Personal Worth, Tenderness and Productivity
Full disclosure, I’m atrociously hard on myself on the regular. The softness I feel for my closest friends seems to dissolve into a critical haze when I'm even so much as glancing at my daily work planner. The self-induced freelance bubble bobs around every inch of my life with little regard for my mental wellbeing. There are bills to pay, clients to acquire, crippling self-doubt to wrestle and a level of creative satisfaction to achieve. Aside from these (v. important) elements, the real battle I face is understanding that my value doesn’t lie in my productivity or success. Strap yourselves in homies, this is going to be a personal one.
Regardless of age, I’ve repeatedly succumbed to self-criticism of epic proportions. In school I was under the impression that if you don’t get the grades then you’re not going to get into college, you’re not going to university and you’re certainly not going anywhere sweetie. In university, I was so dazzled by the prospect of getting a first-class degree the sheer thought of not getting one brought on an unwavering cloud of panic. I don’t think I even enjoyed a lot of my university experience because I was just so stressed all the time. Feeling an intense pressure to achieve shrouded all of my time in a big flat sheet of anxiety. Ironically enough, I’ve since experienced working on freelance illustration requires no official level of university education.
Unpacking my idealised perception of success as an illustrator soon threaded itself back to the fact I’ve been meandering inside an achievement based narrative my whole life. I’m going to glaze over the socio-economic politics right here for the sake of brevity, but clearly, on a base level I’ve associated my achievements with my personal value. Be it during my education, in the workplace or as a freelancer, if I wasn’t operating at maximum capacity then in my own eyes I instantly became lesser than my peers. I can see I was clearly misguided, so why at the end of the odd ‘off’ day do I berate myself for having to restart a not so cute illustration or having to take a break because of a computer induced migraine?
Pursuing freelance illustration, or freelancing of any kind is interesting because before you’ve even secured your first gig you’ve already been promoted to CEO, accountant, intern, and salesperson. You’re also responsible for finding rent money every month without even a whisper of a regular paycheque. Paying the bills is inherently necessary the last time I checked. Thinking about all of the things I have to do and money I need to earn makes my head feel like an overheated pressure cooker. The result? I'm constantly talking to myself in a way I didn’t even know was humanly possible.
To add insult to injury here, the harder I berate myself amidst looming rent, a desire to take on more work and 15 hour workdays, the further out to sea I seem to float. Creating is weird my dudes. I’ve found trying to make a beautiful image when I’m feeling wigged out leads to less than impressive execution and thus, the cycle of self-punishment continues. To avoid drowning in an ocean of self-criticism is almost a full-time job in itself. Before you ask, yeah I am a Virgo.
I made a call to action within myself to stop aligning my self worth with my work. Self tenderness is a beautiful flower, but it needs almost constant care and maintenance. I haven’t got a silver bullet, but I have a barrage of personal mantras that I have been combing through when I'm feeling extra wired. Sometimes it feels like every morning I'm reborn into my usual pattern, but the more I'm reframing the thoughts as they come in, the easier it's getting.
First of all, I need to accept that rest days are just as important as creation days. I often find I need these the most when I'm messing up on work, AKA burning out. If a bodybuilder benches at maximum capacity every day their muscles are going to melt off their bones. Fact. I’ve spoken about rest before, but I want to shout about it again because I’ve personally wrestled with resting amidst #hustle culture. I’m always struggling to take breaks, I don't give myself enough. Worryingly, when I do I’m so bent out of shape about it that it renders the break counterproductive. Now, when I start to feel guilty about taking breaks I remember when I was 18 and I worked in a garden centre cafe I would take intermittent breaks to lie in the backroom and eat boxes of Freddo bars (I really thought I thought I deserved those) - so why not now?
I’ve also made a conscious effort to be more present. I think I've seen a quote floating around on Instagram (sorry I can't find it!) that speaks of the way that the biggest thing worry steals from us is the moment we’re in. Churning energy into the anxiety surrounding my productivity will never make me more productive.
I wish I had more groundbreaking advice to share, but I’m finding the best remedy is to reframe the thoughts as and when they appear. Eventually I'm hoping that this will become second nature, but for now, I'm ok with giving myself a gentle nudge. If anyone else feels like I do, I'd like to remind you that you are a whole person regardless of what you do! We press so much credence into our portfolios because we carve a tiny piece of ourselves into each illustration. On the flip side, it’s necessary to understand that people are works in progress and therefore our work is no exception. Trust the process, my dudes.