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27 COUNTER-INTUITIVE WAYS TO BE A BETTER CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL

puzzle pieces being fit together

Isn’t it the case that life works out in the opposite way to what we expect? The world is a maze filled with tricks and traps at every turn. This means every path you venture down with hopes of success and fulfillment can lead you astray when navigated foolishly. This includes the pursuit to be a filmmaker, photographer, painter, musician or game developer. The possibilities seem infinite but the means to success might be more finite then you think.

I stress that true fulfillment will emerge from a trust in one’s heart and intuition over one’s rational mind. This is a deeply counter-intuitive notion I’ve seen few people embody successfully thus making like confusing and frustrating rather than effortless and enjoyable.

The ideas written about here are all things I have carefully considered, tested and many of which verified their uncanny effectiveness through diligent trial in countless situations. I encourage you to carefully question these ideas while keeping in mind how absurd and deceptive life can often be.

1. EASY IS HARD AND HARD IS EASY

There are always opportunities to take the easy way out of a situation but you’ll only become truly effective in life if you’re willing to pursue incredibly challenging but worthwhile solutions.

It’s often the case that by putting a half baked effort into your work that it ends up turning out far worse than you hoped and taking twice as long then if you’d just bitten the bullet and put in the initial hard yards.

Looking for shortcuts ends up being a disastrous way to live so it’s often better to accept the challenges of every project you find and face them head on.

Not only does this golden principal apply in your work but it applies with your relationships to your co-workers, employees and of course your clients.  For example, it’s often difficult to admit to your own mistakes to others, especially when there is a cost associated.

2. THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE

man on bench during sunset

Honesty is often challenging. It’s not just the simple things like exaggerating your abilities in a job interview but also the tiny little truths that can slide under the radar in an email or a piece of marketing material. Frequent honesty with yourself and others establishes integrity and purifies your psyche, allowing you to build your career on a solid foundation rather than a house of cards.

3. DON’T NEED THE JOB

Often it’s the case that the more desperate you are to get something, the lower your odds of success. Quite backwards isn’t it? It’s particularly tricky when paying your rent is contingent on you getting the gig. It’s in such times that it’s best to take a step back and to find a way to become less attached to the outcome, possibly through making peace with the worst scenario you can think of and then coming back from a less detached position, only to find your odds of success have now skyrocketed. 

4. LET GO OF DOGMA

The influences of peers, culture and society often tell us that we have to manage our business and creative life in a very particular way, advising us to shoot with a particular camera or paint with a particular brush. Dogma is a rigid and emotionally driven position that people hold to maintain their sense of identity. Letting it go will make you the most creative, flexible and open-minded. All essential qualities for a successful career.

man in work clothes pushing elephant in field

5. FOCUS ON LISTENING INSTEAD OF SPEAKING

Speaking about your own passions is easy, actively listening to others is hard. Keen listening ability will increase your concentration if done consistently over a long period of time. It will also ensure you don’t miss any important details your clients tell you so that you can provide them with the best outcome possible.

6. RELINQUISH THE NEED TO BE RIGHT

Similar to my point about the importance of honesty, it’s your primal programming to want to be the right one in an argument or serious discussion.  By letting go of this need, you will be able to correct many of your mistakes and improve massively in your work. 

This principle is particularly important when another person points out an error you’ve made or criticizes you. It’s counter-intuitive to completely lower your guard in these situations and not try to justify any choices you’ve made.

7. THINK LONG TERM

male hand pushing dominos on wooden table

Short term thinking might be considering what you can gain over the period of a week or a month whereas long term thinking takes into account the years and decades ahead. While it’s easy to wave away concerns of the future, doing so will leave you riddled with remorse and regret.

Long term thinking takes into account that the biggest payouts in life are accomplished through years of patience, determination and hard work. Short term thinking is about chasing these payouts in a fifth of the time. If you can see the problem with that, the wisdom of the long term thinker will become your own.

