Do any of these exchanges sound familiar, fellow creative?
Them: “So…what do you do?”
You: “I’m an Executive Assistant.” (leaves out that you’re a certified life coach & kicks ass at it & won’t be an Executive Assistant for much longer)
Them: “So…what are you up to?”
You: “Uh….Well, I just opened my own shop on Etsy.”
Them: “What’s Etsy?”
You: “Oh, it’s just this online store thing….People can by my artwork….”
Them: “And you make a living from that?”
You: “Uh, well, I’m trying! I’ve sold some art and, uh, got featured on a blog and…”
Them: “Didn’t you used to be a project manager?”
Them: “Y’know, I know someone who’s a project manager. I’ll ask if they know of any openings.”
You: “Uh…thanks..” (leaves out that you will never (ever!) go back to being a project manager & actually just sold you first piece of art in your shop)
Them: “Are you still performing? You always loved that!”
You: “No. I pounded the pavement for a few years, but now I perform in my husband’s show. He writes new episodes of old sitcoms – it’s neat! But yeah, other than that…” (leaves out that you miss performing in musicals & are planning on auditioning at a theater you’ve found that’s close to your new apartment)
Today, we’re slaying the vampire that comes out to play when someone asks you the question, “So…what do you do?” For a creative person who might be stuck in a dead-end job (dead-end in their heart, at least) or embarking on a new “risky” career, that question can be a cause for panic – or neck sucking. In my case, there are times that I don’t pimp myself out as a coach because I’m afraid people won’t understand what it is, or they’ll think I’m a hippy or they’ll question how I can possibly earn a living coaching. I’ve heard similar things from my clients, especially ones that leave stable, lucrative careers to pursue their creative passions. They feel dumb admitting they gave up “a sure thing” for the “nomadic” life of an artist. They fear that they’ll be judged unfairly, or not be taken seriously about their new endeavor. And above all that, they can’t see how to put this “weird” choice (to the rest of the world) in a flattering light.
Well, let’s start here:
Write an elevator speech. You have 30 seconds or less to describe what you’re doing – the length of an elevator ride. Imagine you’re applying for a job, and have to sell yourself to the potential employer. What do you say to make yourself feel proud, while grabbing ’em & pulling ’em in? Well, you talk up your strengths & your accomplishments, & you’re not afraid to boast! So, instead of the Etsy exchange above, the answer that artist can give to The Dreaded Question could be, “I’ve decided to leave project management to pursue a lifelong dream of being a full-time artist. I opened up an online shop so that people can buy my paintings, & just secured a booth to sell my stuff at the Brooklyn Flea, which is consistently winning Best Of awards. I’m just starting out, but I already got my first sale & have incorporated myself, so I’m on my way! I’m so happy to work for myself & pursue a career I’m really passionate about.”
Write out the answer above & read it out loud to make sure that you’re comfortable with it. Then, when you know it sounds & feels natural, practice it a few times so that the key points stick in your head. You don’t have to memorize it & recite it like a robot, but I bet the Girl Scouts slayed some vampires by sticking to their motto: Be Prepared!
“Find the “Why” of it all. Why are you uncomfortable with this question? Why are you afraid to reveal this piece of information? Why are you making excuses? How does it make you feel? (Yes, there’s a “How” in there, so sue me). Journal the answers to those questions, & then start slaying by writing possible solutions. I’ll start: “I’m afraid to reveal this because I don’t want someone to ask if I’m making a living, because I’m not – yet! I don’t want to have to prove myself to anyone or have them see me as flighty or idiotic by leaving a stable job in a bad economy. So, I’m going to let them know that I know it’s scary & risky, but that it’s a risk I’m secure taking. Maybe they’ll even see me as brave, or say that they always wanted to do something like that! I can tell them that I’m certified & have been coaching for two years already, so I’ll be ready when I go out on my own. If anyone digs any further than: (1) they’re rude! & (2) it’s obviously a problem they have with themselves & has less to do with me!
Keep a Good Stuff / Warm Fuzzies folder. When someone gives you a kind word or a compliment, print it out & put it in a folder or a scrapbook. If someone says it audibly, write it down when you get home or keep a notebook in your purse or pocket to write in. I have a Good Stuff folder in Evernote that I use, & it makes it as easy as highlighting the text I want to include, clicking the Evernote button, & choosing Good Stuff in the dropdown. If I get down on myself & think, “What have I done lately? Nothing, that’s what!” I go to the Good Stuff folder & see how I’m oh-so-wrong.
Keep an Accomplishment Journal. Every day, write down at least 1 thing that you accomplished that related to your goal. Whether you purchased the domain name to your new site, or wrote a new blog post, or asked a friend about the class you’re interested in that they teach, that’s progress! You might not even think of it as a step forward during your hectic day, but that’s some great ammunition right there.
Celebrate! – but make sure you know that you’re celebrating because of a recent accomplishment. That way, you’ll condition yourself to feel good about a win, no matter how big or small, & it might be something that automatically comes to your head when asked The Dreaded Question. Just remember what you celebrated lately & you know what you’ve been doing right!
Are you starting to look at The Dreaded Question as a way to reaffirm for yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing? A way to let just one more person know about your exciting new journey? A way to let that one person tell other people that might be looking to buy what you’re selling? A way to celebrate your accomplishments & be proud of the steps you’re taking to live your passion? Then get out there & shout it from the rooftops! Sing from the mountains! Or just stand a little straighter when someone asks you The No Longer Dreaded Question!