46 Tips For Creatives I Learned in 46 Years

I turned 46 last week and celebrated my birthday with family and friends. On the day of my birthday, I jotted down some ideas that have helped me get to this point in life and I thought I would share them with you here. 

Here’s my list of 46 pieces of advice for creatives: 

  1. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Go after the things that scare you by setting stretch goals that take you out of your comfort zone. 
  2. Pursue things that bring you joy. Life is short, if you are not happy in your current situation, change it. 
  3. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Don’t let external advice (solicited and unsolicited) keep you from your internal practice of believing in yourself. I have found mindfulness to be my best friend in this situation. 
  4. Don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go as planned. Checks notes…things never go as planned. Adopt a flexible mindset that allows you to roll with things when they don’t go as expected. 
  5. Stay curious and keep learning. Committing to life-long learning was one of the best decisions I made in my adult life, especially after I stopped being a student. Read, write, ask questions, and never stop in your pursuit of knowledge. 
  6. Surround yourself with supportive people who believe in your vision. I have an incredible list of mentors whom I know I can call at a moment’s notice with questions about my life and career. Get your mentor group together now. 
  7. Take care of your mental and physical health. My overall quality of life is better when I prioritize my health. Walk, meditate, eat well, and take small steps to ensure you are on a healthy path. 
  8. Don’t compare yourself to others — everyone has their own path. I see a lot of creatives get stuck because their vision of success is ultimately the vision of someone else. Take the time to identify where you would like to go with your life and career. 
  9. Be open to new experiences and ideas. I challenge you to go see or hear a new work of art this week. Bonus points if the art you experience is different from the art you practice. 
  10. Don’t be afraid to fail. Creatives live in a world that does not accept failure as an option when it comes to the final product. However, experimentation and the development of new ideas are often built upon small doses of failure, which is a natural part of the creative process.
  11. Be persistent and don’t give up easily. I have seen the most success in my career simply by showing up consistently. Make stick-to-itiveness (yes, it is a word!) a priority. 
  12. Network and make connections with other creatives and professionals in your field. I built my network by being curious about others and listening louder than I speak. One great way to do this is to practice the 50 cups of coffee method. Identify 50 people in your field doing interesting things and offer to buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for a conversation. 
  13. Learn how to manage your finances and create a budget. I didn’t figure this out until my mid-30s and I, quite literally, paid for it. Pro tip: Creatives need to track income because it is often sporadic and irregular, as opposed to someone who earns a regular monthly paycheck. 
  14. Use your creative practice to develop a strong work ethic and discipline in other areas of your career. You have put countless hours into your creative practice, channel that energy into other aspects of your life and career and you will be unstoppable. 
  15. Be mindful of your time management and productivity. It’s important to set aside time for deep work each week. It’s more important to look back at how long it took to do certain tasks before you set your time for the following week. 
  16. Seek out constructive feedback and be open to criticism. Make sure you have a process to take feedback, reflect, and move forward so each bit of information you receive can be used for making positive steps in your creative pursuits. 
  17. Be willing to collaborate and work with others. Some of my best work has been done with creative peers. One word of caution: Set ground rules and expectations for the collaboration before you start. 
  18. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Creatives love to help other creatives. I have the mentors I mentioned in point number six on speed dial because I know I can call upon them for help at any time. 
  19. Take breaks and rest when you need it. Schedule breaks (short during the day, and longer vacations to decompress), your creative practice will thank you! 
  20. Don’t compromise your values for success. The place where I see the most conflict in this area is when creatives have to sacrifice values to find financial success, especially when ends don’t meet early in their career. My advice: Instead of taking creative work that pays the bills but compromises your values, take a job doing something outside your creative practice so that you can continue to center your creative practice on your terms. 
  21. Set achievable goals and track your progress. I like to set goals in three-year increments and track progress four times a year. 
  22. Learn how to deal with rejection and setbacks. Creatives tend to focus on milestones (exhibit, performance, new product) as their sign of success, which means that if something doesn’t go according to plan, it hits twice as hard. While I dislike rejection and setbacks as much as the next person, I try to set up as many smaller opportunities for rejection, setbacks, (and success) so I know how to move on quickly from larger moments of rejection. 
  23. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Experimentation is a creative’s secret weapon. Set aside time for regular experimentation in order to keep your creative practice fun. 