8. DON’T BE CHEAP

If you’re always obsessing over finding the cheapest equipment and tools you might just be wasting your time and money. Whilst you’d think that buying the cheapest stuff would save you the most money, I’ve found that  cheap stuff usually breaks quickly and then needs to be replaced with much pricier stuff.   How much cash will you save when that cheap microphone breaks down in the middle of a live performance? 

Don’t forget that the time you spend hunting for the cheapest deal is time that can be used finding better clients or creating meaningful art.

This doesn’t mean you need to go buying the most expensive option in every category, in fact mid-range products are often more than enough to cover my own needs. I just steer clear from the lowest of the low and that seems to work out the best.

9. LEARN TO GIVE

Following up from my point about not being cheap, by hoarding the money you make in your business, you may find a scarcity mentality develops which will eventually backfire on you. The way to avoid this is to give away a percentage of your income. This will build an abundance mentality within you that will change the way you view money and everything else you attain in life including all of your industry knowledge and skills.

10. BEWARE OF ASSUMPTIONS

Assumed that your collaborators would be totally happy with you changing the folder structure of the project you’re working on? Assumed that your clients would have no problem paying that tiny extra expense if it makes the end result better? Think again.  Check with the other party if you’re making even a moderately sized change to what was discussed.

11. EMOTIONS > REASON

Why is it that marketing focuses on how the product makes the customer feel? Life is an emotional game.  By insisting that rationality is driving your actions, you’re missing that rational thinking is often done to satisfy an emotional need rather than the reverse. If this doesn’t sound true for you, trace all of your motivations to their root and see what’s really behind the wheel.

If you are a storyteller, understanding this will help you to build more realistic characters. It also explains the motivations of all the people around you including those you work with and for.  

12.  ALL MINDS WORK DIFFERENTLY

It’s crucial to understand that other people don’t think the same way you do. Even the points spoken about here will have drastically different interpretations from that of the writer. Learning to appreciate the differences of people will help you to figure out how to translate your ideas into a form that makes sense to others.

13. STOP OVERTHINKING

dark-haired man holding head in futuristic setting

When faced with a problem you’re not sure how to solve, one option is to think yourself silly hoping that’ll do the trick, another is to explore that mysterious feeling that tells you to go with Plan A instead of B. Based on my own experience, intuition usually beats copous thinking and buys back the time I need to get on with the important stuff.

14. DON’T TRY TO CHANGE PEOPLE

Think that you can correct other people’s faults by explaining how they should be? Trying to change your clients, co-workers, employees, friends, parents or anyone else involved in your career is energy misused. For a person to change, they must recognise the error in their ways on their terms, not on your terms.  

15. MAKE REAL ESTIMATIONS

The mind has a tendency to overlook crucial factors that must be considered to complete a project. Once you realise this, it’ll be clear that not only are loose estimations not reliable but that life will inevitably present major curveballs during the course of your work that will demand more resources than initially conceived. 

16. INNER NOT OUTER

It’s counter-intuitive to acknowledge that your own personal traumas, neurosis and issues will directly impact the level of success you have in any area of life including your business and artistic pursuits. It’s convenient to blame one’s lack of satisfaction upon everything but their own dysfunctions. I recommend that you observe your own behavior like a hawk and try to find this correlation yourself.

17. MINIMALISM = SUCCESS

minimal interior afternoon

A less is more mentality has proven to be very effective in my own journey and thus why I advocate for minimalism in every area of your work including your schedule, your gear, your workspace and even in your business relationships.  It can seem an oddball move to take only the most essential obligations that come your way rather than trying to do it all but this allows you to do a few things well then a lot of things terribly. 

By buying up unnecessary camera gear, you waste time and money maintaining it all when you could be using that to create your next masterpiece. 

How can this principle work in my business relationships you say? By only giving people the information they need and discarding the rest, the crucial details are retained. People often ramble for emotional incentives but this is where you can make the counter-intuitive move and simplify life for all parties.

18. COME BACK TO IT

It takes willpower to be able to put down a challenging task right in the midst of resolving it but when you feel like you’re just hitting your head against the wall, leaving it alone and coming back to it will often lead to the most hassle free solution.

