As a college student, I went to Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, Fla., to learn how to paint. Boy, did I go to the right place. The faculty taught me how to apply color to canvas using whatever I could get my hands on: acrylic, oil, watercolor, pixel. When I freaked out that I’d never find work as a painter and switched majors, a new set of amazing instructors showed me how to set type, consider all the elements of design in a composition, and generally be useful to businesses in need of an artist.
It’s been 5 years since I first joined Marxent. That’s an awfully long time in startup-land, a place where employees and companies both seem to come and go. These days, I feel like I’ve got things under control, and get to be exceedingly competent and contribute value to the company and myself while exercising all those artistic muscles I developed through education and experience.
Sometimes though, I’m absolutely terrified — and I do it to myself on purpose.
On days when I feel like I’m the baddest dude ever, I try to do something that makes me panic — like start a podcast, shoot a fully green screen promo, or make textures for 3D models. They’re all things I’m not trained for, have no idea how to start, and that nobody actually asked me to do.
And I do panic. In cases where I don’t already know what I’m going to do, the creative process looks something like this:
You may be wondering why I take on these tasks, especially when nobody is asking me to, and given that swearing and crying are clearly a byproduct of my creative process?
Content marketing is about value and volume. You either cut through the noise or you become it. No matter the outcome, pursuing this strategy means you’re going to need new channels filled with fresh content, and they will have to be added to constantly and consistently. Already finished making content because you’re so good at it? Guess what? You still need more. And make it better and different, stat!
Knowing this, I like to get ahead of the game and experiment with forms I’m not used to or proficient at. By developing new skills and strategies now, I know I’ll be ready to deliver something fresh in the future without having to create it on the spot.
Aristotle supposedly said, “The best way for a student to get out of difficulty is to go through it.” I’m more of a Socrates fan, but this quote is so on point that I’ll namedrop the big A anyway. If I’m crying and swearing from a self-imposed task — which happens often, by the way — I’ll be better prepared to deal with future stress caused by a project that has an insane deadline, limited resources, or a stakeholder breathing down my neck because they need it now, now, NOW!
It’s always easier to shrug off stress and focus if you’ve been through it before, so prepare yourself. It sure beats falling apart when you’re needed most.
I like to think of my creative experiments as the $5 bill you find in an old pair of jeans that just came out of the wash. I never know when something I’ve been playing around with might come in handy outside my usual routine. It could be shooting a commercial for a client, filling in for a 3D artist because we’re beyond capacity on a project, or helping to create a presentation for the sales team’s big upcoming meeting.
When these opportunities arise, the fact that I’ve cross-trained ahead of the need (or to be fair, because I know the need is coming) is like my finding that missing $5. I made the skill investment so long ago I forgot about it, and now I just “rediscovered” it when I needed it most.
I keep challenging myself to learn new things, even if it adds stress to my life. Being prepared for the unexpected makes everyone look good — you, your coworkers and the company. So take some time out of your day to face down a new challenge, even if it leads only to swearing and crying. I guarantee you it will pass, and when it does you’ll be better prepared for whatever the future holds.
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