Before we begin, I want to provide a little context. I just completed my Adobe Creative Residency. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the program, it’s a new initiative from Adobe that provides designers, photographers, illustrators, etc. a full year to work solely on passion projects. Kelli Anderson and I were the first residents. My projects were (mainly) working on my second book, The Roommate Book (on sale June 28!) and launching my online store, Chipper Things, that features my illustrations on over 70 products.
Let’s dive in.
Much of what I learned during my Creative Residency can be summarized as this: a lot can happen in a year.
I learned (and relearned) the value of accountability, saying yes before feeling ready, sharing publicly and surrounding myself with people who are rooting for me.
A little accountability can go a really long way. The program is remote, therefore I live and work out of my studio in Austin, Texas. Team Adobe is stationed in San Francisco. I talk to Libby (Creative Community Liaison) every Wednesday (specifically at 1 PM CT / 11 AM PT). Throughout the week, we send emails, texts and Trello notes, but overall, this call is where we get down to business.
Libby (and the rest of the Adobe team) is always two steps ahead of me. They’re constantly scheming of ways to make the most of my time as a resident. Because of these weekly meetings, I have done things that I would have otherwise delayed or declined because I didn’t feel ready, think I had the time, etc. This is where the growth really happened. I got so used to saying yes to new things that I accidentally became tougher, faster and better along the way.
Let’s talk more about accidentally becoming brave.
One year ago, I was scurrying to meet with a local film crew (Arts+Labor) at their cool Austin office (it is cool by definition because it has a conference room that’s heavy on the windows.) Since we’re both based out of Austin, it made sense for me to meet at their office while we had a call with my new Adobe team in San Francisco.
It was in a building that shared an address with a few other offices. I was so close, but so far away, because I couldn’t find their suite number. I was already nervous enough as it was — they were filming a video all about Becky to show the world what Adobe was thinking by hiring me as one of their inaugural Creative Residents. Yet I couldn’t even find an address in plain sight.
That was one of those moments where, if you’re like me, you feel completely unqualified and freaked out that someone (or something, particularly an entity as big as Adobe) is investing time, energy and money in you. At the same time, in your heart of hearts you know that you did not trick them in the process, therefore things must be going as planned. It felt more like the leap from high school to college than the leap from 7th to 8th grade.
Thinking back to how nervous I was compared with how comfortable I am now makes me realize that I walked in as a freshman and I’m walking out as a graduate.
Like Adam Garcia says, “The pressure is good for you.”
We don’t (I don’t) always win with the first try, but if or when I do succeed, those little victories lead to bigger victories. It’s important to challenge ourselves so that when we win, we really win. My talk at Adobe MAX went better than expected, so, I accidentally became a little bit more brave and that made me a little less nervous for the next talk. And even less nervous for the talk after that. Before I knew it, I saw myself as someone who “give talks.”
And just like that, I became more confident without meaning to. It happened because I was pushed a little and then tiptoed even more out of my comfort zone. The accountability led to bigger things, beyond what I thought I was capable of in 365 days.
I said yes to figuring it out later and then I figured it out later.
A core part of my role as a Creative Resident is to share the process publicly. The goal is for this program to lift up and elevate the creative community as a whole. I didn’t have much trouble with this as I shared my 100 Day Project (#100daysofgettingstarted), where I displayed my daily illustrations. I also didn’t mind sharing the process for The Roommate Book. And I also didn’t mind showing folks 90% of the process of designing, building and launching Chipper Things. That last 10% was a lot harder to share.
Before I go on, I acknowledge that sharing the process of my Creative Residency project is a fair ask. It is the main part of the job description. It’s interesting and helpful for us (humans) to see a dream turn into a plan and then that plan turn into reality. Sharing is easy when you know you’re in the clear. It’s much harder when you’re not so sure.
And by not so sure, I mean, plagued with doubt. I’ve been talking this dang thing up for a year. “What if come launch day people are just…underwhelmed?”, I often thought to myself. We’re busy people. If something isn’t up to snuff, we don’t take the time to rationalize why. We make our judgments and move on with the day.
I also had a “to-do” list that was longer than my “done” list just days before the launch. I knew it would work out but I was still very nervous (most likely seen on my Real World Confessional-esque Snapchats).
What ended up happening was the opposite of what I had feared.
- I finished Chipper Things on time, and I finished it well. Part of why I still had so much to do come launch week was because I was obviously behind schedule. Why was I behind schedule? I made a semi-last minute decision to swing for the fences a few months ago and added 50 more products than originally planned. This significantly pushed back the whole operation. Instead of starting out slow and steady, I decided to throw it all out there and figure out what sticks. I bootstrapped everything from photographing the products to building the site (thank you, Shopify) to sourcing materials. The notebooks weren’t actually in the hands of my fulfillment center until the day of launch.
- I was overwhelmed by the support I received from the moment the site went live. Friends, acquaintances and internet cheerleaders banded together to make sure the world knew about this project I’d been working on for the last year. I couldn’t believe (and still can’t believe) how enthusiastic people have been.
I learned an important lesson in all of this: By letting people in on my journey, they became vested in my success. Things become interesting when we know a thing or two about them. This is true for flags, astronomy, art and everything else. Knowledge leads to understanding. That’s why we all got lost in the deep web learning more disturbing facts about Robert Durst after we watched the Jinx.
This is connection.
I believe that when we get a teeny bit vulnerable with our goals/dreams/ideas, the rest of our community identifies because they see a bit of themselves in our story. They know we’re in a fragile place, so they rally to protect us (if we have a kind community). Plus, it’s a lot easier to root for a real person than a robot who just “woke up like this.”
Everyone’s situation is different. This is not a rule of thumb — this is an observed personal outcome. It just so happens to be something that I find useful and will keep working toward — sharing my work in a sustainable way and trusting that nobody is going to beat me up if some projects are better than others, I change my mind along the way or even fall flat on my face. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of discernment. Not everything needs to (or should be) shared, nor should we hastily announce our goals to the world. And I also think it’s okay (and best) to ask for help and feedback. When I launched this store, I was not shy about asking friends to help spread the word. We have to ask for what we want and help people help us.
At the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to create when we know that our comrades are rooting for us. It’s tough when we fear the wrath of not getting it right the first time. We make better stuff when we put ourselves in situations where we’re pushed further than we think we can go, and the nectar is that much sweeter when the backstory was illuminated along the way.
Not sure how to properly link to myself below. I’d like to provide places for people to reach me / my work, but I don’t want to overwhelm them with links.
Note: To read more about why it’s nice to show your work, read Austin Kleon’s appropriately titled book, Show Your Work!