Do you remember why you got into the creative industry in the first place? Not how, but why?
Think of your reason right now. I'm betting there is one attribute that is common between every one of your stories of why: Joy.
Somewhere at the genesis of your creative journey, you had an insurmountable pile of joy that you couldn't wait to climb every single day. Creativity is a joy-making machine and there was something in what you were learning or doing that brought you joy. This is different than happiness, mind you. Happiness is fleeting; joy is rooted. When you were solving and making and collaborating and exploring, your connection was deeper than just happiness. Tacos bring happiness. Joy means more.
But the gears of business can steal some of that joy. We solve problems for other people – and with other people come requests and processes and subjective opinions that don't always offer the same level of joyful satisfaction as those early days provided. We can often feel beaten down, disrespected and devalued. Our work can be marginalized, our hard-fought and hard-thought ideas quickly dismissed. How do we retain that joy while maintaining the level of professionalism necessary to work with and for others? A sense of humor helps tremendously, but so does a sense of wonder.
It is no secret that I turn to humor as a communication vehicle at almost every relational opportunity. Like many, I grew up using humor as an acceptance mechanism, a way to socially balance the awkwardness of my near-Nephilim height and Praying Mantis-like physique.
As I grew into this industry, I found that humor served both the work and the relationships, whether I was with colleagues or clients. But more importantly, it kept me tethered to the foundational joy that I discovered exploring creativity and design in school, the joy that making gave me. That's not to say every day is a clownless carnival, but even the days that suck can be overcome when I keep a weather eye on what I fell in love with when I started.
So how do you preserve that joy in the creative industry? Like a sci-fi shapeshifter, you let it morph to the need.
In Your Work
Joy makes you a better creative. But when you are creating, where is your joy found? Is it in the result or is it in the creating? Too many people sock their joy in the outcome of their process instead of the process itself. This is a dangerous practice as the outcome of our work is rarely in our hands. Creative directors change layouts, account supervisors alter ideas, bosses change copy, clients alter directions. If we place our joy only in the result of our work, we will find our joy is in someone else's control. Take that joy back. Find joy in the process of making, not the result of it and you'll find that the well never goes dry.
In Your Day-to-Day Interactions
Unless you've found a way to print money from your laser printer (if so, please email me and attach the template), you work with other people. Other people can be difficult. Other people can have a negative influence on your joy-o-meter. Other people can suck. But the simple truth is this: other people can only affect you if you allow it. Yes, I'm putting on my Tony Robbins hat (and, yes, that visual is creepy). Your joy is on you. You can choose to keep it and you can choose to give it. That's where surprise comes in.
Wield surprise like a weapon. If someone is joystealing, do the extra work to surprise him or her with something they could use but weren't expecting. Diagnose the problem they are having and then use that ideator you've got to offer up something surprising. A good place to start is recognizing what would make them look like a hero to their shot caller, and then serve that need. Paying it forward is a great way to infect joy.
In Your Relationships With Clients
Have you ever wondered why casinos use chips rather than cash at the gaming tables? Outside of making handling money easier by consolidating shapes, casinos know that people are more willing to bet five chips than five dollars. Even though they are the same thing, it is human nature to value actual cash more than the representation of cash.
Clients and agencies can too easily fall into the same trap by continuing to dehumanize each other with language. We use terms like agency, client, target and consumer. What we really mean is person, person, person and person.
Clients are people. They respond to the same things everyone else does. They like to laugh. They like to feel comfortable with the people that represent the agencies and partners on which they rely. So give them what we all want: passion. Show them that the joy you possess as a creative is expressed in the work you do for them. Laugh with them. Tell stories with them. Get emotional about the chance to attach those same characteristics to their companies and their brands. Get up for them and they'll get up for you.
Have you learned how to be happy at work by rediscovering the joy of creativity? Add your tips and mental tricks in the comments.
Stefan Mumaw has authored six books, the most recent being Creative Boot Camp, a 30-day crash course on creativity. He's spoken at numerous creative industry gatherings over the years and has been known to embarrass himself and those around him if given the opportunity.