  24. Be open to different perspectives and viewpoints. Ask a lot of questions and be curious about the views of others, especially those with opposing views. 
  25. Take advantage of opportunities when they arise. The best way to do this is to have a flexible enough schedule so that you have the time to go after opportunities in the moment. I have accomplished this in the past by placing an opportunity block on my schedule each week. If I don’t plan it, it doesn’t happen. 
  26. Develop a strong sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Creatives spend a lot of time in relative isolation perfecting their craft. Use that to your advantage by taking time to reflect not only on your creative process but upon your outlook on the world around you. I have found meditation and journaling to be the best way to build self-awareness. 
  27. Focus on creating quality work rather than quantity. This is a no-brainer for creatives, but it’s worth writing down as a reminder that your value is not marked by the number of things you put out into the world. 
  28. Learn how to market and promote your work effectively. Like it or not, becoming proficient in social media, newsletter creation, and verbal communication is a huge part of a successful career as a creative. Take the time to build your audience now. 
  29. Stay up-to-date with industry trends and advancements. Subscribe to a trade magazine, join an affinity group dedicated to your creative practice, and follow industry leaders on social media. All will help you have a grasp on what is happening in the world around you. 
  30. Don’t be afraid to pivot and change direction if necessary. It is so difficult to know when to pivot to something else when you are buried in the work. Regular personal assessment of your progress is important and make sure you check in with your mentors and other individuals further along in their career before you make the change. 
  31. Embrace failure as a learning opportunity. In order to turn a failure into a positive experience, I give myself (a short amount of) time to let the failure set in and then reflect on what happened. Usually, I find that the failure wasn’t in the final product but in the process of producing the final product. Taking some time to reflect and subsequently tweaking my process always helps me the next time around. 
  32. Learn how to handle stress and anxiety. The things that cause stress and anxiety will not diminish as you get older. The earlier in life you can identify strategies for handling intense life moments, the better your quality of life will be. 
  33. Stay organized. I spend more time looking for things that I misplaced (both IRL and online) that it becomes a distraction to my creative process. The more organized you are, the more time you have to create beautiful things. 
  34. Prioritize your family. I’ll let you define family, but centering your relationship with them will make your creative practice better and more meaningful. 
  35. Get involved in your community and give back to others. If you want a place to find meaning in your life, join a non-profit board or donate your time to a community-based organization. 
  36. Create a supportive and positive environment for yourself. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. 
  37. Be authentic and genuine in your interactions with others. I spent a good portion of my 20s trying to fit in with people who ultimately had a different view of the world than me. When I realized I couldn’t be the truest version of myself around them, they slowly faded away. Being authentic is the only way to go when it comes to relationships. 
  38. Learn how to negotiate and advocate for yourself. You are your own best advocate. Know what you want before you head into every meeting and stay firm in your convictions. 
  39. Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges and responsibilities. I had a “say yes first” rule in my 20s and it prepared me for the life and career I have today. Say yes to new opportunities, even if they scare you. 
  40. Learn how to effectively communicate your ideas and vision. It took me too long to convey my ideas in the moment until I started a practice of blogging about fifteen years ago. Take the time to organize your thoughts as a creative and your path will likely come into focus. 
  41. Make a dollar online. Creatives have a tough time separating their income streams from an hour of time. Take the time to develop products that can be sold passively as an additional line of income. 
  42. Create a portfolio to showcase your work. Whether you’re showcasing your work on a website, a youtube channel, or IRL, a creative portfolio is one of the best ways for creatives to convey their ideas. 
  43. Take time to reflect and evaluate your progress and goals. I do this on an annual basis on my birthday and I know many creatives who do this on January 1st. Reflection is the key to any future success. 
  44. Keep a positive attitude and mindset. I believe everything happens for a reason, even rejection and setbacks. Having a positive attitude has kept me going and is an important part of my creative practice.
  45. Focus on integration instead of balance. There is no such thing as work/life balance for creatives, only integration. Focus on a creative practice that integrates both your work and your family and don’t look back. 
  46. Have fun! Sorry to be cliche but seriously, the life of a creative should always be fun. If it’s not, it might be time to start thinking about the pivot I spoke about in point number 30. 

I hope you found some of these tips helpful as you continue to pursue your own creative practice. 

Photo Credit: Headway

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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