When We Create For The Right Reasons
And how to tell it’s time to get the hell out of your head.
Back in 2011, I was jobless and quite broke while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, New York City.
I was desperate for something… anything… that would bring me some money.
I was literally living off of my roommate’s potatoes.
Potatoes for breakfast, potatoes for lunch, and potatoes for dinner.
One day, as I was munching on a boiled potato with some soy sauce during my afternoon snack-time, I ran into a Craigslist ad. The organizers for the Tribeca Open Artist Studio Tour (TOAST) had posted an ad wanting a booklet designer.
I used to run a photography magazine back in 2009 and 2010. It was a hobby project but thanks to that project I had to teach myself how to design layouts with Adobe InDesign.
So, when I saw that ad on Craigslist, I figured, why not?
I sent the organizers an email and the next day I got a reply.
And the next, next day I was at an art studio in Tribeca, talking to the two artists/organizers behind the three-day event. We talked about the timeline, booklet requirements, and a few other logistics.
When they asked me how much I was going to charge for a 20-page booklet, I had no clue how to price it. I was thinking if it would be too much if I asked for $400.
Thankfully, I stopped myself and asked them instead of how much they had in mind.
“We were thinking… a thousand maybe?”
This elderly duo looked just as mystified as I felt.
I did my very best to keep my face straight, pretended to think about the numbers, and then a little too soon I yelled out, “yeah, sure.”
I walked out of that studio that afternoon with a check for $500, and two weeks later another check for the rest of it.
I had done my job, my clients seemed to like what I did, and it was the most money I’d ever made from a freelance gig.
I thought my life was going to change forever!
Well, life doesn’t change that easily does it?
The thing with life is that once we’ve tasted something good, it’s really hard to backtrack.
For example, not everyone pays 50 bucks a page for a booklet.
I had to learn it the hard way after losing a couple of interested parties because they were prepared to pay only 30 bucks a page. I had no clue what ROI stood for. I didn’t know the difference between high-ticket clients and internet clients.
I didn’t know a thing about freelancing!
I had to learn these things from experience, from repeated failures, from losing money that was otherwise on the table. And seven years later I’m still learning.
Take Medium for example. Last month, from out of nowhere one of my articles sort of took off. I have no clue why or how, but in any case, I had almost 1K claps in just 48 hours.
That’s the most claps I’d ever received on any of my stories up until now. Things died down after the first two days, but I just couldn’t figure out what had caused the spike in the first place.
It wasn’t a well thought-out article; it was something I whipped up in less than an hour sitting at a Starbucks on a Sunday morning.
If you asked me then, I’d have said it was one of the weaker articles I’d ever written. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself then…
That month, I made the most on Medium. A whopping $162.20.
And now, I can’t imagine making less than that. Every day I’m thinking what I should write that will put this month’s earning above last month’s.
I’m doing everything but actually writing.
The thought of trying to figure out what may have caused that article to get all those claps, or how I can recreate something similar has me stumped and almost paralyzed.
In fact, I spent the last couple of weeks trying to write just one article, and when I finished and hit “publish” last night, guess how many claps I received?
Yeah, 4 views, and 1 read after I have zero claps and it’s already been over 24 hours since I hit “publish”.
And then, just a little while ago, it hit me. Not for the first time mind you. I have had this realization at least a dozen times before. But somehow I manage to forget one way or another.
I realized, once again, that as creators we need to create just for the sake of creating. We do need to think about making money, yes, but the priority needs to be clear. We create first and foremost. Period. And THEN we make money. Not the other way round.
Sometimes however, making money gets us all tangled up, so much so that we have a hard time untangling ourselves and think past the immediate problem… which is the money problem. And in the process, creativity suffers.
Not to say that we should all have a poor artist mindset, but we should at least understand where our priorities lie.
I often find myself in the same gutters. I’m always having a conversation in my head with myself. For example, I have a blog. It’s not just a hobby blog, it’s a legit side hustle where I sell services and products and use affiliate marketing to make a side income.
I’m always thinking about how to get more traffic to my relatively new blog.
I’ve been learning about SEO, about what topics trend more, what my competitor bloggers are trending for, how I can create something better than they and get more people to start reading my content instead.
Every day is a struggle where I’m either number crunching, or looking up trending keywords, checking out who’s linking to whom.
And in all that, it’s so easy to forget that at the core of blogging is my writing. Yes, headlines matter. Yes, topics matter. Yes, SEO matters.
But more than that, what matters is my own soul.
A few months ago, soon after I started my blog, before I was bogged down by SEO and trending topics and keywords, when I had fewer readers, I received an email from a random reader:
“Thank you so much for blogging! I am doing so much reading trying to figure it all out… your blog makes the most sense to me. I have yet to begin a blog… I hope you will be able to guide me along.”
This email wasn’t due to my exemplary SEO tactics, or for my clever pick of keywords and topics.
This email was for something I’d written from my heart and soul, with the hope that what I was writing would reach someone who may find it helpful in their own blogging journey.
I knew what my struggles were from my own blogging experiences, and so I was trying my best to help out someone else in the same shoes I’d been on.
But along the way, I had almost forgotten it.
Like I said, it’s a constant struggle.
Realignment is not something one does occasionally. From my own experiences, I have realized time and time again that realignment needs to be a daily routine.
Every morning, right after we wake up, we need to remind ourselves who we are and who we want to be.
We are creators, so we need to create for the sake of creation.
We want to reach people, and we won’t be able to do so unless we do it for the right reasons. And the right reason to reach out to someone else cannot possibly be that we want to make money. It has to be because we have something of value to say and share and teach.
When we do things for the right reasons, money usually follows.
Money may still follow even if we don’t do things for the right reasons. Many people do, in fact, make money for all the wrong reasons.
But does that nourish our souls?
I doubt that.
My advice to all fellow creators is simple. Make it a daily routine to observe the kind of conversation you’re having with yourself inside your head.
Are your thoughts aligned with your core beliefs?
If not, perhaps it’s time to take a break. Get out of your head, think about what’s really important, and don’t forget to create for the sake of creation alone.
Do so regularly, and make sure to improve your skills as you do. Because at the end of the day, as creators, if we’re lacking in our skills, that’s just sad. There are lots of ways to make money. Sometimes you may even make money with painfully mediocre things.
Like I did with that booklet I made for those artists so many years ago. I made a lot of money, but my work wasn’t the best for sure.
Again with that Medium article. I cannot say that it was the best Medium story ever, and yet, I received the most claps for that one.
On the other hand, the story I wrote last night that got ZERO claps? Yeah, that one. That one made me so much happier! Because I loved writing that! I loved creating just for the sake of creating. And I think I’m a better human for that.