*The making of a creativepreneur*
On dealing with fear - what else - and professionalizing your passion project
One day in 2014, I was drinking draft Weihenstephaners at Cafe Soundgarden, with my former flatmate. A more alternative crowd gathered to drink beer at this shabby brown bar, play table football, smoke joints - what seemed to me at the time quintessential after-work relaxation in Amsterdam. Soundgarden had a permanent odor of old wood and spilled beer and a matching punk rock soundtrack. To call this place noisy was an understatement. We were sitting on Jurassic leather sofas with scratches and tears, in the merry company of a hand-painted Iggy Pop on one side and on the other, a Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Perched on a pile of discarded newspapers in a corner, was a cat in a slumber, oblivious to the noise or the people. It was about this kind of place that I wanted to write about on Amsterdive! It was underground, local, and quirky, the crowd was a mix of Dutch and internationals, there were always new people to meet. I used to babble about this idea: a blog where I’d host people around my Amsterdam, the same way I hosted friends who came to visit. That blog would highlight all the non-obvious gems in town. All the itineraries. And the culture. There was so much that people didn't know about Amsterdam, about the lifestyle, about everything that was possible here. The blog amsterdive.com existed since 2013, except that I had written three posts on a whim and then stopped. My flatmate asked me, between beer sips, why I kept talking about this idea instead of actually... doing it. I glanced around the room, trying to hold on to the last reserves of self-worth I still had in me. I didn't know how to do it. Ana, he said in his Italian-tainted English, you spent the last 1,5 years learning Dutch and now look at you. You've got fluent in this alien language. You just proved yourself that you can accomplish anything you set yourself to. Seriously, I saw your drive. If you can do that with Dutch, surely you can make this project happen. What are you waiting for? (thanks, Francesco.) I was perplexed. I had never thought of it that way. He had seen something I hadn’t. And he was probably right.
My friend's words were instrumental in my summoning of courage, two years later. You read that well. It took me two full years to write again. Gewoon Doen, or what I learned from the Dutch was the first story of 2016. Three years after first having asked a friend to open a WordPress blog for me - because I found it too overwhelming to try it myself - I had had enough of my own inaction. I was determined to write and grow this platform, even if it was the last thing I did. For sure doing *the work* couldn't be worse than all my ruminating thoughts and agonizing frustration? My blog took off. In 2018 I was opening my own company in the KvK (the Dutch Chamber of Commerce.) The company - Ana Seas Media - enabled me to officially become a freelance copywriter and content creator. I saw my first works in print which felt wild to me. All the assignments I got came because of work I had done on amsterdive.com. I wrote for the deceased A-Mag and for EasyJet Traveller's Magazine, I wrote cultural agendas for a newspaper, I did social media and wrote for travel websites. I wasn't earning a living from my platforms, but rather creating for others, which was fine until it was not.
I remember proudly saying, back in 2016, Oh, I don't do this for the money (this, meaning: my blog.) And yet, I've been spending the gross of my weeks writing articles, editing essays, doing research, filming videos, editing videos, doing social media, the greater part of it unpaid. Not getting compensated started feeling like a burden. As if I didn't have to eat like everyone else. As if not being able to buy a book, go to a festival, or travel with friends was pleasurable. As if not getting paid were a badge of honor. I think there's a lot of value in delaying financial turnover, don't get me wrong. After all, these years of unpaid labor helped me have clarity on what it is that I find worth doing, what it is that my crowd actually needs, and what are businesses models I feel comfortable with. But I also know that the stance not in it for the money came from a place of fear. What better way to protect yourself from disappointment than by saying you don't want it in the first place? Creating work that people are enthusiastic about while not trying to make that way of life sustainable for me just stopped making sense. My goal has always been to live from my platforms, at least partially. And just like I was embarrassed to tell Francesco that I didn't know how to start, back in 2014, I've been embarrassed to admit both to this desire and my commercial incompetence. Last year, - finally - I applied to this entrepreneurship course for creatives and artists called Het Fundament, and - slightly to my surprise - got selected. And, as opposed to my typical resistance to business-related anything, I got very enthusiastic about learning. If you know what a growth mindset is, well, perhaps this is that. Nine years, one cancer, a pandemic, and a few mental breakdowns after, I'm learning the basic skills that will enable me to earn an income from the full-time work that I already do on my online platforms. So 2022 is the year of professionalization (and money) for me.
