We make a big deal out of what we should do with our lives. And rightfully so! Your gifts and talents are special and sacred, and they were given to you so that you can bring joy to yourself and to others.
But what happens when you just aren’t sure what to do with those gifts? Or maybe you’re not sure if they’re really gifts at all - like, are you actually any good at printmaking? Would anyone even buy your watercolor paintings? Who would even be interested in reading what you write?
We at Uncommon have grappled with questions like these many. times. over. Because if we’re not asking ourselves questions about if and how to tackle something new, we’re just not growing. And although we are still learning every day, we have gone through plenty of creative growing pains already. And we’re here to help you go after what you’re meant to do in this world!
So when we get down to it, the question really is:
> How do I know if I am on the right creative path? <
Let’s level set. People who ask this question generally fall into one of two categories:
You have the itch to do something creative, but you aren’t confident about what that thing is yet. You’ve been in a bit of a rut, and you need some clarity. You want to explore things that pique your interest and do so safely - like in environments where your mind doesn’t jump from “it’s kind of scary for me to put my quilts up for sale” to “I’m no good at anything, and my life is officially over.”
> We get it, and we’re here for you.
You are clear on what you want to pursue, and you really need some strategies for how to make it happen. Or, at the very least, you need a nudge of encouragement to take that leap you’ve been dreaming of.
> Again. We get it, and we’re here for you.
Here are the things we strongly recommend:
Thing 1: Experiment.
This is especially helpful for those of you unsure of what you want to try, or what you might be good at. This section is also chock-full of ways our more focused readers can safely dip their toes into the waters of what they know they want to pursue.
Take advantage of classes and resources online. Many of them are F-R-E-E! Check out our “School is in Session … Still” blog post for more ideas!
Explore your local Rec Department and other community classes for hands-on learning
See websites like Craigslist, Glassdoor, and Indeed for freelance gigs in your area of interest
Small businesses are popping up all around! Can you help your dad or neighbor or co-worker with their web design or social media? Do they need t-shirts or business cards? Maybe they can use some help with their office layout or signage? Really think about how you can use the skills you have to improve a business that is just starting out.
Are there ways you can volunteer while building your creative skills? Sal has volunteered her time for the last three years to plan social and fundraising events for Milwaukee Habitat Young Professionals! What other volunteer organizations are close to you, and what skills can you hone while supporting their causes?
Interested in photography or graphics or floral? Can you start with a friend’s wedding, or can you start even smaller with their shower or engagement party?
*Regardless of how you experiment, document your work! It will come in handy!
Remember these words of wisdom from one of our favorite development coaches: “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.” - Marie Forleo. So get out there and try it!
Thing 2: Strategies for Building.
… As we mentioned, it is important to build a portfolio of examples while you hone your skills. You can set up a website for free using tools like WordPress or Wix, or, at the very least, keep a digital folder of samples ready to send to potential employers and clients.
> Word of Mouth! Word of Mouth! Word of Mouth! <
The best way to get new clients is to serve the ones you already have.
Pay attention to their needs, execute thoughtfully on what they expect (and exceed those expectations!), and they will turn into the best free advertising you could ever ask for!
Put feelers out with your other connections, family members, and friends. Chances are, they want to help you! Ask:
“Who do you know with experience in ____?”
“Who do you know who could help me with ____(eg: teaching me what photography equipment I need)?”
“Who do you know who could use my help with ____(eg: improving SEO for their website so their company can be found easily online)?”
When you’re actively searching for new connections, do your homework!
Dig into researching companies you’re dying to partner with. Dive into understanding their challenges, their needs, and how they fit into their industry. Read the resources on their websites, read articles about their work, and then brainstorm specific ways you can support their goals!
Pinpoint which team members from those companies are the ones who can help you get your foot in the door.
Search on platforms like LinkedIn to find a direct way to connect with those individuals. *Head’s up!* You may need to upgrade your plan if you’re doing a heavy amount of searching on LinkedIn. But! If you plan it out, you should be able to accomplish what you need during a trial period and avoid paying.
Cold call if need be, but preferably only after finding out who the best person to talk to is!
*When you put yourself out there directly to your dream clients and partners, let’s face it - you are going to be turned down. But we love Katie’s perspective on this - the worst thing they can say is no. And then you just keep moving forward anyway!
Thing 3: Commit.
Depending on your field, you may need to dig deeper and commit to formal education. This may mean schooling for your unique field and/or schooling in business, which is an exciting venture!
From Katie and Sal’s perspective, we cannot say enough about gaining the proper training we did at UW-Stout! Four years of blood, sweat, and tears - literally - are what we can credit for giving us our solid design foundation. With our interior design concentration, we built the skills we need to be successful today, and we learned a wide variety of topics:
Principles and Elements of Design, Rendering Manually and Digitally, Studio Art Classes
Software like the Adobe Suite, AutoCAD, Revit, and Google Sketchup
Building Codes, ADA Guidelines, and Art History
Furniture Design, Lighting Design, Architectural Design
Your college requirements will provide you with the basics for how to be a professional in your field, but there is only so much that you can learn in a classroom. It is really up to you to go beyond that!
If anything, we felt that the types of things we didn’t learn in the classroom revolved around budgeting, invoicing, and client relationships, not to mention the real-world process of bringing an idea into reality. The more you can intimately understand this process early on, the better!
Pursue job shadowing early in your student career, so that you can take the things that you learn in school and bring them into the real world
Apply for internships, and take multiple if at all possible!
Join student organizations and get involved! Become a board member and volunteer to help run events!
Starting something new can feel so big and complicated. But always follow your passion and curiosity, and remember that this is a path, not a destination!
- The Uncommon Team