This is probably the question I get asked most often when speaking with other creatives who are starting out, who are switching projects, who are… you name it! Really. At every phase of the creative journey, no matter how new or seasoned, or what level of success has been achieved, this question continues to be at the forefront of many of our minds.
Honestly, it’s a question I have been asking myself for over a decade. For a long time I thought I would finally come to some magical realization and have this question answered for life - that I would know without a shadow of a doubt that I had finally, finally found THE thing.
Well, I can say with some certainty now… that’s just never going to happen. Ha! Not for me. And after speaking with and interviewing many creatives I realize it’s pretty rare to find someone who feels like they have fully figured this out. Even if they have the broad strokes and know what vocation they want to follow - let’s say writing - there is always a question of which writing project in particular to focus on.
However, while knowing what to pursue for life is a tall order, knowing what to pursue next is very achievable.
So, when you are stuck at a crossroads of ideas, run your projects through the following filters:
What is my vision for a perfect day?
Whenever I feel lost about what I am pursuing, I know it’s time to revisit my vision. A written vision is the perfect roadmap to help you map out your goals and what you need to do to go from where you are currently to where you want to be - including helping you to narrow your long list of passions.
So, about once or twice a year, I will sit down with a journal and let my imagination start to run over what I would envision a perfect day to look like, one year from now. I imagine the day from start to finish and include everything I do and who I do it with and how I feel. I write in the present tense. And by the time I am done, I have a sweet little story from Future Cortnee that helps keep me inspired and focused.
To write your own vision, grab your journal and imagine:
Where do you wake up? Who is there?
What do you do to start your day?
Where do you live? What does it look like, smell like, feel like?
What does work look like that day? Where are you doing it? Who are you with?
How do you move your body? What do you eat?
What are you doing with your evenings after work?
What is lighting you up about your life?
Keep that vision and let’s move onto the next step.
Does it suit how I dream to work?
There are about 100,000 things I would like to be when I’d grow up. Yea I’d say that’s the rough estimate… However, if I am being realistic with myself about the way I like to (or hope to) work, that list narrows rapidly down to just a handful of things being a fit for me.
Here’s how to think about how you want to work, rather than what you want to work on:
What would look like “I want to be a painter.” “I want to open my own bakery.” “I want to be the creative director of a cool company.”
How includes thoughts more like “I would love to work from home.” “I dream to work with a large team.” “I would like the ability to travel for work.”
Using your vision as a jumping off point, expand on your how by asking yourself questions like:
From where do I wish to work?
Do I dream to work solo or with a team?
Do I want to travel?
What kind of routine and/or flexibility do I want in my day?
Do I desire to work on the same kinds of projects each day or change things up regularly?
Do I want to work with clients as a service based business or create products or both?
To use myself as an example, here is how I dream to work:
I would like to work remotely - wherever myself and my laptop happen to be that day. Most of the time that would be my home office. Often it would be while spending time visiting friends and family. Sometimes it would be while traveling.
I prefer to work solo most of the time, while finding space to collaborate with other creatives occasionally on particular projects.
I do want to travel - occasionally because of work - but mostly because I have the flexibility to work from where I choose.
I would like routine built into most of my days - like a morning ritual, workouts, walks with my dog and other daily habits. But I would also like the flexibility to be nimble and make the choice each day based on my energy level what to focus on or how many hours to work.
I desire the ability to focus on a few big projects per year, and many smaller creative tasks week to week.
I would prefer to create products for the majority of my income, and have the option to occasionally take on a few clients who I really adore.
As you can see that set of desires immediately starts to knock things off my list of pursuits. To work the way I want to work I would not be able to: open a location based business (like my dream homewares company or bakery/coworking space) because that doesn't suit my desires for remote work and flexibility; be a full time photographer or graphic designer for clients because I prefer to use those same skills to create my own products; launch a large start up because I don’t have the desire to work in an office or manage a large team.
You can see how this self awareness can really start to become a great filter with which to put your ideas through.
Now it’s your turn. Remember there are no wrong answers as long as you are being true to yourself. Note that even if this is not your current reality (like if you have a job to pay the bills - most of us do, myself included!) starting to understand how you desire to work will help so much in creating the next steps for moving towards your vision. Now get out a journal and make your own list!
