't have to have determination or that it won't take time, but I am telling you it's possible.
You are good enough.
So go make stuff. Go invent something. Problem solve. Take a few considered risks. Apply for the job you thought you hadn't a chance in hell of getting. Yes, you might fail, but keep taking small steps in the right direction. Think a little bigger. Make a few harmless mistakes. You may not be the best in the world (yet), but you are good enough to make a start.
Oh, and the big pants? They're right here...