Shouldn’t This Be Easier?

2-20-24_Shouldn_t_this_be_easier

Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hi again, welcome back! I’m your host, Marie Greene, and in today’s episode I want to talk about a struggle that every single one of us will face (and probably has faced) in our lives: the doubt that comes when other people make things look so easy. And they don’t feel easy for you.

This is a story I think I’ve shared before, but do you remember me telling you about the time that I took a pottery class? I knew – like I knew in my soul – that pottery was one of my callings in life. I just knew it. I felt it. You know what I mean?

And I signed up for a class – after years of dreaming of it – and I sat down to the wheel and realized, it was hard. It did not come naturally to me. It didn’t come naturally to me on my second or third class, either. It took me weeks to even get a reasonable handle on it. And yet other people in class took to it more quickly, which felt like a personal attack on my ego, because how could I know so clearly that I was meant to do this, and yet – not be a natural? Why?

Have you ever tried something that you expected to be easy, and instead you just ended up struggling and feeling frustrated?

There is an illusion of ease that comes from seeing other people from the outside. It might be watching a friend’s online business explode, or seeing someone you know try something for the first time and be a natural – like out of nowhere. There are moments, when other people will seem to have it all figured out, when things appear to be clicking and yet, for you… it feels hard. It feels stressful.

And if there’s something I’ve learned in the last decade working closely with really successful people in a range of different industries it’s this: EVERYONE struggles sometimes. I don’t care how successful they appear to be, but behind the illusion is the reality. And that reality is that everything looks better and easier from the outside.

If you’ve heard the old adage that comparison is the thief of joy – man, that’s true. It really is. You can feel great about your own progress, but then just as soon as you see it up against someone else’s – who seems like they’re doing much, much better – all of a sudden, your own progress can feel pretty lackluster.

But in the age of social media, it’s so much worse than ever. Back in the day, when I didn’t know any other knitters, I had no idea how anyone else was doing. Remember those days? We didn’t know how good we have it. But now, we get to connect with people all over the world – at any time of day or night – and the internet is amazing for connecting us! AND it shoves all the other people’s journeys right in our faces, making it almost impossible to NOT compare yourself.

We’ve talked about this before, but of course other people are sharing their highlight reels. Of course they are. No one is going to post about how dang hard it is to start a new creative path, or build a business, or try a brand new kind of art. Even people who seem like they’re sharing the messy back-story, are still tailoring what you see. No one wants to show off the moments when they feel like an absolute phony or a failure. No one wants to share when they feel uncertain and alone and overwhelmed. Any meaningful journey can have its low points, and there is going to be some struggle – that resistance is part of the human experience. But if we think we’re the only ones to experience it, we’re wrong.

The creative path is going to be filled with challenges, because it’s part of the adventure of exploring new territory. It wouldn’t be creative if it was already spelled out for you. So often when I work with knitters, I think there are moments when they’re surprised (and maybe even a little bit disappointed) that there will be moments that go completely off script. And they have to figure their way through it. I think we want things to be cut and dry – to be clear and to know what to expect, and that’s just not how this works. I wish it was, because I like to know what to expect. I don’t love unpleasant surprises. And I don’t love it when things are harder than I thought they’d be. Do you? I mean, who does? If you’re someone who loves that kind of surprise, then please tell me your secrets. Because I don’t even know that works.

But it’s important that we know – right from the get-go – that it’s not always going to be simple, or easy, or even follow a path that we expect. Things are going to surprise us, and not always in a good way.

If we go into it, knowing that there are going to be some speedbumps, then it’s not going to completely derail us when we get there. It’s so much harder if we expect it to be easy and we don’t create any space for things to be tough – we kind of have to plan for that, because otherwise it could absolutely pull the rug right out from under us. I would hate for anyone to quit because they didn’t know it was going to be hard, and I would feel even worse if they were to be watching me from the sidelines and think that I’m making it look easy, and therefore it should also be easy for them.

I mean, no one wants to show up in their business or in their creative pursuits and just focus on all the ways it’s hard or all the challenges that you had overcome to get to where you are, but I think that because we don’t share those, it can look like the exact opposite of that. Just because we don’t see that from the outside doesn’t mean it’s not super tough for the person holding it all up. When it feels tough for you, it’s important to know that you are not alone. It’s tough for everyone, whether they’re showing it or not.