How profitable is it?
Beyond our visions and desires, we do have to think on a practical level, especially since we want to turn our callings into careers. So let’s talk money, honey.
We are going to take your idea and do some very very simple, high level projections on the profits your idea could make. Grab your notebook again and a calculator my friends.
On one sheet of paper and make two columns. In the first column, write down what you are thinking of selling (products or services) and what it costs. On the other side of that product or service write down what you would have to buy or spend to make that item or service a reality and what that costs you.
So let’s say your are a ceramic artist, and your idea is to make custom mugs for clients. You will sell each mug for $25 and it will cost you $8 to make (the clay, glaze etc) - that means you would make $17 per mug.
Or as another example, you are a wedding photographer as a side hustle but your idea is to begin doing that full time. You charge $3000 for a single wedding shoot. You have no hard costs associated with that fee - so you keep the full $3000.
Next we are going to figure out how much you can scale that profit for an overall monthly and yearly income.
Our ceramic artist goes to her studio in the evenings after work and can make about 10 mugs each time. She works in her studio 4 evenings a week - so that’s 40 mugs a week for a total $680 profit each week. Scale that up over a month to $2720 and a year to $32,640 in profit.
Then our wedding photographer plans to take on about one wedding a month in the off season, and 3 weddings a month during the busy season. This adds up to an average of 24 weddings in a year or $72,000 in profit.
Now, of course I said these are rough simple calculations (and to get a real full scope you’d need to factor in the cost of running your business and marketing your products and services). But the point of this exercise to get your mind wrapped around the potential financial returns on your investment of time. We only have so many hours in a day and you may look at your idea and realize that you would be having to spend every waking moment working to earn the full income you had in mind.
Or in my favorite outcome of this, you can look at your idea and see where you can pivot or expand upon it to make it work for you. Do you need to charge more overall to make more in the same amount of time? Do you need to offer something in addition to your original idea to pump up the overall income? I am thinking of our ceramic friend again. In addition to working in the evenings after work making the custom mugs herself, she may want to teach an occasional Saturday class in her studio, teaching people and helping them to make their own custom mug. That could add on a significant bump to her already healthy side business.
One final note on this… I want to make it very clear: there - again - is no right answer to what is a “good” amount of profit. Everyone has different goals. If your goal is to make a little side income to take your family on a beautiful vacation, your goals are going to be a lot different than those who are trying to do their thing full time. And every goal is perfect if it’s yours.
What does my body and my future self think?
Now, with all this new info swirling around in your head - visions and work styles and profits - I am going to guess you might feel a little spun out? So let’s now get out of our heads for a minute and use our intuition for this final check in...
We are going to start with your body. When you think about your idea, how does your body feel? Do you have nervous excited butterflies? Or do you feel tense? Do you notice your chest lifted or sinking? Is there a sense of heaviness weighing your body down or lightness and energy? I find that when I am thinking about something that is right for me, I feel open, heart lifted, slightly nervous and excited. And when I am thinking about something that is not a fit for me, it feels heavy and overwhelming and I tend to slump over on myself. I know this may sound a bit odd if you’ve not done something like this before, but trust me here. Close your eyes for a minute and just think about your idea and watch your body respond.
If you liked that, you can take it one step further and also imagine yourself in the future and see how that feels. So I want you to picture two versions of yourself about one year in the future - one has followed your idea and gone all in on it, the other chose not to follow the idea. Fully envision your life in both scenarios. Ask similar questions to your visioning from earlier. Do you notice a difference in how you feel between one or the other? Which makes your body feel more relieved and happy? Which makes you feel like you can’t wait to live that life?
So that was a lot of info I know - about triple what I imagined writing for you today! But this is an important topic and I wanted to give you a lot to marinate on. I also want to leave you today with the ultimate, end all, be all answer to this question...
When all else fails…
Ultimately the best way to know is to take action. Think through these questions and make decisions as quickly as you can. Just get started. Otherwise we end up on a never ending loop of trying to think it through perfectly - and we all know perfect doesn't exist. So get out there. Try your idea. Iterate on it. Quit it as quickly as you started if it just doesn't work. And get busy making the next thing. I know you can do this. You’re a Starter!
To each and every one of your 100,000 crazy ideas, Cheers, xx, Cort