First we integrate, then we kick butt

Have you noticed how challenges and setbacks either paralyze or galvanize you?

I know I have.

And it’s not an either/or scenario i.e. some people become paralyzed while others leap into meaningful action. Depending upon the day, minute, or unique circumstances, we vulnerable humans can experience the full spectrum of emotions.

And to make things even more nuanced, it’s not linear. You don’t necessarily start out paralyzed and steadily move towards being galvanized. It’s a process.

If you’ve found yourself in betwixt and between paralysis and feeling galvanized around a positive new direction, you’re not alone.

Maybe 2020 was the year you realized:

  • your current business model is outdated, limited, or just not the right one for you
  • you have so much more to offer, but don’t know how to communicate your value (and get compensated for it)
  • doing work that doesn’t have meaning or make a positive impact is no longer an option

Whatever uncomfortable truths 2020 revealed, it’s all great material for the next chapter of your business and life, should you choose to use it.

“But HOW?” I hear you cry.

Never fear, I’ve got your back!  If you’re ready to build or evolve a creative business that is aligned with your values, vision and purpose, I’m going to share 3 ways to integrate what matters to you and map concrete next steps.

Introducing the framework

In my last post, I introduced a 4-part framework to help creative entrepreneurs use the challenges of 2020 as fuel for building a stronger, more purposeful and profitable creative business in 2021.

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In that post (which you can read here) we focused on the first step:

Reflection

Now, if you’re tempted to skip this step because it sounds messy and you’re itching to get to the “build the better business” part, I totally get it.  In our productivity-obsessed culture, reflection can appear lazy, indulgent, and a waste of time.  So, as someone who’s had to learn how to “do” reflection, I’d like to share this quote:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”  – Einstein

Breakthroughs require us to look at a problem from every angle, challenge our assumptions, marshal our resources, and take bold, new actions.

Which is where step 2, and the subject of this article comes in:

Integration

Integration is where we explore how and where new ideas fit into our evolving business and life.

And because concepts like this can feel abstract, I’ll share it through an example. It’s a hybrid of a few of my clients, so you may recognize yourself within it!

Meet Julie.  She’s a creative director, designer, and strategic thinker. She has experience on both the agency and brand-side, as well as stints as a freelancer. Over the years she’s built a deep well of connections, and impressive (if a bit all over the place) portfolio.  But lately, she’s been feeling uninspired by the projects and clients she’s working with. She doesn’t feel her work has meaning and that’s getting increasingly harder to live with.

On top of everything, the advertising and design industry have been hit hard this year, and she feels she has to take whatever work she can get. She feels stuck.

Julie could experience these events one of two ways: (1) ignore her feelings, put her head down, work longer hours, push harder, and do whatever it takes to prove her worth, all in the hope she’ll get enough work.

or…

…she could fan the flames of what’s been really motivating her lately. In her case, sustainability, supporting smaller businesses (especially women and black owned), craftsmanship, artisanry, etc.

This is the window of opportunity for Julie. If she chooses, she can shift her focus, message, and services to a distinct positioning and target audience. She can do work that matters to her, for people she cares about supporting. She can become an expert in this niche, taking control of her career, creativity, and output.  But she’s understandably freaked out. This feels like a big risk. Is this something that she could actually pull off and make good money doing?

Unfortunately, there’s no right or wrong answer, just right or wrong for Julie. Which is where integration is comes in.

Here are 3 ways to integrate what inspires and motivates you into a value proposition that could be your next big chapter:

1) Master the art of holding conflicting emotions at the same time

Discomfort or challenge often lead to our experiencing conflicting emotions or beliefs at the same time, or what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Here are a few corkers:

I want to do work that has meaning. There’s no money in purpose-driven work.

I want to make lots of money. Rich people are greedy.

I want to take a risk. I want to feel safe.

I have something to say. With so much noise in the world, who cares what I have to say?

I’m so grateful for what I have. I feel guilty others have so little.

I’m talented. I’m a fraud.

I have value. I can’t possibly ask for that much.

I have a big idea. I’m not ready.

When we learn how to hold conflicting emotions simultaneously, we free ourselves from binary thinking (which is generally a good thing!). And when you embrace yourself (and others) as a nuanced, evolving entity, you empower everyone to take big, bold action.

To do: Write down the conflicting emotions you’ve been feeling. Now, take each one and see if you can evolve it into a better feeling thought. I like free writing for this kind of work. Can you challenge a limiting belief or identify someone who disproves it?

2) Identify your non-negotiables

Integration demands that we get really clear about what we need to do our best work. For example:

  • Having time to take care of yourself, your family, and to be creative
  • Spending your time working in your zone of genius
  • Having your voice be heard and respected, even when your opinion differs from another’s.
  • Being compensated for the value you deliver
  • Clear boundaries, processes, and communication

To do: List the boxes that absolutely must be checked for you to feel empowered and effective.

3) Leverage your existing skills and talents

As a business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers, one of the biggest mistakes I see folks wanting to change direction make is throwing out everything that makes them who they currently are.

Let’s use Julie as an example. She may feel like her new direction is a complete 180 from her current work and therefore none of that matters. But when we look at her experiences (good and bad) as stepping-stones there is much she can use.  On the surface, she’s an expert in conceptualizing and executing communication strategies and campaigns.  But let’s go deeper: as a creative who has worked both agency and brand side, she understands roles, teams, and leadership. She has relationships with other high-level creatives, project managers, and vendors, etc. She also sees where there is enormous waste and where things can be streamlined. These are all incredibly valuable assets she brings to the growing market. I’d hire her!

To do: List all the skills and experience you bring to the table. If it helps (and it will) brainstorm with a colleague or friend.

I know these first two steps (reflection and integration) can feel messy and not what we want to do at all. But I promise, you’ll build a far more purposeful, impactful and profitable business in 2021 if you do!

If you’d like a thought-partner to help you gain clarity and map out next steps, treat yourself and your business to a 90-minute strategy session with me here.

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