The goal is to be good, right? Or perhaps even the best. But should that honestly be the goal? Certainly aspiring to be great is both acceptable and courageous; however, the desire to simply be good at something clouds your judgement, and can in fact be very limiting.
Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely shoot for the stars, but often times there are some very important values that are disregarded when pursuing greatness. Over and over again you will hear claims that there is no secret to success, yet there is an understood, silent expectation that whatever you’re doing you should first be good. Although I find it helpful to be good at your craft, I want to dispel the myth that you first need to be good, and instead share how being nice and curious are cornerstones to creative success.
“The truth is, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you are a total a-hole or incapable of talking to other human beings, it will be a massive struggle for you to get repeat clients or even to secure clients first time around.” — Jessica Hische
The quote above from Jessica comes from a post she titles Getting Freelance Work which kicks off with tip #1: Don’t be a dick. Quite surprisingly this advice isn’t rare, in fact more and more designers and professionals are putting this at the forefront of their values. Justin Pervorse had a similar sentiment in his talk at Creative South ‘14 when he shared his story along with advice for young designers in which he simply states, “Don’t be a fart.” It’s actually quite easy to be a jerk (or depending on your choice of words, a dick or a fart) without even noticing because it’s easy to think that you have the right answer or know everything or to even believe that you’re best doing it alone. Being nice encompasses a lot of different things, but in regards to my claim that you don’t need to be good, I simply want to create the distinction that you should be the type of person you want to be around. Are you looking to outshine those around you or do you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself?
Have you ever watched an All-Star basketball game? Quite honestly, it’s not the most enjoyable—and that’s coming from someone who really enjoys watching the sport. The common misconception is that an ideal team consists of all the best players, and many artists and designers think the same way, but then all you’re left with is a bunch of individually talented players supposedly playing on the same team. During the All-Star game defense is nearly nonexistent, and players seemingly get in rotation to show off their skills. The game lacks story, at no point is a plot developed meaning there is never a climax. The game ends up being ridiculously high scoring because it lacks the tactics that make regular season games so enjoyable to watch.
Are you wanting to be apart of an event or a story? Hopefully the people you want to be working with are people you genuinely enjoy and are reciprocally interested in you. Being around pretentious individuals who aren’t able to cap their ego can be extremely frustrating and difficult. Keep an open mind, and collaborate rather than contribute. I’ve always been a firm believer in that everyone’s opinion and voice matters, even the unlikely ones, and even the ones who go against what you believe in because you can always learn something from someone else. With that being said, be interested. Those who are interesting are interested in everything. Developing a sense of curiosity will always leave you learning, and will allow you to help others. When someone is curious they are constantly questioning their surroundings, and so curious individuals will challenge you to become better. You don’t have to be good, when you are around others they should become better because of you, and in turn, you too will become better.
“Don’t work for assholes. Don’t work with assholes” — Erik Spiekermann
Being nice becomes increasingly easier when you are working with nice people. Taking Erik’s advice can be extremely difficult when you are tempted by the interest of big brands, but sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice working with large clients to ensure you’re being treated as you should be. No amount of money will displace a terrible experience you had with a client, and nothing is more rewarding than working with someone you enjoy. Most often when you love working with someone you will produce higher quality work. Your enjoyment of the process directly correlates to quality of what you’re creating. Don’t waste your time working for or with people you can’t stand; instead find those people you want to work with time after time again—the only way to do that is to first be that person.
Many will roll their eyes at my claim, but I honestly don’t believe you have to be good. If you are nice and curious then you can learn to do anything. When you are nice other people want to be around you. When you are curious you are able to learn. When you are nice and curious those around you will help you and you can continue learning on your own.