19. RULES ARE MIND-MADE INVENTIONS

The rules you set for yourself including how many hours you should put in each day, how much money you should make, what level of success you should have gotten by now are things that don’t exist outside your mind. As soon as you surrender all these rules you will have only the reality underneath all expectations. Life is exactly as it should be, so learning to accept it becomes the only sensible way forward. 

You don’t need rules to be productive or efficient in your work, you only need a genuine desire to make things happen and the curiosity to learn the best way to do it. 

20. EMBRACE IMPERMANENCE

Life is always changing and has been for as long as you remember. Your career has many phases, stages, ups, and downs. None of them will last and all of them will pass. By not getting attached to any part of the journey, you will enjoy all of it much more.

See my article on impermanence here.

21. DON’T BE PERFECT

By trying to make your work as perfect as possible, you suffer enormously. Perfectionism gives you no room to make or learn from mistakes which ironically is what is needed to excel. You also end up spending too much time trying to perfect one piece of art when you could be off exploring your creativity with a dozen more projects.

22. WAIT

male hands holding hourglass

By acting out of impatience it ends up taking longer to get what you wanted than if you’d just waited for it in the first place. One of the great illusions of life is that everything must happen immediately when in actuality the now must happen now and everything else must happen later.

I advise you to notice impatience arising within you and observe the inner resistance at its core. Try to find examples of how giving into this resistance leads to self sabotage, this alone may help you develop patience. It’s then about practicing patience when you would normally act from impatience. This will help you reach important milestones in your creative journey at a more comfortable pace.

23. SUCCESS DOES NOT = HAPPINESS

I’m confident saying that no amount of money, material possession or recognition will create lasting and sustainable happiness for you. Even the joy that comes from getting to make your dream project won’t solve any of your own personal issues nor will it extinguish your fears about the future.  If you want to learn how to be successful, study success. If you want to learn how to be happy, study happiness.

24. IT’S NOT PERSONAL

We are only the catalysts that reveal other people’s inner dysfunction, ignorance, strengths and beauty.  The way people behave is an inherent quality of themselves. However it is not caused by situations or people but merely brought out by them.

So next time you receive a fury-driven email from a customer, recognise where you went wrong but don’t blame yourself for the emotions they experience and conversely don’t blame others for the emotions you experience. 

25. LET GO

A keen ability to let go can be rare to find in people because it seems easier to change a situation rather than to release yourself from it. That’s why mastering such a skill is a counter-intuitive move. Letting go doesn’t mean relinquishing all your investment in life, it’s largely about freeing yourself from obsessive and neurotic ways of being which wreck havoc upon your ability to be creative and flourish in your work.

Letting go means just dropping it. If you’ve found a negligible error in your work and you feel the compulsive need to fix it, try letting it go. This practice can improve you and all of your relationships by tenfold if you implement it daily.

26. READ BETWEEN THE LINES

They said one thing but meant another. How often does this problem crop up for you? To read between the lines is to have superior awareness. Such an ability enables you to know one’s true intentions beyond the often deceptive nature of language. Try re-reading an email you’ve been sent with the intention to find something more subtle you missed the first time.  You can do this not only in written form but in face to face interactions, look for truth beyond the pronounced.

27. IT’S ALL UP TO YOU

long -haired woman breaking free from chains in field

Lastly, It’s counter-intuitive not to expect the answers to your creative problems to be found by anyone but you. This is why you must be a free-thinking individual. Don’t put your money on this article, your culture, your peers, your family or your friends to get where you need in life. Whether you realise it or not, you absorb the beliefs and habits of everyone around you. To be oblivious of this will make you susceptible to absorbing ideas that will run your career into the ground faster than you could ever imagine. If you can train yourself to take the best insights from everything and everyone around you, including the suggestions here that are most helpful, you’ll find you will evolve in ways that were once entirely inconceivable.

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About the author

Tim is a Filmmaker, Videographer and Photographer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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