Being in a classroom with Dutch artists who are all trying to get ahead with their businesses was very refreshing. Because as much as my colleagues were not business-savvy, this is a country where people understand that everyone has a right to be compensated for work. The program Het Fundament was developed in partnership with the municipality of Amsterdam, and I think that says enough about the worth the Dutch assign to the arts. Very different from the mentality I grew up in within my homeland Portugal. So being in a place where your work’s worth is a given felt like a revelation. At first, I grappled with an inferiority complex (my colleagues make high-art, I don't.) Then I dealt with an avalanche of preoccupation, questions like How Do You Know This Is The Right Decision? What If You Start Hating Doing This? and assertions like You Will Be Overwhelmed. You Were Not Made To Be Self-Employed. You Are Not Consistent. So I had to remind myself that I had been selected to be there (external validation, but whatever.) Then I looked around and saw how it was not about speculating about catastrophic future scenarios, the use of my work, or the ethics of business (more about this one in the next paragraph.) My colleagues weren’t asking for permission. Like me, they were fed up with living paycheck to paycheck and fed up with dealing with a degree of deprivation and instability. So they were seeking tools and practical knowledge (again, the growth mindset.) They understood that the demand for their work will depend on how you frame your ideas, how you position yourself, in the building of momentum, in the consistency required by constant learning, experimenting, following through. There are many factors that play a part in this, and as an entrepreneur, you deal with all of them and try to make it work. When you're running your own company, there's no space for you to entertain doubts about the value you bring to the world. You intrinsically know that what you make matters. It won't matter for everyone - the same way that not all brands and companies serve the same public, - but it matters to your audience.
The word business has multiple definitions. The main ones in the Oxford Dictionary are 1) a person's regular occupation, profession, or trade; 2) commercial activity. The American edition of the Cambridge Dictionary on the other hand defines business as the activity of buying and selling goods and services, or a particular company that does this, or work in general rather than pleasure. And this work rather than pleasure is where things get complicated. Art (in the broader sense of the word) not only tends to be abstract, but on top of that, people still do it even if they aren't paid, because art is so innate to the human species. This lends itself to confusion. If it comes easy to you are you really entitled to charge for it? The dominant discourse about work in our culture implies that our jobs must involve sacrifice and dullness. Oh, and they must be measurable and concrete. So when we do something that is neither, (but yet it’s still work) we don't know how to deal with it. So if you make art of any kind, at least be poor: you are lucky enough for doing something you like anyway. And don’t think of getting involved in business, because business is dirty and greedy and soul-less. SO. MUCH. TO. UNTANGLE. The arts (in the broadest sense of the word) are such an organic thing to the human species that we tend to devalue them. And artists are the first ones to do this by saying we’re not in it for the money. We do it too when we continue to work for free. I mean, perhaps we are more passionate about our work than say, a lawyer or a factory worker because we get more meaning from it. And perhaps we didn’t start doing it with a money motivation, but objectively we need it just as the lawyer or the factory worker does. Exchanges in our society happen through money, and money is the thing that assigns value to goods and services (I’m not discussing if I agree with it or not, I’m just stating a fact,) so it’s not that creatives can live in a state of exception. So I am skipping the eternal mental chatter on the ethics of business, and sticking to the definition of business as in regular occupation, profession, or trade. My business is me earning an income from work, period.
Right from the start of Het Fundament each one of us was nudged to put into words WHY we do what we do, HOW we do that, and WHAT it is that we do, following a Simon Sinek framework. Many creatives + artists feel compelled to do their work out of a natural inclination or inexplicable desire. But professionalization implies expertise in a given field, and you need to be aware of what that expertise consists of. This knowledge is unimportant when you start a hobby (you're doing the thing for the pleasure it brings you,) but it is vital when you want to earn an income from your creative pursuits. It's the only way you can effectively communicate about your work. To navigate the market as entrepreneurs in creative disciplines knowing our Why, How, What is especially relevant. Because what we do is often abstract enough, and even more often devalued. We are the ones who know our work best. We created it. So it’s up to us to be the gatekeepers of its dignity. That starts by knowing what we do and articulating that well. When I’m creating my goal is to help spark lust for life in those around me. I’m a facilitator of connection and depth in people, and among people, especially folks with a background of migration like me. (WHY.) I do this via creative storytelling. (HOW.) I write essays and blogs. I make videos. I organize workshops and events. (WHAT.) The (start of the) making of the creativepreneur.
Feelings of unconfidence and discomfort kept creeping up throughout the whole course. Feelings of unconfidence and discomfort kept creeping up throughout the whole writing of this newsletter. I suspect that feelings of unconfidence and discomfort will keep creeping up throughout every step of the way. But I tried to pay close attention to what was underneath. What was the fear? There was a voice that kept nagging me, so I tried to listen to the specific words that were coming up. But what if you can’t? What if you’re just pretending that you can? These two are old as the hills. Oh, hello again, impostor syndrome, I’m not even going to waste time arguing with you, verdomme. But there was yet another question:
But what If You Start Hating This?
I mean, really? When I finally gave words to what I was thinking it sounded like such bullshit, such a non-question. Was I distracting myself from feeling uncomfortable by raising off-beat issues? Because that sounds like the definition of whataboutism: you raise so many future scenarios and assumptions that another gets overwhelmed with uncertainty and gives up before even trying. I wouldn’t pay two seconds of attention if someone else was using this technique with me. So whenever the voice of whataboutism shows up I tell it: If after a year of doing this I decide it is not for me, I stop doing it. Simple. But, FIRST, I need to actually TRY it. First, I go full-on. Then, after a year, I can assess and decide if it's good for me or not. And when the voice shuts up, it’s just me, creating, learning, trying, experimenting, and making progress. Just like in 2016, Gewoon Doen.
(to be continued)
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