I admit, I have a hard time being present in the present – I’m constantly thinking ten steps ahead, and I’m often reflecting on the past. This quality can be a blessing and a curse, but I used to believe it was only the latter. It’s not particularly healthy or practical to go through life always thinking about the future or living in the past. For a long time, I fought against my impulse to plan ahead and my tendency to reminisce.
Recently, I started to explore the benefits of looking forward to the future and back to the past. It’s easier to see the potential payoff of the former. Most things in life can benefit from some sort of “future planning,” from making dinner to building a business. On the other hand, seeing the advantages of reflecting on the past is a little more challenging. Sure, we don’t want history to repeat itself, and we could all do to learn from our past mistakes. However, constantly thinking about the past can spark regret, remorse, or a longing for a life that no longer exists.
In all my days spent reminiscing, I’ve been guilty of pining for the “good old days” of my youth. The last time I started to spiral down the road of yesteryear, I didn’t stop myself or beat myself up for getting nostalgic. Instead, I decided to dig deeper. I stopped focusing previous cities, past friends, and old haunts and started focusing on who I was during that time. I began tapping into my former self – looking through old photos, reading entries in old notebooks, and listening to old music. After about a week of devoting some time each day to this internal exploration, I found myself reconnecting with my former self and bringing her into the present.
As I’ve continued to approach the practice of reminiscing differently, I’ve noticed the presence of several selves living within me simultaneously, reuniting like old friends who had dearly missed each other after being apart for years. I’ve felt more energized, full, and content. I feel like I’ve found parts of myself that were lost.
My experience aside, here’s why I believe you can benefit from reflecting on your former self: when we’re in our youth, we’re typically more creative, imaginative, adventurous, spontaneous, and open-minded. The moment we’re thrust into adulthood, those youthful qualities tend to dissipate, and we become more practical, logical, and judgmental. Taking time to reflect on, tap into, and reconnect with my former self has helped to reignite some of those wild, hopeful, and youthful ideals within me. So, next time you find your mind wandering to the past, don’t shy away – dig deeper.
After writing this post, I discovered this interesting article on a similar subject that was published on the Freelancers Union blog back in 2015. Take a look if you’d like some additional reading on the topic of nostalgia and creativity from a more scientific perspective!
Sometimes our best creative ideas come from a spark of inspiration. Something ignites a creative fire within us, and we have to capture it right then and there. We run to our nearest notebook, we pick up a camera or a canvas, or we rush to record a voice memo. Sometimes, creativity flows from us, so much so we can barely contain it. But most of the time, this is not how creativity works.
Whether in our jobs or in our personal creative endeavors, we’re often called upon to be creative. We have to write creative content for a product description, design a captivating visual for a marketing campaign, or compose engaging talking points for a conference. In these moments, we not only have to be creative on the spot but also have to draw creative inspiration from an external source instead of from within ourselves. This is when we must have our creative muscle fueled and ready to work, and this is why making a habit of being creative is so imperative.
When we’re required to be creative, our imaginative juices often seize up or become stifled. It’s tough to do any work under pressure, let alone be creative under pressure. If you make a habit of being creative and consistently tap into your creativity, you’re helping to develop your creative muscle so it can be equipped to perform on command.
Next time you’re called to be creative, turn to the creative habit you’ve established and flex your creative muscle. Move your body, whether you’re just getting up from your desk, stretching, and going on a short walk or whether you’re taking a yoga or spin class. Simply change your surroundings without intensive movement. Go to a museum to soak in other creative works, draw in an adult coloring book, listen to one of your favorite playlists, or read a book by one of your favorite authors. Talk to others and observe their language, mannerisms, and quirks. Most importantly, have faith in the power of your creative muscle and its ability to perform.
If you simply wait for creativity to happen – for that creative spark or lightning bolt or trigger – you’re missing out on a lot of creative opportunities. Creativity is always available to you. The more you use your creative muscle, the stronger it becomes.
Ebb and flow is a natural part of freelancing. If you’re like me, you have a few steady, ongoing clients, and the rest of the work is project-based. It often seems that you’ll start a few one-off projects around the same time. You’ll complete them in a few weeks or months and realize you’ve been so busy working that you’ve failed to pitch or apply to new clients. For a week (or two or three), you’ll coast along with your long-term clients in one of those inevitable ebbs.
Having freelanced full-time for over two years, I’m no stranger to the ebbs. In my earlier freelancing days, my initial reaction was to panic, desperately start pitching and applying to any opportunity I could find, and beat myself up for my lack of forethought. It took me a (very) long time to use the inevitable ebbs effectively and allow myself to actually take advantage of the downtime.
