There are no right answers.
I often find that the challenges I have in leading an agency are essentially the same challenges I experience in the creative process. When I can’t write or I’m frustrated about something with the business - usually the creeping fear that I’m a barrier to growth, or that I’m not good enough for the people I’ve surrounded myself with - the problem never turns out to be that I can’t find the answer. Rather, it is that I can’t clearly see the problem.
I have been running a shop long enough now that I am occasionally asked for advice by new entrepreneurs, and I see in them the same thing I struggle with daily: the belief that there’s a right answer. The most valuable thing, business-wise, any mentor or friend ever said to me came from Marcus Watson, from Little Guys Movers.
I said, “Some days I just feel like I’m making shit up.”
He said, “Of course you are. I’ve been doing this more than 20 years, and I’m still making shit up as I go along. You have to. There are no right answers."
There are no right answers!
It was a great relief when he said it to me, and I see that same relief on the faces of people with businesses younger than Swash when I say it to them. Running a business is lonely sometimes, and knowing that you aren’t alone and that everyone else is improvising too is a comfort.
It begins with the big lie we all believe from childhood, that there’s such a thing as grownups. The truth is that you never grow up. Sure, some people are more organized or manage to make their own lives relatively simple, and some of us can’t stop making things harder than they have to be. Generally, though, we’re all in the same boat.
I think the real difference is how honest you are willing to be with yourself, and how well you know who you really are. The more I know myself, the less likely I am to let someone treat me poorly. I am discovering that as I get more comfortable with who I am, the less complicated my life gets.
This helps me with creative work, because I stop looking past a perfectly good idea in search of some mythical perfect idea that might exist. It helps me with business because I’m not worried about finding the right idea so much as I allow myself to feel okay with making the best decision I can with the information I have. These things are both about confidence, or a lack thereof.
I loved True Detective when it came out last year, and Stephanie thought that was hilarious because when we met, fresh out of high school, I had an intense Cosmic Nihilism streak that was more comical than well-considered. Rust Cohle was a path back to my younger self, for better or worse.
Knowing yourself and being okay with who you are is not unlike being in great physical condition. You can get out of shape and out of sorts if you stop paying attention to it and making that time for yourself. What’s worse than being out of shape is having recently fallen from fine form into disarray - you remember what you were and it is worse than mysterious aspiration. You remember how it felt for everything to just work and you wonder if you can get back there again.
The truth is that you can get back to where you were. Once you see the shape of yourself, you know the shape of the path and you can clearly see the problem. It’s no more an answer than it is a destination, but you know where you’re going.