Back in June, I made a list of 24 birthday goals to work on before turning 25 (this June). Two of those goals related to blogging: "Create a better blog banner" and "More video blogging." My desire to have a better banner soon gave way to an overall feeling that the visual style of my blog needed some updating, some cleaning up, and some major beautification.
Since I know very little about either html or graphic design (and don't have much money to pay a professional), this goal sat on the back burner for a while. Each day it bothered me more and more that my blog's look didn't match the quality or style of my content.
I began to suspect that its amateurish design was holding me back from impressing possible future sponsors and affiliates as well as misinforming new readers about my level of commitment and the quality of my content.
Finally, I decided that something had to be done. Even though I felt ill-equipped to take on the project all by myself, I decided that I simply had to push myself to do just that. After reading some success stories from the Blog (Design) Love E-Course, I psyched myself up and took the plunge.
The price-sticker on the course was a lot less than paying a professional designer would have been. And, even though I knew that I wasn't as good a designer as a professional would be, I also knew that no one else in the world knew my style as well or cared about my blog as much as I did. That had to count for something, I told myself.
Under the incredibly comforting and inspiring guidance of teachers Elsie and Elise, I began to redesign my blog one step at a time, gaining confidence and a clearer image of what I wanted every step of the way.
Meanwhile, I was pushing myself creatively in another field: photography. I've surprised myself in the last couple years by falling more and more deeply in love with an art form I initially took up as nothing more than a means to an end.
I bought my first DSLR in the spring of 2011 because I wanted to improve the quality of my outfit photos. I had no idea that, by reading up on photography in an effort to push myself to be worthy of such a nice camera, I would soon discover a love and a talent for creating unique photographic images.
I owe a lot to photographer Kevin Meredith, whose books are profoundly inspiring and hugely informative, while managing to never overwhelm or intimidate me.
So, at about the same time as I was pushing myself to create a new blog design, I also took a new, exciting, and somewhat scary step in my photography: I decided to start building up a portfolio in the hopes of turning it into a side business. This meant soliciting clients, doing actual "shoots," and having the confidence to believe that my work was legitimate.
Both the blog design and the photography also meant pushing myself to learn an entirely new skill: Photoshop. I'd played around with it in the past, but it was time to get serious.
The convergence of all these events, made the last couple of months a particularly interesting time in my creative life. It was a tangle of projects and ideas that created equal parts stress, fear, pride, and inspiration.
In the last five or six weeks I've shot head shots for two actresses (one an old friend, one a stranger), experimented with free lensing technique, played around with building a photography website, learned a lot more photoshop, learned more html, designed and launched a new look for my blog, and created my first edited video blog post.
And while I'm proud of all the specific skills I've learned lately, my biggest take-away lesson is this:
Challenging yourself, setting goals, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone . . . these are the ways to reach that magic place where you've achieved something you can be proud of.
And the happiness that magic place brings is so much bigger than the fear you have to face when you take that first big step.
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Along with that big message, I want to share a few tips that I've learned in my own efforts to push myself creatively and go after my creative goals. I hope they'll help you in your own creative endeavors!
Maybe you're a baker, and you think that what you're supposed to want is to open your own bakery. But really, you just want to sell cookies at a local shop, or to start a catering company, or to write a cookbook, or to launch a baking blog.
Or maybe you're a comedian, and everyone expects you to want to host a talk show. But really, you want to write for a talk show, or you want to do improv, or you want to start a podcast, or you just want to be a road comic.
You get the idea. There are lots of different dreams. Don't let anyone tell you what your dream should be. Only you know what it really is, and only you know the goals to set to get yourself there.
Announcing your goals, even if you just have the courage to confide in one person, helps make them real, and helps hold you accountable.
When I decided that I wanted to build toward making photography an actual profession, I was afraid to even tell my fiancé Ryan about it. What if he thought I was being unrealistic? Could I ever succeed at something if he didn't believe in me?
But once I bit the bullet and said it out loud and saw that people didn't laugh at me or think I was being unrealistic, the whole thing suddenly felt a bit more achievable.
There will always be a point where pushing yourself really isn't fun anymore. This is the point where a lot of people give up.
The secret is to have faith that the hard part won't be forever, and that the reward will make all your hard work worth it. It's always ok to take a break, but remember that there will be hard parts and nothing can make them go away except pushing through them.
Just remember to come back.
I have trouble following this advice myself. When I get obsessed with something, I can not put it down. I've been known the hunch over a sewing project until my back is so soar I can't see straight. I've been know to get so caught up in a project that I forget to eat all day long . Suddenly it's 10 p.m. and I'm cranky and exhausted and my stomach hurts! I've also been known to ignore a full bladder for hours, holding it like I'm on a road trip because I just keep telling myself, "just do this next thing and then you can use the bathroom."
This kind of behavior is not healthy and, as you can imagine, it doesn't lead to the most enjoyable creative experience. I don't expect most people have a much trouble walking away from a problem as I do. But it's still good for everyone to remember that sometimes it's good to take a break.
Often, it's only when you take your mind off the problem and allow your brain to focus on something else, that your subconscious is able to find the answer you were looking for, leading to that coveted eureka moment.