Next time you’re in between freelance projects, remember that it’s the nature of the industry. Don’t panic! Set aside time each day to continue your ongoing work and pitch and apply to those clients and projects (and only those clients and projects) that align with your brand and expertise. During your next lull, don’t forget to take time to focus your business and yourself. Below are 20 things to work on when work is slow:
10 Ways to Work on Your Business
- Make updates to your portfolio or website
- Catch up on writing case studies for past and current clients
- Gather testimonials from past and current clients
- Make sure your contract and policies are up to date
- Implement something new, like a newsletter, blog, or social channel
- Check in with your long-term clients
- Amp up your social media presence
- Develop a new offering, product, or service
- Brainstorm how to grow your existing clients
- Revisit your business plan and long-term goals
10 Ways to Work on Yourself (and Your Creativity)
- Spend more time outside
- Try something new – learn a new hobby or skill
- Amp up your workout routine
- Read a book
- Spend time with others – try a breakfast, lunch, or coffee date
- Explore your city like a tourist
- Travel to another city
- Do something spontaneous
- Cook dinner, bake something, or try a new recipe
- Get back to you and do what you love
Many of us chose to freelance full-time, yet we forget to embrace that flexibility and power to shape our own schedules. We look at our roommates, partners, or friends, and we tell ourselves we should be working nine to five, Monday through Friday. We must remember why we’ve taken the road less traveled in our careers: for the opportunity to pave our own way and build unconventional businesses.
Growing up as an only child, you get very creative at finding ways to entertain yourself. One summer, on a particularly long and lazy day, I remember starting an idea jar. I carefully cut several pieces of paper into small strips, grabbed a box of crayons, and started writing down every activity I could possibly think of. Then I went to the kitchen cupboard, grabbed a mason jar, and filled it with all the little strips. After taking some time to make an elaborate label for the jar, I gave it a shake to mix up all the creative goodness. Time and time again, I returned to this jar, usually out of boredom but sometimes out of the thrill of letting the fates decide how I might spend my afternoon. I continually added to the jar whenever a new idea struck me, and the possibilities grew and grew.
As a self-employed individual, it’s often challenging to know how to productively use breaks throughout the day. Most times, I’ll turn to whatever book I happen to be reading or my coloring book, or, if weather permits, I’ll go outside and take a short walk around my neighborhood. But lately, I’ve been looking for something new, and I remembered the idea jar I created when I was a kid. I immediately had an ah-ha moment: I need an adult creativity jar.
So, I reverted back to my eleven-year-old self. I carefully cut several pieces of paper into small strips, grabbed a box of crayons, and started writing down every creative exercise I could possibly think of. I started with each creative habit I’ve shared in this series – it seemed like the logical jumping off point. Then I continued to brainstorm and get specific – go outside, sit in once place for fifteen minutes, and write down at least fifteen observations… take a book from the shelf, open it to a random page, choose a word or phrase, and start to free write… pick a playlist, put it on shuffle, and dance it out to at least three songs (thanks for the idea, Jess Grippo!).
For this month’s AOC Blog Creative Habit Challenge, start with a jar and fill it with every creative exercise you can possibly think of. Get started with the concepts from this series, then let the ideas flow from there. I’m always on the hunt for new creative activities and sources of inspiration, so please share one of the original ideas from your creativity jar using the hashtag #AOCBlogCreative habit.
As much as I’m artistic and right-brained, I’m equally logical and left-brained. I’ve spent much of my life mediating a war between the creative and the control freak within me. Common sense has talked me out of numerous leaps of faith. Any friend or family member would probably say I’m one of the most cautious and least impulsive people they know. Yet when it comes to written language, from poetry to the writing on this blog, the right side almost always wins. The world may not always be my playground, but words most definitely are.
Ultimately, when I find a balance between the two sides, I feel it’s a pretty spectacular combination. I possess a little more restraint than the super-artistic and a little more imagination than the ultra-rational. As a creative entrepreneur, the blend of right and left brain usually works to my advantage. But, when it comes to just wearing one hat, namely my creative hat, I’ve rarely been able to completely silence the judgmental murmur from the other side. A part of me has always longed for that reckless abandonment that so many creatives possess.
This year I’ve somewhat unintentionally started to break down these left-brained barriers. I let spontaneity in before logic had a chance to shoot it down. I made same-day plans with a friend, something many people do on the regular but something I’d sworn off since high school. I bought a plane ticket less than 24-hours before the flight departed, and the only downside was that I flew Southwest, missed the 24-hour check-in, and got assigned to group B, number 17. I invested in a DSLR two days before my first NYFW, and instead of letting the beast of a camera intimidate me into submission, I strapped the sucker on and took my first amateur photos from the second row of a runway.
I know plenty of people who consistently make last minute plans, take unplanned trips, and make big purchases on a whim, but I am none of those people. To me, these recent happenings were genuine feats, and in doing them, I finally got to experience that rush in throwing caution to the wind. I truly feel and believe I’m evolving into a better creative person because of it.
So for this month’s AOC Blog Creative Habit Challenge, do something that makes you scared or uncomfortable. Conquer your own fears, push your own boundaries, and get out of your comfort zone. We’re all different, so remember that your exploit may seem easy or commonplace to someone else. As always, I love to see you share your experience using the hashtag #AOCBlogCreativeHabit. For more creative challenges, check out the full series.