I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what kind of game I am playing in my business and career. Maybe I’ve been listening to a few too many GaryVee podcasts, but this idea of “playing the long game” has really resonated with me.
Here’s what playing the long game looks like:
- Saying no to clients, projects, or opportunities that are not right for you.
- Being okay with a less-profitable year when you’re changing and evolving.
- Accepting, or even celebrating, when folks unfollow or are turned off by what you’re doing.
- Taking a part-time job while figuring out your next steps.
- Setting healthy boundaries to avoid burn out.
Let me explain.
Up until this year in my business, I’d been so desperate and focused to just get by. To make ends meet. To be able to pay rent. And while those are all important (and inevitable focuses in the early years of business, for sure) I started to realize how this scarcity and short-term mindset was not serving me. I was not showing up how I wanted to, and consequently, my life and career did not look the way I’d hoped they would.
I began to say no to potential clients that clearly wanted a quick, cheap, one-off design project. I called in clients who wanted long-term partnerships, which translated into a more sustainable income, not to mention happier and more rewarding working relationships.
I said no to many other projects, including “social influencer” and art-related ones, because they simply didn’t feel right. A dollar is never worth sacrificing the integrity of the business I’ve built.
Speaking of dollars, in 2019 my business’s gross income increased, but net income decreased. That means I had more sales, but also more expenses. This happened because in 2019 I made a conscious effort to shift my business in a way that I’d always dreamed — to work more in the art-side of things rather than with design clients.
Because my overhead increased (prints, canvas, shipping, etc.) my net income decreased. When I saw the numbers compared to last year it felt like a kick in the gut, but I quickly remembered how this year I spent so much more time doing what I LOVE.
I recalled my vision — to be a working artist with a handful of highly-creative design client projects every year — and I took a breath. This is a step closer to being a reality. And nothing is a failure about that.
Given this shift in my work and vision from previous years, I naturally gained and lost followers and subscribers across all platforms. Instead of deeply internalizing these arbitrary numbers as “rejection,” I focused on the ones that were still here. How can I serve them? How can I share more experiences, knowledge, insights? I remembered it’s natural for numbers to fluctuate, especially for artists who are constantly evolving and experimenting with new mediums and concepts.
When times got tough and I felt a major shift in my business and vision coming, I got a part-time job working with horses at a local barn. The cold, fresh air first thing in the morning a few days a week served me in so many ways and the little bit of financial cushion let my worries soften. I knew it wouldn’t last forever. I trusted I would find my way. I just needed a moment to breathe. A moment to pause and feel into the right next steps.
And, most recently, I began taking emotional inventory. There have been so many amazing, high moments in my career, as well as soul-crushing low ones. I talked with my therapist about the rollercoaster self-employment has been for me.
She brought up the idea of evening out the highs and lows. What if instead of shouting from the mountain tops one day and being unable to get out of bed the next, we eased both extremes a notch?
I’ll be honest, when she first presented the idea, I bucked at it. I LOVE the high highs. There’s nothing better than a super-caffeinated, productive day when you have one of your best-performing Instagram posts and then an art sale and then client after client with positive feedback.
But as much as I love those highs, I hate the lows equally as much. To equate your worth with your productivity or how the world perceives you is a recipe for depression, anxiety, and existential angst. And so not worth the alternative momentary highs.
I’m still figuring this one out, but so far it looks like practicing more mindfulness — starting and ending my day in an intentional way. Placing healthy boundaries on email and social media. Staying hydrated and putting good food into my body (limiting caffeine to one cup of coffee/day). Having a life outside of my art and business. Taking one full day off each week to not work or be on my phone. And just being kinder to myself as an evolving artist, businesswoman… and human.