Episode 9

15/02/2021

Stubbornness and finding your creative voice

About this episode

Stubbornness can be such a powerful tool in learning to trust your gut and find your own voice as a creative artist. I'll talk about how to train your listen-filter and the power of sticking stubbornly to your own path.

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Stubbornness and finding your creative voice

Did anyone ever tell you that you don’t have to listen? You don’t have to listen to the rules, you don’t have to listen to your industry, you don’t have to agree with critique. Today I want to talk about the power of stubbornness on this episode of The Positive Creatives!

[INTRO]

Hello there! Thanks for tuning in to this week’s episode, I’m glad you’re here!

Before I get into this week’s episode about the power of stubbornness in finding your voice, I want to quickly talk about numbers and why we do what we do.

I’ve talked before about how I started this podcast just because it’s a subject I love to talk about, think about and I want to put out content in these episodes and on instagram to help keep you on a positive path in your creativity.

I’ve told you in earlier episodes how I didn’t want to look at the numbers and I just want to focus on my own enjoyment and try to make it good.

Well…

If you follow me on instagram @thepositivecreatives you might have seen the other day when I talked about how one of my reels on there somehow beat the algorithm and got a good amount of views – ten times as many as usual.

And, as usual, that got into my head, so all the reels I’ve posted since which have my usual number of views I’ve silently branded as rubbish because that reel which snuck past the algorithm police has set a pointless benchmark in my mind now.

Why do we do this though? I saw and shared a post on instagram today which simply said “Stop creating competitions that don’t exist” and I think when I read that I actually said “YES” out loud!

Creativity is not a competition and while I’m all for pushing ourselves and wanting to improve and ONLY competing with ourselves, you can’t compete with the dark arts of social media algorithms, because nobody publishes the rules and it’s just that – a dark art – so don’t bother trying. Keep making your stuff, keep making it good, keep striving for continual improvement and keep showing it to the world. There will be days when the algorithm is your friend and there will be days when the algorithm pretends you don’t exist just like your high school crush.

Just keep making.

Right anyway, one of the hot topics always is how you find your style, how you find your voice as an artist, or as a creative.

I don’t know why creatives have such a hard time being called artists, what is that all about? Maybe that’s for another episode.

But yeah, finding your style is something we all kind of wish was easier. I feel like I’ve found my style somewhat as a photographer, so I’m sharing with you on this episode one of the things that I think has helped me do that over the years, and that’s stubbornness.

Stubbornness is seen as quite a negative character trait, and of course it can be.

I looked up the definition and it said:

1) unreasonably or perversely unyielding

And of course, that’s not ideal. We don’t want to be unreasonable in our stubbornness.

Unreasonable stubbornness is definitely part of my character though. Like, if someone suggests that I take a picture of a certain thing, even if I was thinking of taking a photo of that thing myself, now I feel an overwhelming desire not to take that photo. As if their suggestion has somehow tainted my own instinct and so I just can’t do it. That’s a weird stubbornness and that’s not the kind of stubbornness I’m talking about today.

The second definition of stubborn, right under that first one is this:

Justifiably unyielding. Resolute.

That’s better. That’s the kind of stubbornness I mean in terms of finding your voice as a creative artist.

It’s knowing when to listen, who to listen to, and overwhelmingly I believe it’s learning to trust your own instincts and sharpening those over time.

Back in 2011 I’d just finished my first year as a photographer. I was still working in a full time job. I’d shot a lot of weddings in 2010, while working full time and bringing up a small toddler and I was worn out. I knew that I really wanted to be a full time photographer and so I signed up for a mentoring scheme.

It was a year long plan with someone who was an industry figurehead at the time and I was honestly so excited to be one of the ten people being mentored by his studio that year.

I really felt like this was the thing that was going to get me out of my 9 to 5 job and into full time photography.

In my first meeting I showed some of the work I was most proud of from my first year and sure enough he thought it showed potential. He told me some of it was “so bad it was good” which to this day I still don’t understand and after flicking through one wedding he turned to me and he said:

“Your work is great. It’s very safe.”

I had a 5 hour drive home after that and instead of listening to my usual full blast music, singing at the top of my voice thinking I’m Kurt Cobain reincarnated, I drove in silence wondering why I was so hurt by the word ‘safe’.

The next day I called him up to ask him what he meant by safe as I found it insulting – I never wanted that to be how my work was described… he said it was a compliment – and that all couples want a safe pair of hands in a photographer.

I kind of accepted that and quietly went away grumbling. I still knew that I did not want to be safe. I wanted to be experimental and unpredictable and… COOL… and safe wasn’t cool!

But I still thought this guy has a really successful business – one of the most successful in the industry, and that’s what I’m going to need to go full time so I just need to shut my mouth and listen.

Turns out I’m not very good at shutting my mouth and listening.

