No art without ego. The desire to express oneself, to be seen and heard, is intensely personal. We have to believe in what we are meant to do to even attempt doing it. Ego says that it could be me, why not me, okay, me. Inner faith, longing almost, drives us forward, inspires us to overcome. No creative business can operate without ego. Without ego, you would all be selling interchangeable widgets and the world would be bored.
Oh, but ego is a cruel mistress. What you, your art and your creative business bring to your clients is simultaneously about you and beyond you. All you can do is set the stage, make sure the pipes are clear if you will, and let the rest happen. The magic comes when you know where “you” end and momentum, energy, flow take over. Conductor far more than instrument. Storyteller more than copywriter. Director more than actor. In it is the confidence to know what you know and more important what you do not. Wisdom and experience allow not only those to arrive to fill in your weaknesses but to harness your strength. Ego can kill it all.
How many of you looking for an employee have started the conversation with “I just need a blah blah blah so I can have time to do x, y and z.” Or, “I am tired of doing (Quickbooks, billing, negotiation, marketing, client management) so I need you to…” Ego. Really, truly, who do you think is going to show up? Someone who wants to take the opportunity you give them and show you the ten you have not seen or someone who is going to do the job you give them – rise to the bar as low as you will set it? Of course, there are terrible employees, but too often, the expectations you set are incredibly out of whack.
Then there is the second worst part of ego. Ego can define success for you, place limits on what might be possible. Would be so great if the business could one day make a million dollars. Why not ten million, twenty? Not so much that you will ever get to any of those places, but only in the sense that your own vision of success is self-limiting. Get out of the way. Focus instead on building the structure that can support wherever you want to go and set out doing those things that inspired you to start in the first place. If all of your ideas come while you are in the bathtub, stop taking showers because they are faster. All of which to say that it does not mean you have to stop being a control-freak or obsessive about your art and creative business. Quite the opposite. Ego demands tenacious, irrational, fervent belief in a vision. Otherwise the first person to say no will be enough to send you packing. It is just that once you build it, let it run past you. Steve Jobs had no idea what Apps would become and how they would affect Apple. No one was more obsessive about building the platform though.
Finally, the worst part of ego, past success, experience, and accumulated knowledge as being dispositive of what will work in the future. Of course, we can learn and bring ourselves to the table. However, when the world changes beneath our feet, we have to also be willing to actively unlearn what we know, value our success not in riding the horse until it dies, but instead switch horses. It is beyond insane to think that ANY creative business operating as it does today will be relevant ten years from now. The art and artistry will without doubt, the platform will not. Listen to your mentors and colleagues for their wisdom, just please please please find your own voice. The difference between the right and wrong way is mostly timing.
In the end, my hope, mostly for myself is to deeply honor my ego, but be equally determined to not be its slave. Do the work, then let it go and see where it takes you.