Do you think I have what it takes?
It’s a question that some designers have asked me during that first call when we’re deciding whether we’re a good fit to collaborate.
Me: Do YOU think you have what it takes?
I’m not trying to be coy. Editors like what they like. Clients like what they like. Your peers like what they like and I do too. I know that baked into the “what it takes” conversation are assumptions about talent and taste but those are subjective.
Walt Disney was fired from his first job as a newspaper artist because he lacked creativity. Anna Wintour was fired from her job as a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar due to creative differences with the editor-in-chief. Oprah was fired from her job as a reporter at a Baltimore news station and told she would never make it in television. Judy Blume was told by an established (male) children’s book author that she would never make it as one. Did they have what it takes?
Personally, I choose to work with someone based on their vision, their creative calling, their integrity and their commitment, not to mention my excitement and my belief that I can help them expand their business. I call it fit. For me talent is meaningless without vision, practice and persistence. You may have a natural gift for something but unless you acknowledge it, play with it, shape it, nurture your relationship to it, master the process of delivering it and reveal it, having talent probably won’t serve you or others. It’s the tiny seeds of action planted in the soil of a clearly defined vision that will always unfold over time.
You may have been told by someone you admire—or didn’t—that you don’t have what it takes and that voice might be part of your inner soundtrack. It definitely was a part of mine.
Ever since I was little, I’ve kept a diary. Later I called it a journal. In other words, I’ve always written. Even when I started publishing articles in national publications, I never felt entirely comfortable with the moniker writer. I would compare myself to other writers I loved, usually with large bodies of work. I was distracted by people who criticized what I wrote, who diminished it because it sounded like me whatever ideas had nothing to do with what I believed.
Using my voice is a privilege I take very seriously but my writing is also something my soul needs. I figure out things about myself, my life and my relationships with others when I write and because I need writing for me first, I kept this part of my creative practice hidden.
Back then my logic was that if I didn’t call myself a writer, I had permission to write, to suck, to try things someone like me should not, or could not, on my own time. In fact the first time I contributed a monologue to a play featuring a collection of women’s voices with other more established writers, I said it was by Anonymous in the press release. I thought being invisible kept me safe, but denying who I was made another part of me angry and by opening night, I had claimed my name.
These days I’m hip to the fact that the criticism says more about the critic than it does my “talent”. I’m grateful that my highest self didn’t listen to every blowhard who had an opinion because all of those twists, turns, mistakes, good projects and bad have lead me to this moment. I had no conscious expectation of ever writing a play, a screenplay or a book and now that I’ve done all of those things. I also know I would have never been able to do any of that without the years of writing in my journal, for me alone.
After my first book, I claimed my identity as a writer and even though my inner perfectionist will always find something to improve, I know that being a creative is a process, one that unfolds over time. I may like my work today and hate it tomorrow, because I’ve grown past the stage of expression that allowed me to create it. However, I’ve also learned that how I feel about what I create, moment to moment, doesn’t make it any less valuable. In fact, for the people who find it long after I’ve moved on, it may be essential.
I risk being visible with my creativity way more often now, in all stages, not just because it’s my business but also because of one of its biggest gifts: connection. Expressing myself in this way, about this thing, at that time has helped me to find others who think, struggle and are moved in small ways by what I do. For some the impact has been powerful and it was unexpected and thrilling.
I did what it takes to do the things my soul wanted to do and I’m still doing them. What about you ? Do you feel like you have what it takes? If not, who are you listening to?
VISIBILITY PRACTICE: What creative identity are you afraid to claim?