How I deal with creative overwhelm


In creativity tips Posted

For overwhelmed artists

I remember sitting baffled, my backpack still in my lap, at the start of an elective course during my Masters. The course was a small one, and was geared towards teaching designers how to start their own design agency after university. The lecturer asked all of us what our motivations were for choosing the course. Some had a really clear idea of what they wanted to do with the knowledge acquired. But the lecturer did not exactly expect me to say the next sentence: “I don’t really see myself as an entrepreneur, but the disciplines that this course addresses I want to develop 100%”. I won’t go too much into detail about the lecturer’s response, but let’s just say the conclusion was I could best spend my time elsewhere. This struck a chord with me. Why on earth should I not CHOOSE to spend time learning something I don’t know much about yet? Something I want to deepen my skill set with? It was a situation that resonates with me now, as an entrepreneur, because it shows the things I’d rather follow than fear.


Following your eagerness to learn

Looking back at this situation is now funny to me. To think that I have ever said the words “I don’t really see myself as an entrepreneur” would make most people that are close to me smile a little. In the years after accidentally landing my first freelance design gig, I built towards a business where I sell, license and create art for various different clients. Interestingly, that accidental project began a few months after taking the course I talked about before – isn’t it funny how that stuff works? The reason I am now putting myself out there as a creative is a simple one: I followed my eagerness to learn and grow as a person.


What is weird about thinking back to that moment, is the fact that there is such a clear difference in how I approached learning something new, versus the expectations that were apparently there regarding the enrolled students. I think it is also the thing that is special about my personality and the thing that makes me an excellent example of an entrepreneurial personality. My insatiable hunger to learn, develop, grow, and find topics that can help me get ahead. Propelled by my own hunger for information, I can sometimes dig deep into topics that I only gotten interested in a week ago. This is also the reason why, aside from my artwork, I looove teaching as well.


Follow the thing you like best

Taking bold risks in your career to follow the path you believe in most can be pretty freaking frightening. I remember having freelanced for a year or so, in the meantime finishing my Masters degree and working part time as a designer in an IT company, and realizing I had to choose a freelance focus. In that time I was doing some app design, some web design, some consulting, and only a little bit of illustration projects. The thing was that the times I was working on my part time job, I was already fulfilled with tech projects. So even though those tech projects covered the starting cost of my business, a laptop, a drawing tablet, and a ton of art supplies easily, I decided to focus on illustration jobs. That was also around the time I rebranded to where I currently am and started building my portfolio, online shop, and designed new workflows for client projects. I talked about it to my friends and family so much, I was afraid their ears were going to fall off or take a spontaneous holiday.. What if the thing that allowed me to save up for after college, money I made ALL by myself, would suddenly go away? Could I go get the clients back? I didn’t know. But I decided to go with my gut – after quite some research, that is. You could definitely say I’m an organized chaos muppet.

Listen to your instinct to fight back

There have definitely been moments where I was scared out of my socks. Truth be told, I found the whole admin stuff a bit overwhelming, especially in the beginning. From the get go, I have been very organized with my finances and contracts, even though they have definitely improved. Still, I felt really overwhelmed when issues popped up I didn’t know how to solve. In those moments, I think I have said twice “I’m going to quit. This sucks so hard.” But, the thing that kept me going was that I always knew someone I could ask for advice. That was my instinct to fight the fear and inform myself, so it would not be so scary anymore. There are many ways to connect with entrepreneurs, also as an introvert or even digital nomad. The key is to build connections with people you think are doing great work, people who are coming up with you. Those are the people that can help you out in those moments and help you fight back.


Pursue collaboration

Speaking of the people you come up with, I totally understand the instinct to hide at home/at your office space and just dig into the work. That can work really well, but in my experience only for so long. I personally love those days where the only people I talk to are the mailman, the people at my fav coffee place, and my significant other. Yet, the whole point of business is to get your work and your mission to the right people. It can be hard to market your work or yourself when you have zero audience, when you just start out. That is why I loved connecting to other creatives, which helped me fight the overwhelm and get info I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. New ideas, new info, new connections, new opportunities, people who truly understand you.. all that is the true value of collaboration!


The thing I loved most about starting my own business right out of college was that it didn’t have to be perfect right away. Because I started while studying I had time to experiment with my branding, my clients and the type of work. I could switch between the security of having a job and a freelance career, and learn and play without having to think about paying my rent all the time. It brought me to this point, where I am sometimes still overwhelmed or anxious about where I am going, but I do have good collaborations, business friends, a fighter’s instinct, and my eagerness to learn. I know what defines me the most out of that lineup, and it is not the overwhelm. What I really would love for those of you who dream of making bold decisions to take away, is to never follow fear. Please, follow one of the above options instead, or find intrinsic motivations that describe you way better! You will be so glad you did.

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