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Dog Blog 6.0 – Building Your Armor

This is a post we published on LinkedIn back in September. We thought you might enjoy it, so we’re doing a little re-post action here today!

It all starts in school. In math class, you either have the formula right or wrong. In history class, you memorize significant events and turning points. In chemistry class, you either balanced your chemical equations correctly or you didn’t. Right or wrong. True or false. Black or white. Your work only comes with two options – either you are correct, or you aren’t.

Then there’s the classes like English, art, photography, music, speech and drama. The creative classes. This is where things get tricky. These classes base their grading system on two options – if your work meets certain criteria, and if it appeals to your instructor.

In college, I remember working diligently on a sociology paper for weeks. I wrote for hours on end, I started over, I wrote some more, I made everyone I knew read it (several times). I felt like I had all of the requirements covered and even jazzed it up with my own personal flair. I nailed the assignment… so I thought. When I received my final grade for the paper, it was not what I expected, and I didn’t understand it one bit. I answered the questions the professor presented with thoroughly researched material. I included my interpretations as well as expert-proven facts. I clearly wrote everything in my own voice (because who likes a plagiarizer)? So what was the problem?

The issue was that for whatever reason, the instructor simply disliked what I wrote. That was his opinion, and I had to live with the grade I received. I was infuriated, but what could I do? The instructor didn’t like the creative angle I took and was looking for something a little more straightforward. What did I get for trying to think outside of the box and bringing a different voice to an overly boring assignment? A bad grade is what I got, not to mention discouraged. How could this instructor give me a bad grade just because he didn’t like what I had to say? That is his opinion! And why does his opinion matter to me?

I’ve been out of school for a while now, and I currently work as a copywriter for a marketing and advertising firm. And I can say that about 95% of the time, whatever I am working on is either loved or hated by our clients. It’s strange to think that my company is made up of a talented group of creative experts, but if the client doesn’t like the ideas we present, it’s a no-go.

That’s what makes it difficult to work in the creative industry. Sure, it is fulfilling to work in a field you’re passionate about, and it’s rewarding to come up with unique ideas that represent a company’s brand or strategy. But it’s also hard to not take it personally when your hard work gets denied right and left. Even if you know you’re on the right track, you’re feeling confident about your work, and you think your ideas will benefit the client, it still feels like a major blow when you get shot down.

When I first started working in this field, I would interpret every negative response two ways – either the client was undeniably wrong, or maybe I had no business being in the creative field at all. Just as in school, I couldn’t get over the fact that my ideas weren’t matching up with my teacher’s.

Over the years, I’ve come to develop a thicker skin to my clients’ responses. You have to – otherwise, you would never survive. When you work in a field where your work is neither right or wrong, but in fact it’s based on the judgements of others, it can really wear you down. And when you put all you’ve got into something, how can you not take their judgements personally?

There’s some guidelines I’ve taken to build up my “armor,” as I call it. This is the result of spending almost 10 years in the professional field, and getting my work turned down more times than I’d like to admit. Either way, running through these steps helps to prevent me from getting discouraged, and they’ve even helped me realize that I DO have business being in the creative field!

If there is something you’ve been working on that you feel strongly about, then by all means, defend it!

If worse comes to worse, the client still won’t agree with you, but at least you know you tried your hardest to get them to see something in a different light.

Don’t accept “That’s not what I had in mind” for an answer.

That kind of response tells me nothing! I’m pretty sure I’m not a mind reader, otherwise I would’ve gotten the project right the first time. Ask your client to give you further details on their expectations, preferably with examples. It might require a little more effort for them, but it will save so much time (and a lot less back and forth) in the long run!

Put yourself out there.

Working in the creative field is incredibly rewarding, but EVERYONE in any type of creative field experiences judgement. Whether you’re a sculptor or a photographer, people are either going to like your work or they won’t. I’m pretty sure authors won’t quit writing books because they got some negative reviews on Amazon. Unless you are creating work solely for own enjoyment, someone out there is going to be looking at what you do, and they’re going to have an opinion.

Don’t take negativity personally.

I’ve mentioned this earlier, but this is something you just can’t do. When it’s your job to be creative, there’s always going to be some sociology instructor out there who just doesn’t have the same creative vibes that you do. And that’s ok, because if everyone thought the same way as you, then you wouldn’t be considered to be creative, would you? You have to just brush off the negativity and move on. Start fresh and start over!

Look at the project in your client’s eyes

Maybe you have just come up with the all-time most creative concept ever, but that doesn’t matter if it doesn’t match up with the client’s goals. Working in a creative field makes it hard to remember that your job isn’t always about displaying how ultimately creative you can be. It’s often about meeting your client’s objectives, which may not always be the most “exciting.” But remember, they hired you because they believe you can help them solve an issue, not because they wanted to see how wildly creative you can get. Sometimes it’s ok to tone down the creativity and simply do what you have to do. It isn’t about showing off, it’s about gaining the trust of your client and maybe even expanding your creative freedom in the future!

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