My style of creative direction isn’t for everyone. And I even feel guilty about it. I sometimes find myself providing a heads up to new team members that I mean no offense, and to please remember that I respect their awesome efforts when I review their work.
You see, I need to eliminate what’s distracting me from the best work laid out before me—only then can I focus on how to extract the high potential pearls. This often means slashing a huge “X” through six of ten lovingly created pieces of concept work. Logos, headlines or ideas a designer or writer toiled over, nurtured and refined, destroyed with my pitch black, medium tipped Sharpie. And I’ve tried leaving those distractions on the table. Especially for the sake of a young, maybe sensitive creative person, I’ve tried very hard to just not look at the blemishes.
It doesn’t work for me.
That feels really mean, I know, but I’ve learned to play to my strength. After 20+ years in the business, I know what works for me. Only by removing what’s distractingly “off” can I focus on the best possible outcome. It works so well that I’ve never had anyone even bring it up in a review or feedback session.
Perhaps it’s because I prepared them for it. Maybe it’s not that unique of a style. Or maybe they’re just afraid to complain—I hope not. But it’s efficient. It works. The really great creatives will pull those concepts back onto the table if they believe they’re worth fighting for—and I LOVE when they do that! It means they’re confident. It means I’ve created a safe place for them to communicate. And sometimes they win me over with a few tweaks here and there.
All roads lead to success in this scenario because it even helps teach creative people how to stand up for their ideas. Trust me, this is excellent preparation for their life ahead. Many people will metaphorically strike their ideas down with imaginary Sharpies!
The other day, I realized that if this style has proven so effective in my leadership position, why don’t I use it in my own life? Why not slash out the things distracting me, crowding me with doubt and leading to dead ends in my day to day? (This is probably common sense to other people, but my brain took the scenic route…don’t come for me.)
Using this concept: instead of STARTING to do things (which takes a lot of effort, let’s be real), I’m going to STOP doing things. Six things to be exact. It’s a brand thing with me, everything in sixes. Now I won’t say STOPPING things is easy, but it feels less daunting than adding six more things to my plate. By plate, I mean calendar. By calendar, I mean the thing I can’t even read because there are overlaps and color coding and tabs and honestly, it’s scary. But what if there were LESS THINGS? What if I lived life like my favorite Bob Newhart Mad TV sketch? (Watch it all the way. I promise, it’s worth it.)
1. I will STOP apologizing for taking vacations and time off.
Let’s be honest: we all talk about work-life balance, embracing the break and supporting our employees who need a breather. But the second a fellow leader or entrepreneur announces a vacation, they’re met with either supporting, loving encouragement, or STILL TO THIS DAY, judgement. I honestly think it’s jealousy. I will put it in writing: I am jealous each time someone tells me about a vacation these days. Happy for them, but still: jealous as hell. Truth be told, there is still a ton of passive-aggressive guilt around vacations and I’m done with it.
There was something nice about working at Wendy’s when I was in high school and, frankly, in the hourly work model in and of itself. There was a starting time and an ending time. If you had to work past your ending time, someone was paying you overtime. And when you left, you LEFT. That’s how I intend to look at my career moving forward. Certainly, no one’s paying me overtime for Saturdays. (But I’ve definitely conned myself into thinking they did.)
2. I will STOP working past 8 o’clock at night.
It turns out, age isn’t ALL bad. Sure, there are many more doctor appointments than one would like. And wrinkles. And weird pains out of nowhere. BUT, there’s wisdom too! Knowing yourself is a big part of that wisdom with your side of wrinkles. I know myself. If I work even 15 minutes past 7:30pm, I’m done for. No sleep for me that night. And please know that I don’t drink ANY caffeine. It’s just my brain. When I have to catch that third wind for the home stretch to wrap up ‘just one more project’ before shutting it down for the day…let’s just say, it doesn’t get shut down. My mind starts humming and buzzing with all the things I should be doing. I’m solving problems, I’m planning conversations. I’m like a movie montage where someone took that ‘Limitless’ pill. Until about 4:45am. Then I crash. Alarm at 7am is an enormous asshole at that point.
3. I will STOP working with clients that don’t bring us joy.
This will be a hard one. I’m not even going to pretend to be brave about this. Clients = money. Money = paying employees and the rent. But you know what? We’re really good at our jobs. We pour our hearts and our souls into the work we create for our clients. I value humility and am so grateful for the amazing opportunities we get each day, but we also are talented and smart and deserve to work with other talented, smart people who enjoy their jobs and the amazing work we create. If you can’t get on-board with creating a respectful and positive experience together, “Bye Felicia”.
Putting this in writing is the first step, because it comes with accountability. Eeek.
4. I will STOP being afraid of big decisions.
I know big decisions need careful consideration; trust me, I know. But not frozen-in-place fear. Look what we’ve all just been through together? If that doesn’t prove our strength, I really don’t know what does. And what am I so afraid of? Honestly, the embarrassment of failure. One of my favorite things to whisper to myself is, “I never saw that comin’,” because it’s hilarious. In 100% of the cases someone would utter those words…DUH! Of course you didn’t. That’s what a bad thing is. Something you didn’t know would happen. I won’t be flipping quarters to make decisions, I’ll try to plan for potential threats, I’ll give it the old SWOT analysis—but then, I’m making the decision. No more handwringing. It’s not for me.
5. I will STOP jamming a circle into a square.
Remember that toy they gave us to teach us critical thinking before we could even walk? Nope, I know! That’s because you were a BABY. We literally learned the round piece of wood goes into the round hole while wearing a diaper. But time after time, I shake my head and ask myself why I didn’t listen to my gut. It told me what a bad idea bubble-gum flavored tequila was, but did I listen? Nope. Invested $89k before it tanked. (totally kidding! Did you believe me though? Sucker.) But you know what I mean, right? If a project isn’t a good fit, be honest with yourself. If you aren’t the right person for a job, be honest with the client. If an employee isn’t the right fit for the job? That’s a big one for me. I hang on way too long trying to make it work. That’s not doing anyone any favors. Over it.
6. I will STOP working weekends.
I’m not going to lie on my deathbed and look fondly back on all the times I valiantly ‘took one for the team’ on Saturday and Sunday. At some point, it just becomes martyrdom, am I right? I’m going to lie on my deathbed and count all the amazing experiences I had in this life. I’m going to celebrate realizing that STOPPING is what happens right before STARTING.
I’ve gotta go. It’s 7:12 pm.