In a letter dated October 22nd, 1882, Vincent Van Gogh said to his brother Theo, “the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, but is a succession of little things that are brought together.” And maybe we each know this intuitively, that what we achieve is always an amalgam of ideas, efforts, mistakes, and do-overs: little things all threaded together, forming something that if not yet great, is at least approaching greatness. A painting is a collection of all the artist’s strokes and movements (not to mention all the life of her’s she puts on the canvas), similarly a song is an alloy of the songwriter’s plucks and strums (not to mention his own ups and downs), and so on and so forth.
And the same is true for creative businesses, they are made in the same way: little things over a long time, brought together into greatness of one kind or another. Over the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of intently listening, beginning to end, to each of Jeanne’s podcasts, hearing creatives of all sorts reflect on the process of their starting and operating creative businesses. I’ve heard of their aspirations and heartbreaks, their plans and surprises, and in the course of listening some themes common across the episodes rose to the surface for me. I think these themes represent at least some of the little things that creative entrepreneurs bring together over time to achieve some level of greatness in their own place.
1. Listen to Your Own Voice
Wendy McWilliams in Episode 19 articulated what seems to me to be the most important theme: “You have to listen to yourself and trust yourself, and don’t be afraid of people’s judgments.” Other voices might encourage or discourage, contribute or subtract from your creative journey, but time and again, I heard creative entrepreneurs say that the voice they needed to tune into most clearly was their own. As Kate Thompson said in episode 3, “When we get stuck, so much of it is what we tell ourselves.” All these successful creatives listened to their own voices, and their stories invite you to listen to your own voice rehearsing all of the gifts and talents you have, and reminding you of all the beauty you bring into the world.
2.Give Yourself Time
Regularly listening to the stories of successful creatives can have a discouraging effect: “look at where they are, the huge classes they teach, the books they’ve published, the life they live, the insight they have. I don’t think I’ll ever reach that level.” I find myself tempted from time to time to wander down that road to self-pity, but in all of my years as a creative and business owner, I don’t think I’ve ever found anything helpful there. All the creatives that appeared on the podcast alluded to the benefit of the time they’ve had to make what they’ve made, adding little things on top of other little things, again and again: “Its the small, seemingly inconsequential decisions we make that determine our destiny” is how Weldon Long said it in episode 2. “It really is a lifestyle of how you set up your life so that creativity has a place all the time” is how Rachel Ashwell articulated her sense of it in episode 7. When I’m feeling pulled down the self-pity road, or the discouragement road, or the “maybe I should just give up road,” I want to remember what these creatives did: they took time, they gave themselves the time they had to give, and they filled that time working their craft, doing what they could do, little by little.
3.Trust Your Intuition
In my experience, creative entrepreneurs share a number of things in common, and these are among them: self-doubt, uncertainty, sinking confidence, and some anxiety. At the same time, and it should go without saying (which are the sorts of things that likely we should all say more often, so I’ll say it): one of the central things that creatives share is creativity. What would happen if we were to trust that? What little things could we gather up over time and form into greatness if we were to trust that creative intuition present in each of us? “Meditation helps me so much with my own ability to make decisions. My husband helps me an awful lot; he’s a wonderful listener…and then I trust my gut” said Mary Beth Shaw in episode 13. If you were to ask your intuition what it thinks about a decision you have to make, what would it say? And what would happen if you were to trust it? Jennifer Little (episode 18) said, “I do rely on my gut a lot, that is how I feel like I’ve made 90% of the decisions in this business.”
4.Exercise Your Courage
The final theme that rose to the surface as I listened to twenty episodes of creatives reflecting on their lives is courage: “The thing that I’ve had to remember time and time again is that this is not easy. If it was everyone would do it. I think the process looks like just doing it scared” (Jen Wagner, episode 16). Courage said to these creative entrepreneurs that at the end of the day, after you’ve done all your planning and all your analysis and all your second drafts and all of everything else, you just have to act. At the bottom of my soul I believe that we create for the good of the world, and that means our creativity is begging to be sent out into the world, a step which takes amazing courage, as Tonia Jenny (episode 4) said “You have to kind of prepare yourself that whatever you are putting out into the world, that you are also coming to a place that you are letting it go.” And that is who we are as creatives: people who make things and then in bravery let them go.
“The great doesn’t happen through impulse alone” Van Gogh said, “but is a succession of little things that are brought together.” Those little things are powerful things, if you’ll let them be; things like time, courage, intuition, and our own creative voices. And if you’ll give yourself to these things, to gathering them up and threading them together, greatness will happen in and through them. “Every area of my life has led me to here” Lara Blair said, “We always have to remember that all the stops along the way aren’t for naught. They are things that lead you to where you’re supposed to be.”
You can listen to each of the podcasts mentioned above HERE.
Jeremy Reeves is the Creative Director at Goodvoice Group. Jeremy is interviewed on Episode 14 | Creating a Visual and Verbal Identity of the Jeanne Oliver Podcast. Listen HERE.
Goodvoice Group is a creative agency that exists to multiply self-understanding, discover clarity, and design simplicity, so that companies can shape a bright and flourishing future.
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Wow! I loved reading this. And it’s so true, it’s the journey that is made up of all the little things and the stories along the way. During the time of Covid I’ve given myself more grace and more time and I feel that has been very beneficial to my creative process. I have listened to all of your podcasts and have learned so many tips and tricks as well as some new insights in this creative business adventure. After reading Jeremy’s review, I just want to start from the beginning and listen to them all again!