A Guide For Navigating Tough Times as a Creative

4 min read

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  – Mike Tyson

In my years as a creative professional, I’ve found that it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” you’re going to hit a rough patch. The key, in my experience, is not trying to avoid these tough times but, rather, to learn to navigate them in such a way that you emerge on the other side stronger and wiser for the experience. Easier said than done, I know, but stay with me on this one…

Make a Plan

I think on some level we all enter the world of creativity with a mixture of blind optimism and unrealistic expectations. Both of these are, in their own way, essential. After all, who in their right mind would enter a career where the financial payoffs could be years – or even decades – down the road? The plans we all begin with are based on some combination of myth and dreams and yet they’re somehow enough to convince us we should give it a go.

Get Punched in the Mouth – Take 1

A few years into our creative pursuits, we begin to see the true shape of the road ahead. We now know the landscape, understand our place in it and, at the same time, we begin to see how far away we are from achieving our initial goals. This is, in equal parts, educational and completely demoralizing. This gut check moment tends to thin the herd of creative hopefuls by a significant amount.

Get Back Up and Make Another Plan

For those of us who still choose to continue, our process from this point on is all about refining our goals and looking for the things we can do to keep the joy in our chosen creative field. This can include finding collaborators, experimenting with different styles, reluctantly learning about the business side of creativity, etc. In other words, we’ve begun the process of growing up and into our careers. The good news is that this approach will lay the foundation for what can become a truly fulfilling lifetime in creativity if we’re prepared to stick with it.

Get Punched in the Mouth – Take 2

Despite our newfound knowledge and work ethic, the industry will still conspire to deliver significant valleys between the peaks we’ve begun to experience. The peaks can be everything from our first industry recognition, our work being made available to a mass audience, a big creative payday, or any other of many possible creative high points. These peaks are what will sustain us when the valleys seem to go on forever. At least by now, we’ll have the benefit of some perspective on how we wound up in these valleys and that will help us make a new plan informed by our past setbacks and disappointments.

Get Back Up Again (lather, rinse, repeat)

If there is a common character trait among successful creative people in any field, it would be their unwillingness to give up or stop doing what they feel compelled to do no matter how often they encounter adversity. So much of the success in our business goes to the people who wouldn’t take no for an answer whether it came from an industry decision-maker or from life itself. One of the ways I’ve found to weather these storms is to make sure that I have other interests outside of my creative pursuits. I know exactly how all-consuming a career in creativity can be but, sometimes, it’s the perspective you gain from stepping outside of that world than can be your salvation.


I should close this piece by stating that I am not a cynic. There’s no way I could have survived as a songwriter for thirty-plus years without a pretty good-sized dose of Pollyanna in my DNA. That being said, sometimes it can help to hear from someone who’s been through it that although you will almost certainly get figuratively punched in the mouth, from time to time, you can – and I hope you will – get back up and keep going.


Find out more about my creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

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