The Practice and Principle of Accomplishing Something
Upon learning about what I do by trade, an employed acquaintance asked with some concern, “But will you succeed as a freelancer?”
It was an odd question for me, since I’m celebrating 20 years in business this month. But it gave me something to think about. In marking my 20th year as an independent designer/illustrator, and having acquired 33+ years since earning my degree, certainly I am succeeding. I’m still in business, after all. Two questions came to mind: 1) What is success? 2) What makes a person successful?
What is success?
Per the dictionary, success is simply accomplishing something that one sets out to do. Ongoing success is accomplished by setting a variety of goals over time, some concurrent, some successive. To achieve goals, one has to exert focus and discipline.
For me, success is self-determined, both in terms of what it looks like and how it’s achieved. I define my own success. And, although I was successful yesterday, that does not mean I will be successful tomorrow. I need to keep pursuing the next client and the next design solution. I need to set new goals.
I need to keep developing my skill and gaining insight. How I adapt to changes in culture, technology, economics and business climate, as well as how I deal with my own inclinations, goals and work ethic will determine my longevity. No matter how many advisors I have, ultimately, I am responsible for my personal and business success.
What makes a person, business or organization successful?
Anyone who achieves anything usually does via a combination of practice and principle. I can study the success of others, but I can answer this question only from my own vantage point – how I’ve accomplished things. I’ve implemented three practices that have helped me sustain my work creatively:
A daily quiet time. I begin each day with a mug of hot coffee, my journal, sketchbook and inspirational reading. I read, reflect, write and draw. This practice allows me to begin the day quietly and provides a means of problem-solving and planning from a big-picture point of view. It’s a way of reading the road map before I get in the car and start the engine.
Planning. I’m a designer. So I design my weeks and my days. I calendar deadlines and divide projects into chunks which I spread out over the days and weeks leading up to a deadline. This allows me to manage several projects concurrently, take care of business, accomplish my marketing and networking, and also maintain family and personal time. Having designed a day, I take a few minutes at the end of it to evaluate what I did and how I did. I find that I need a roadmap for each day – a to-do list or pre-determined tactics that will remind me to keep focused on what needs to be accomplished, by when, and why. I’ve devised my own system by selecting tactics from others and blending them.
Sabbaticals. Whether several weeks or half a day in duration, time off provides perspective. I don’t take a lot of vacations, but I frequently engage in times of rest and reflection. Sometimes my sabbatical is simply leaving the studio and going elsewhere to write, read or draw for an afternoon. Being creative “on call” is hard work, and a different environment helps to reset and refresh.These sabbaticals prevent burnout.
There are 3 primary principles that guide me:
Creativity. Every person is creative. We’re not all creative in the same way. Being creative in a particular area shows up as talent. But talent is useless unless it’s developed. It’s a starting point, and it’s the raw material in us that can be honed for great things. I need to keep learning, reinventing and developing my talent.
Productivity. All work is honorable. Work produces something. Work is how we help others. Most of us, I think, would work and produce something even if we weren’t getting paid to do so. Compensated or not, there’s a satisfaction in making an effort to create or help, and a grand sense of accomplishment when we succeed in that effort.
Service. Design and illustration – related but different disciplines – are service professions. Rather than facilitating self-expression (that’s what fine art does), they are both used to enable others to meet their goals. Design fulfills needs. So I serve my clients in creating quality design and illustration solutions that help them accomplish their marketing and communications efforts.
Participating in my clients’ successes by creating good solutions for them contributes to my own success. Getting paid for my work is a good reward, but when they tell me I’ve helped them achieve their goals – that’s gold.
I love what I do, and the people I work with. I’m looking forward to another 20 years, and more. I have succeeded, and will succeed.