On Being Vulnerable
As I come closer to the 1.5 years of creating and running my own business, it is time to reflect on some thoughts that are really hard to talk about, and being honest about.
These past 14 months have been not only the most fun, exciting, and creatively rewarding months of my life, but have also been the scariest of them all. And that is an understatement. There are weeks where I feel I'm doing it all wrong, weeks where I feel I'm doing pretty well. It never ends, and it's the biggest rollercoaster ride of my life. Yet, I don't regret it at all. Why?
A little background
One of the things about San Francisco, that you learn to love or hate but it becomes part of you pretty quickly, is the idea that everyone around is probably creating something that will change the world. Even if they're not. Even if they're opening a new cafe, or a bakery, or a pizza joint. There's immediately that feeling that those locations might just quickly become the next best thing in your community. Everyone is creating something. All the time. People are moving jobs. The tech industry is buzzing. Startups come and go, you see people coding on laptops at every cafe in town, and there really is an app for everything.
What this creates in you is a weird mix of emotions and feelings. If you're anything involved in this rapidly changing world that mixes tech and art, then it will be really hard to disassociate yourself from being affected by the vibe around you.
I usually compete with myself. I always want to be better than last time, learn more, be faster, notice things quicker, create something deeper, more meaningful, more cohesive, more beautiful. I'm my own biggest competitor, which also makes me my own biggest critic.
Earlier this week, I was forwarded a wonderfully written article about precisely this theme. You can read the full post on the link below, but I will quote some of the main ideas behind it and give you a genuine example of how I've dealt with the same situation in my case.
I honestly believe in full transparency at all stages of the experience. I'm learning a ton every single day as I face new challenges, both financially and creatively, and it's all part of what the adventure of doing your own thing entails.
In his highly cited research, University of Georgia social psychology professor Abraham Tesser found that when someone close to us outperforms us in a task relevant to us, it often threatens our self-esteem. The more relevant the task is, the greater the threat we feel.
As I said before, this is inherent to mostly anyone who is ambitious, self-driven, and always motivated to do better. The whole city of San Francisco is pretty much like this. Living in the tech bubble, and creating my own business in this world, has a lot of advantages, but definitely one of the hardships is learning to deal with the constant competition (internal, or external) that you allow yourself to go through when constantly being compared with everyone else doing similar things.
It never ends. It's pretty fascinating actually. What I honestly believe that solves all of this, is that fortunately what I am doing with Sutro Studios is because I genuinely love working with people. I love telling stories. I love photographing. I love filming. I love everything about it, the uncertainty, the budgeting, the production process. The creative chaos that flows ever so irregularly at times. You need to learn to let go of what other people are thinking. It doesn't matter. Do it because you love it. Do it for yourself.
Yes, you'll make mistakes. I've made mistakes. I've lost footage I've shot. I've lost backup drives. I've recorded something with the wrong settings. I took more creative freedom at times than what clients want. But it's all part of the process. If you keep the honest and genuine creative approach to what you do, not only to your own ego, but also to your clients, you'll learn to be in a much better shape dealing with the psychological competition of comparing your business to everyone else's around you.
I would be lying if I said I had never felt sad if I saw someone outperform me in a task relevant to me. It's human nature. But I've learned throughout the years, through my work at places like Pixar and Dreamworks where you're surrounded by the best of the best, that you can use that as an opportunity to grow even further. Quicker. You can ask what they did that got them there. You can observe. You can try to understand how they got that opportunity, and how in the future you can apply those same ideas to your own business. It all matters. Don't waste time feeling sorry for yourself. It will only make it worse.
He and his research team paired students who were strangers. The students were given 45 minutes to ask each other a series of questions. Half the pairs were given questions that were factual and shallow (e.g., a favorite holiday or TV show). The other half were given questions that started off as factual but gradually became deeper (e.g., the role of love in their lives, the last time they cried in front of someone else). The final question was, “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find the most disturbing?”
After the 45 minutes, Aron’s team asked the participants to rate how close they felt to their partner. Pairs from the second group formed much deeper bonds. In fact, many of these participants started lasting friendships. In one longer version of the experiment, two participants even got engaged a few months after the study.
I love this. This exactly shows human nature, emotions and feelings, at its best. And it influences you day in, day out, every day you run a business, work on a project, or have coffee with your friends and hear about their promotions, their rounds of funding, their new home, or their last great vacation.
Which also is fascinating, because it shows that if you allow yourself to create a deeper connection with someone, with your clients, friends, or strangers you network with during work events, you will gain a tremendous amount of insight from that experience, and even better, feel much happier with yourself.
A 45-minute conversation created a connection that was perceived as closer than the closest connection with someone people known for years.
I try to live my life like this in everything I do, and everyone I meet. If I'm speaking at a conference, I try to get some kind of deeper bond between my audience and myself. If I'm hanging out with friends, I learn to listen (and learning to listen is way harder than it sounds). If I'm going to a work event, I try to ask questions that don't necessarily have a yes or no answer, but maybe will make you stop, and think a little bit longer.
All of these things help. I try to surround myself as much as possible with people that try to live the same way. I'm fortunate enough to also have a boyfriend who's not afraid of challenging me with deeper questions. And especially as I grow older and have been in San Francisco for ten years of my life, I notice myself relaxing more and more. Just feeling happier about life, about creativity, and about my work.
Only presenting an idealized version of ourselves separates us from others.
Precisely because of this, and what I've learned about it throughout my life, I created this blog to share my experience as I run this business, and try to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Till this day, I have no idea if it's going to work out, if I'm going to make a profit soon, or if I'll have to go back to an office job, but what I know is that it's all been worth it, and that I've grown more now, artistically and personally, than ever before.
Do I miss Pixar? Of course. The people, the films, the stability of the job, and all the benefits that come with it. But I really felt this inner drive to challenge myself, shake things up, allow myself to be scared, and with all that, allow myself to be completely vulnerable.
The mistaken assumption is that if people find out who we really are underneath, they’d remove themselves from our lives. The reality is that if we share the ups and downs of our human experience in the right way in the right context, we build deeper connections. In so doing, we can break down the roles we play (e.g., client/customer, boss/employee, fundraiser/philanthropist) and connect with each other as humans.
It's been a wild journey so far. And I can't wait to see where it takes me next. Thank you for reading, and feel free to share your own experience too.
In a world where people compare their behind-the-scenes with others’ highlight reels, we can surprise ourselves, and put others at ease, by sharing our full humanity.