I’ve always been quite good at getting stuff done. Back in those days I was building my own website at a time when not many photographers were doing that… I was writing my own copy for my website and marketing because I love to write… and it seemed like this guy mentoring me didn’t like anything I did.

Everything I did he wanted me to change.

After a while I just felt like I wasn’t being mentored at all, I was being shown a formula that works and being moulded to fit that formula instead of being helped to find a new formula to fit me and the path I was on.

Soon after this I had a one to one mentoring day and at the end of it I just felt like I’d disagreed with everything I’d been told. I was quite cross about it at first…

But then I realised there was some power and amazing value in this. See, it’d be great to agree with everything we’re told, it’d make life much easier and we could go away and do what we’ve been told to do and it’d all be grand.

I realised though in disagreeing I was finding strength in the decisions I was making for myself. Each time I disagreed it was because I believed in my own choices and my own decisions.

I went from thinking ‘well this is a total waste of time and money’ to having probably the first eureka moment of my career and realising that I trusted my own instincts and some of the things I was disagreeing with I didn’t know I disagreed with them until I disagreed, if you know what I mean.

So even though it wasn’t what I expected, there was still massive value in realising that I didn’t want to do things the way my mentor wanted me to do things.

The next day I gave up my place on the year long mentoring scheme and I’ve pretty much gone it alone ever since. But that few months of mentoring were so valuable in teaching me that I knew how I wanted to carve my path, I just didn’t realise it until I was shown a different path.

So while that may sound like a bit of a moan and rant it’s not and I’ll always be thankful to those few months of mentoring and that stubborn realisation that even though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to work it out on my own.

So why am I telling you this – well it all comes down to knowing when you need to listen and when you don’t need to listen.

I recommended the Zlatan Ibrahimovic autobiography a few episodes back and there’s a great section in there called listen, don’t listen and it’s the same idea.

You don’t have to listen to every piece of creative advice you’re given.

Actually let me rephrase that… you need to listen but then you need to apply the listen/don’t listen filter and decide whether you agree or disagree.

Because stubbornly disagreeing is just as powerful, if not more powerful than agreeing.

And so much has changed since I did that mentoring scheme. Advice wasn’t freely available back then, I had to pay to get behind the scenes to learn what other people did.

Nowadays we’re bombarded with best practice. We’re bombarded with what’s correct and what’s wrong. We’re told how things should be done and made to feel like we’re probably doing it all wrong a hundred times a day as the next ‘expert’ advert comes up on Instagram.

So your listen filter, your stubbornness to continue carving your path even AND ESPECIALLY if it’s against the mass advice being churned out in your industry, your listen filter needs to be sharper than ever.

Nobody knows you as well as your gut instinct knows you. And the more you trust your gut, the more you’ll get to know it and trust it and the power that comes from that is massive.

I’ve got an episode in my drafts here called ‘the problem with experts’ that I’ll go into this issue in a bit more detail but it’s still going to come down to that listen filter, that knowing when to trust your gut and follow your own path even when you’re being told there’s another path over here paved with gold…

It’s never paved with gold or even if it is I bet it won’t be as fun as your authentic path…

So be stubborn. But not in the bad ‘unreasonable or perversely unyielding’ sort of way. Just hone your listen filter and be stubborn in the ‘justifiably unyielding and resolute’ kind of way.

Learn to listen to and trust your gut instincts. And learn to congratulate yourself when your gut instincts served you well and even the times when it backfires a little – you’ll learn a lot more from making your own mistakes than being moulded into another industry clone.

It’s knowing who has your best interests at heart, and nobody has your best interests at heart more than you.

I’m not saying don’t pay attention to what’s being said in your industry, and I’m not saying you should rudely reject any advice you’re given but just know that disagreeing with advice is just as powerful as agreeing in finding your own voice and carving your own path creatively, so don’t be afraid to do it.

I’ll quickly tell you what happened next after I quit the mentoring scheme…

So I quit the mentoring in the April I think. I then shot a couple more weddings alongside my 9 to 5 job, and then had a massive diva meltdown about not being able to run a full time business and a full time job.

And my wife said “so quit your job!”. And so the next day that’s exactly what I did. Two months later I walked out of my job and into full time self employment as a photographer with one booking in the diary and a new baby on the way.

I’ll tell you nothing focuses you more than realising you just walked away from a salary but I’ll tell you about that in a future episode, but know that I’ve never looked back. I love the quote ‘leap and the net will appear’ and that’s exactly what happened…

Ok let’s finish with listen, read, watch:

Listen and watch this week is Neil Gaiman’s University of the Arts speech which you’ll find on Youtube – I’ll link it in the show notes on the website. The title of his speech is ‘Make Good Art’ and honestly it’s one of the most amazing things you’ll ever listen to.

Read is a book called ‘whatever you think, think the opposite’ by Paul Arden and I think it goes along with a lot of what I’ve said in this week’s episode…

Right – have a great week training up your listen filter and being positively stubborn, and I’ll see you next time on The Positive Creatives!

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