This article was originally published on ART+Marketing on October 22, 2017.
Throughout middle and high school, I struggled to fit in. That’s an understatement, by the way, because I recall bursting into tears at the garage door of our suburban house at 7:45 in the morning, begging my mother to not make me go to school.
I was the nerdy and awkward one for most of my young adult life and this was a side of myself I started hiding while in college. I wanted to be successful, so I mimicked what the popular girls were doing.
So many of us try to reach our goals by forming ourselves into copies of the people who have what we wish to have and live the lives we dream of, as if following the same steps would recreate it for us. But there are different roads to success, and when we seek to retrace someone else’s path, we can become a good copy at best but we’ll never be as good as they are. We did it from mimicry, they did it from their truth.
I chose to try to make a home for myself here in Philadelphia because of my dreams. I wanted to be a writer, an artist , a curator, a content creator, and you know how that story goes: When small town girls have big dreams, they head to the city. Tale as old as time.
I spent so much time studying other creatives, pinpointing what they did right and wrong, but nothing seemed to stick or bring me the stability through my work that I craved.
It was when I stuck to my own lane, no longer focusing on others or their successes and instead stepping into authenticity, that more people started showing an interest. That was when I started to get recognition, gigs, regular accepted submissions, and an increase in newsletter sign-ups. I credit Authenticity with all of this.
Authenticity is one of my most cherished core values as a creative, and I’m going to show you what that looks like for me.
1. Be a Producer, Not a Consumer
Just to be clear, I have no problem with consuming content. As a matter of fact, I think it’s important to be aware of what others are creating, and taking in new work is one of the top ways to gain inspiration and harvest new ideas. However, it sends up a red flag to me when I start seeing myself ingesting disproportionately more content than I produce.
So as soon as I moved towards being a consciously authentic creative, one of my first decisions was to be a producer more than a consumer. That looks like:
- Putting a cap on time suck entertainment, such as Netflix or social media
- Being an active not passive content consumer, constantly searching for ideas as I read or watch
- Setting (and meeting) weekly content production goals
- Creating and posting original content, shooting my own photos for my pieces and social media
2. Be a Giver + a Collaborator
Anyone who’s sought to make a life for themselves with their creative work has come up against conflict. We’ve all come across people who take advantage, who pour out negativity, who subtweet and compete and believe that there’s not enough room for everyone to be a writer, to be a photographer, to be a painter or an artist.
You can’t control their actions. You can only control your own actions, both how you respond to them and how you treat others.
How do I want to be known to other creatives in my field? That’s a question we all must ask ourselves. As for me, I want to be known as a woman who’s full of warmth, graciousness, generosity, and humility. Who’s a giver, not a taker. Who’s a collaborator, not a competitor.
And I know that this starts with responding with grace and unconditional love to those who didn’t offer those things to me.
3. Be a Vulnerable Truth-Teller
In this age of Instagram and lifestyle bloggers, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of displaying only the highlights of your life, with the perfectly edited photos and essays full of humble brags.
But what’s the big deal, then, about displaying an ersatz-ideal life? Everyone’s doing it, so it’s not particularly innovative at this point.
What is unique and stand-out is vulnerability. Speaking from your truth. Telling and owning your story.
A side-benefit to this is that it makes you more effective as an author. When I read the writing of someone I used to know, I often find myself wondering, Who on earth is this person? What has he been through that informs what their writing? The reason these questions run through my head is that their writing is so surface-level, bland, and devoid of vulnerability and authenticity.
I realized that a lot of my work feels just that way and I’m seeking to no longer be surface-level, but to instead tell and own my story.