How to be a better collaborator in 2019

Kelsey Peterson
Dec 28, 2018 · 6 min read
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Samantha Lee & the Family Tree performing at Day Dreamer’s Build Your Portfolio, Vol. 1 — Performing Arts event on 7/11/19.

col·lab·o·ra·tion
/kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n/
noun — the action of working with someone to produce or create something.

As I’m stumbling out of the haze that was the last 3 months, wondering how much coffee is too much, the concept of the right collaborator keeps flooding my mind. And what better time to have this conversation than right before the beginning of a new year.

We’ve all been there before. We’re out at an event, party, or maybe we’re at work and talking to someone about what projects they’re creating or involved in. And, holy cow, are we into it or what? At least for a little while, until something seems to fade. Is it us? Is it the idea? Is it the timing?

I wish I knew the answer because then I’d have so much more figured out. But what I do know is that we are in the midst of a culture where there is so much going on. Maybe too much. Every single day, hour, even to the minute. While it’s a beautiful thing that there are a million events, countless projects and ideas constantly being dreamed up, there are a few things we can all do to be better prepared for when we want to be involved.

1. Show up.

This seems like an obvious one, right? If I had a quarter for every time someone didn’t come out to an event they said they would, or canceled on me not just once but multiple times, I would have my rent paid for a few months.

We’re in an age where we make a promise and don’t get me wrong, we do mean it… at the time. Then, something else snags our attention. But do you want to be the person undercutting your own success? No, you don’t. No one does.

I’m the Queen of wanting to collaborate with people but too afraid to actually do it. So, after changing my behavior in 2017, and buckling down this past year, I can happily say that I’m getting better at it. It’s all possible, you just need to be the culprit of that change.

I specifically remember telling a new friend a while back, “I want to play music together!” and had ample opportunities to do so. But after two unsuccessful attempts, I made it a mission to not let that happen again. Sound familiar? It was all too familiar in my past, so when we actually met to work on music, I was amazed at how much better that connection felt. Added bonus: the project was better than I could’ve ever imagined.

If you want to be part of something, the first thing you need to do is simply be there. No matter what.

If I didn’t show up to a friend’s new photo project, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to walk around downtown Austin dressed as an elf asking strangers ridiculous questions. No joke, this was a literal dream come true. And now, I can tell that story with photos to last me a lifetime. (you can take a look here 😄)

If I didn’t make an effort to work with a musician from a previous project, then I wouldn’t have finished some of my favorite songs.

And, after collaborating with Mary on a song for another project, if I didn’t show up and deliver on my desire to help Day Dreamer, I wouldn’t be here writing this today as a co-founder.

Dreams are possible to achieve, but they’re useless if you don’t show up first.

2. Be honest.

Earlier this month, while driving home listening to the radio, the Two Guys on Your Head segment of KUT was playing where they talked about Honesty & Happiness. They mentioned this recent study where individuals were broken up into three groups, instructed to either be: absolutely honest, kind (but not explicitly instructed to be honest), or more aware of how they acted during all of their interactions.

After a period of time, they then asked everyone to rate how close they felt and how effective these interactions were. Sure enough, people felt more connected and closer to others when they had more honest interactions. Isn’t that all that we’re searching for anyways — feeling more connected and close to those around us?

But the real question is — how do we be honest without severing our collaborations and relationships? Does this mean we need to kick being “kind” out the window?

No. Definitely not. I’m glad they even mentioned that in the segment on the radio, too. From the research study, it would seem that honesty and kindness don’t go hand in hand. But from my perspective, there’s a fine line.

When being collaborative, constructive feedback is crucial to a project’s success —it’s something that can ultimately make us better artists, collaborators, and overall individuals. And without a new-found light on what we’re working on, we wouldn’t have the ability to see the bigger picture.

So I want to ask each and every one of you to be more honest in your interactions next year. Heck, start today. And if that’s difficult, then at least be more conscious in these interactions.

Which then brings me to the third tip —

3. Check your ego.

I crave a lot of feedback — while it may, on the surface, be out of insecurity and imposter syndrome, it’s foundationally a method of striving to be the best version of myself. So you bet, when I get that feedback, I’m either writing it down or repeating it to myself over and over and over again.

With the above exercise, try to be more aware of how you listen. Is it active or passive listening? This was eye-opening to me. In becoming more aware of myself throughout the past year, I realized how often I was listening to answer versus listening to absorb. (I feel like this sounds like a broken record…)

After changing how I listened, I took a creative note handed to me from a collaborator, nodded my head even though I didn’t agree with the change, and followed it through. Now, that song we were working on, can never be the same — and all for the better.

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Left: “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. Right: “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Both can be purchased online or at your local bookstore.

Two books I highly recommend when combatting the ego that lives and breathes inside us all — The War of Art and Big Magic. They both perfectly touch on this sometimes damaging, but necessary, quadrant, while also providing incredible solutions. So instead of paraphrasing them here (seriously, read those books), I’m going to mention an experience of mine that I hope resonates with you.

After college, I had this amazing opportunity to play at a gallery open house at the Zhou B. Art Center. So, hoping to jump onto this opportunity, I asked two of my friends to play with me for an hour-long set. We’d do some covers, maybe some originals, and it would be really fun.

After our initial practice session, everything went really well, and then made a plan to meet again the following week. But then the following week came and went, each of them texting me day after day. Then, on what would’ve been performance night, I couldn’t leave my bedroom.

This is one of the many moments where I let my ego win. The “id” wanted me to perform but my “ego” didn’t want to be subjected to any pain that could have been inflicted.

Instead of being honest with my friends about this internal fear, my subconscious decided to retreat or, better said, “ghost” them.

So a strategy I recommend is to let go of being ego-driven and instead co-drive with others. There is a time and a place to take the reigns, but within our creative projects, letting go of how we want to be seen can open the door to endless potential.

To bring it full circle, if I had shown up, even when my ego got in the way, been honest with those I wanted to create with, maybe I would be further along in my artistic journey. But life is nothing with regrets, so with these experiences behind me, I can now propel myself to be better in the future. And so can you.

How do you plan to bring your dreams to life in 2019?

What strategies have worked for you when collaborating with others?

We would love to hear your thoughts, so please consider commenting below. You never know — you could be the precipice that inspires someone else.

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Day Dreamer is an application that helps creatives connect…

Thanks to Mary Walker

Kelsey Peterson

Written by

Founder, singer-songwriter, thriving cat mom. Culture + HR at Square Root. Lover of scones with the perfect cup of tea.

Day Dreamer App

Day Dreamer is an application that helps creatives connect & get hired in their local area. Across a variety of artistic mediums, our communities thrive when we create together.

Kelsey Peterson

Written by

Founder, singer-songwriter, thriving cat mom. Culture + HR at Square Root. Lover of scones with the perfect cup of tea.

Day Dreamer App

Day Dreamer is an application that helps creatives connect & get hired in their local area. Across a variety of artistic mediums, our communities thrive when we create together.

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