It's Nothing Personal

A moderate degree of thick skin is necessary for any service-based business. Especially a creative one. And yet, even I won’t completely heed the advice of my own article, because as I’m writing this I picture the reader smiling at how clever I seem to be – and if they don’t, I’ll figure “they just didn’t get it”.

Ego is a hard thing to avoid when it comes to something we’ve created.

I’m always trying to make myself a better artist. I constantly buy books on how I can improve my skills. I watch more online tutorials than I do TV shows. I eat and breathe my profession but none of that matters if I can’t give the client what they want. And in the end, that’s what I keep telling myself. It’s what they want. What they’ve hired me to create for them.

When I started out in this industry, I used to choke on my own ego. Hearing someone say "You know I don’t think it’s there yet" had me fighting off the demoralized look that would instantly want to mutate my face. My attitude was completely defensive (at least on the inside) and by the time the client left me to the revisions, I felt frustrated and hurt. What do they know? Why would they hire me if they don't trust my judgment? I've been doing this for at least a year – I'm obviously a professional.

I couldn’t have possibly done a good job in that state of mind. In fact, at that moment I had just failed at my job. Why? Because my job is to make great looking stuff for other people. Not for myself. If you paid someone to remodel your kitchen wouldn't you want it exactly the way you want it? You may not be a professional renovator but you know what you like when you see it, right? So why is the situation different when you're the "builder" and they're the customer?

There is nothing wrong with being upset because you've missed the mark. It's natural. But it's something that you bounce back from, and if given the chance, you come out the other end with a better product. When you take things personally, the only thing you want to do is defend your decisions. So much effort is spent on justification that you can't even begin to consider the next step, which is "Ok, so how do I fix this?"

Anytime someone is critiquing something I’ve created, I remind myself that they are speaking about the thing they are looking at, not about me. Yes I crafted it, cared for it and watched it grow but if I can't detach myself from the things I make for other people then this business will drive me crazy.

We all have egos. And that’s not a bad thing. I love my ego. It got me where I am today. Yes I have skill, but my ego is what convinced me my skills were worth something. The trick is not to let it get in the way.

I don’t know if I’ll ever completely rid myself of taking creative criticism to heart, but I’ve gotten a lot better at it. This job is not who I am, it’s just what I do.

So I hope this found a few of you. Some will use it, some won’t. Either way I’ll try not to take it personally.


  1. I think this applies to so many job roles - beyond creative ones even - and even spills into our daily life roles (including partner, daughter/son, sister/brother, friend...). We feel judged so often, but have to remind ourselves that our work/actions and our being aren't one in the same. Am I making any sense? Had a late night...

  2. The best creatives are those that can walk away from an idea that they have been developing and nurturing once it has been rejected. Creatives have to become experts in manipulating their egos, use it to give them the confidence to sell their ideas but also be able to put it aside when no one is buying it.

  3. "I'm right, you're not" doesn't work very well - not if you want relationships that last beyond that one project. ... in that funky throw back to the 50s/60s Madison Ave men egos they keep referencing the big books that the research department produced. (Full disclosure: I do research, a lot of research, and when together with my clients we get an insight out of that, t hat makes all the effort worth it because it is the spark needed to make things better.