On knowing when to accept your failures in order to focus on your strengths as a small creative business
Alternate title: I can write hundreds of articles but can't string two photos together
I'm starting the new year gearing up to launch the book I'm proudest of, the one I kind of wish I could end my erotica editing career with because I love it so much (spoiler alert: I'm not done with anthologies, and have a new women's erotica call for submissions up). I'm also starting this week as the first of 52 where I have a weekly sales goal in terms of my income; in this case, "sales" means my words. For the purposes of meeting my financial milestones, I need to sell not a particular number of articles per week, but a combination of articles to hit my goal. If I meet those goals, it will not only help me expand my events, classes and book promotions, pay for web hosting, give me peace of mind knowing that I can book travel well in advance and thus secure the best rates, pay for unexpected surprises like moves, afford fertility treatments if I need them, and generally be assured that my business is on its way up, not ready to crash down at a moment's notice.
I'm excited for these new endeavors and some new projects, which includes three websites I'm launching: one is a PG blog about a whole new topic, because I learned with Cupcakes Take the Cake that I adore having a blog that is outside my usual arena of sex and dating topics; the other two are about my writing classes, because I want to make teaching a broader part of my portfolio, in line with my desire to help other writers get published, which I've done informally but want to incorporate as a regular business practice.
All that means that I'm aiming to focus my business (officially known as RKB Enterprises, Inc.) on my strengths and talents. What's NOT one of them? Anything to do with art or images. I know this from years of experience and frustration. I suck at the visual. I just do. But knowing this hasn't made it any easier when I've spent the last hour trying to merge the following two images so that I can promote the hell out of my $25 Amazon gift card giveaway, which ends on January 11th:
I do have a takeaway here, I promise. I've had to accept and embrace the fact that I'm bad at imagery, that I just don't have a mind that will ever find things like PicMonkey, Picasa, Photoshop, Canva, etc., easy. I hate it, get frustrated by it, and in turn, that frustration leaves me feeling worthless and stupid. It leaves me thinking things like: What kind of stupid idiot are you to think you can run a successful business when you can't do something a child could do?
I've had days where that feeling has derailed any other plans I've had that day. I've had days where I've let one failure or frustration or thing I can't do have a domino effect which meant I didn't accomplish other things that I did have the capacity to complete. I can see it clearly in hindsight, but when that emotion hits me in the gut, it worms its way deep into my psyche. It attacks me where it knows it will do the most damage. It starts to convince me that no matter how many articles I've written or books I've edited or successful book promotions I've run or classes I've taught, none of it matters if I can't also do this one task.
It's a new year, and the truth is, I need to make myself over along with the calendar if I am going to thrive and if my business is going to survive. I have to, at times like today, simply make do with second best, and hope that the core of my message, which is that I want you to order/pre-order my hot and sexy new anthology Best Women's Erotica of the Year, Volume 1 (I need a handy acronym for that title, don't I?) so much I've spent $125 and am ready to mail out those gift cards next Tuesday, gets through. I have to trust that it will reach the people who will forgive me for not being a Photoshop wizard, who will be excited for the chance to win this giveaway and will want to support my work, the writing of these amazing authors and a small publisher. I will have to have faith that the universe will see that I did my best, but ultimately chose not to waste wearying, stressful hours trying to finish a visual task that I'm not suited for.
Am I giving up? On photo merging, yes. On other technical tasks that will not actually further my business because they take way too much time because I never learned how to do them? Yes. On my writing, my book, myself or my capacity to play to my strengths? Not for one second.
There's a reason successful entrepreneurs say things like "Time is your No. 1 asset." We only have so much of it in each day, week, and lifetime. Just as I weigh whether every penny I spend on my business is worthwhile, so too do I have to weigh whether my time is worth devoting to a given task, or if it could be better utilized in a more productive, income-generating or career-building way. I've been in this same situation countless times and usually I am so deep in the hole of hating myself for what I can't do, I forget that what I can do is maximize the skills I have in the time I have to earn the most money possible. I forget that the book I'm so proud of has deeper roots than one little botched photo merge, and that my self-worth shouldn't rest on any lone task or to do list item.
So I wrote this to remind myself, and you, that while we are often taught we need to do "everything" to further our businesses, no one person can literally do everything, nor do they need to to be successful. This is the same principle when I hear authors or students wonder, "Do I have to be on social media?" If it's something you despise, aren't good at, and are only going through the motions, my answer is generally no. Is being active on Twitter, Facebook, etc. likely to help your writing career? Yes. So too would being able to make those images into one help me plaster it around the internet and Instagram. But at what price? Half my day and me wanting to throw my laptop in the garbage? That's just not a price I'm willing, or my business can afford, to pay.
Ultimately, it boils down to the Serenity Prayer for me (the first and most famous part; I'm more of a fan of self-reliance than I am of the latter part). When I say "G-d grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference," I don't say it as part of a 12-step program. I say it as a way to center myself, to not waste my time on fruitless, pointless endeavors, and to refocus my mind on the things I can, in fact, change. Yes, in this particular case, it's possible that someday I will learn how to play with images and bend them to my will, but today is not that day, and I highly doubt I will somehow become an online photo savant who can whip up gorgeous visuals at a moment's notice. To use a phrase that will probably annoy many readers, and often annoys me, but is so on point I can't resist: that's not on brand. My brand is about words: using my own, and encouraging others to use theirs. It has zero to do with fancy images, even if those might help me sell a few more books. I can live with the loss in sales if it means I have my priorities straight, my sanity intact, and my efforts trained toward reachable goals.
By focusing on selling my words today, by writing the essay and article I had planned for this morning and doing the researching and email outreach I need to for future ones, I can hopefully someday afford to hire someone who does know what they're doing to make graphics for me. I've been lucky enough to have a partner and friends help me with some of my images in the past, but I don't want to be a freeloader and want to compensate workers for their time, just as I would be for my work. It's very easy to veer off course, as I did this morning, and be so consumed with some seemingly urgent but ultimately arbitrary achievement you forget to see the forest because you're so busy with that one damn tree. In my head, solving that photo issue, which I did try to do with three separate apps or websites, would have meant some sort of book sales nirvana. In my head, that was my finish line, rather than a starting point, and only became more entrenched the more attempts I made. That's exactly how I lose my focus, and I imagine I'm not the only one who does.
So with that, I will get back to my real work, the kind I know how to do.