There are so many amazing success stories of people who overcame incredible odds, but one story that I love – that I think is relatable to many of us because it’s not some extreme situation, it’s pretty much a situation that almost any of us might find ourselves in. It’s the story of Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Did you know that she started as a door to door fax machine salesperson? Yeah. She did. And at some point along her journey, she had this idea to cut the feet out of pantyhose and turn them into a product for helping women feel slim and smooth in their clothes. She took her idea and turned it into a product, and it did not take off. She talks about how she would stand in department stores trying to talk people into trying her product, and how she would secretly put little display boxes of Spanx on the checkout stands – without permission – to try to get people to buy them. It took a while for store managers to realize that she didn’t even have permission to do that.

She was scrappy and smart and she didn’t give up – even when no one wanted what she was making. People didn’t catch on to her vision right away. But at the age of 41, Sara Blakely became a billionaire after selling a large portion of her company.

Look – if you took a class with me in Las Vegas in 2022, then you may remember a time when I tried Spanx for the first time and they very quickly rolled down my body while I was teaching. The word Spanx became our class code word. I’m not saying Spanx are perfect, but what I am saying is that if someone looked at Sara’s journey from the outside, it might look like an overnight success. But it wasn’t. There were YEARS of failure. But what she had was tenacity and she didn’t give up.

Most of us won’t likely turn our ideas into billions of dollars – although if you do, that’s amazing, and I am cheering you on – but for the rest of us, that’s probably not even our goal. That’s okay – but the lesson here is that the journey we see on the outside is not the same as the real journey. There are heartbreaks and struggles and failures – and we will all have to experience those along the way.

Running into challenges is not a sign that you’re on the wrong path. If it were, I don’t think any of us would ever get anywhere with our dreams and ideas. We have to go into the creative journey knowing that there will be times that we might want to quit. I’ll be honest with you, sometimes I want to quit. And I love my work. But sometimes I feel tired and frustrated and I just want it to be easier. But then I get a good night’s sleep and I wake up and remember all of the good things, and the wonderful people who make this journey worth it.

Things will always look easier when someone else is doing it. But we have to manage our own expectations, and recognize that we’re only seeing a small sliver of the real story. And that’s okay – I think it’s really important for all of us to recognize that no one has to show us the ugly hard parts for us to be empathetic and aware that they are there. And as we navigate our own creative journeys, we can recognize the ways that our own expectations may be a little bit unrealistic.

There’s a thing called Realistic Optimism, and this is something that I’m striving for, and I think it’s a healthier approach to optimism. It’s the experience of balancing optimism with the practical understanding of what has to happen in order for things to work out the way we’d like them to. I love making plans, but I swear that every time I think I have it all planned out, I wake up to a curve ball and I have to pivot. It’s exhausting to constantly have to stay ahead of whatever the next curve ball will be – and so far 2024 has been FULL OF THEM for me. I don’t know about anyone else, but this year is off to the weirdest possible start. Nothing that I’ve planned has come to fruition the way I expected. But I also know that there’s a chance that this is how it will go, so I always have a Plan B and a Plan C and a Plan D in my back pocket just in case. It’s not that I’m not optimistic – I am. But I also know to be realistic, because sometimes Plan A isn’t going to work the way I think it will.

When you set any goals, but especially creative goals, remember to leave room in the margins for the unexpected. Because there will always be something you didn’t plan for. It might be the loss of support from someone you were counting on, or a health crisis, or a change in your living situation, or a job loss – there are just so many ways things can change. So if you leave space for that change, then it won’t feel quite so unsettling. You’ll just know that this part of the process. Creativity is often born from struggle – it’s NOT ONLY born there – but sometimes it is. When we can manage our own expectations, it’ll be easier to embrace the reality as it unfolds, rather than expecting something that just isn’t realistic. Being flexible and adaptable are skills that will carry you so much further than you think.

When you plan for things to be a little bit unexpected, then you can reframe challenges as part of the journey – instead of seeing them as a sign that maybe you’re just on the wrong path. I’ll tell you this – there is absolutely no way I would be where I am today if I gave up when things were hard. Even if they were hard for a long time. When you believe in what you’re doing, and you believe you are on the right path, keep believing – even when it gets hard. Even when other people make it look easy. Because trust me, it’s not easy for them. It’s not. Because we are all humans and every single one of us is doing our very best on any given day, and that best self is not always perfect. You’ll get knocked down, but I hope you get up again. And I hope you know that the right path will sometimes be hard, no matter how hard you work or how talented you are.

Brighter days do come. I promise. Stick it out and hold on for those.

Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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