Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Paradox of the Positive Front

Year one of my creative business was all about projecting a successful image. Call it "fake it 'till you make it", call it the Secret principle...the basic idea is the same: having an optimistic perspective while you bridge the gap between where you start and where you want to end up will lead to a positive outcome. Present yourself as successful, the world sees you as successful, treats you as successful...and hopefully one day your own perception follows suit as a new reality unfolds.

Over the past year I have been asked countless times:

- So, how's it going?
- Have you been busy?
- Are you getting lots of foot traffic?
- How are sales?
- Did you get a lot of people buying for the holidays?

Usually these questions have come from well-intentioned, curious people wanting to be supportive. Regardless of how things were actually going, or how I felt on any given day, the answer would always be the same:

- It's been going really well, thank you. (accompanied by a humble smile)

Sometimes this response felt totally accurate, other times it felt like the ultimate false front. But no matter. I would always answer with the same optimistic vibe of success.

I truly believe that projecting a positive image in year one was critical. Because here's the thing: MANY PEOPLE EXPECTED ME TO ANSWER THAT THINGS WERE NOT GOING WELL. Because it's hard as hell to make it as an artist. Especially when you take on a brick-and-mortar location. In a place with practically no foot traffic. And are only open three days a week. And your pieces are expensive and you are based in a community that's perceived as unable to support nice things. People don't expect you to succeed.

I could see it in their faces. People were ready for me to say that things were not going well. That nobody was coming in my doors. That I wasn't selling anything. That I wasn't enjoying success. That I wouldn't make it through the first year. It was almost funny to observe the surprise in their faces. "Oh really? Ummm, that's great!" And then this strange, subtle transformation as their perception of my business shifted from "just another struggling artist" to "wow, she's making it happen. I want to be part of this."

After a solid year of fake-it-'till-you-make-it, here I am. I had a good first year. I had sales. My guest artists had sales. My business has been a success.

I believe that my positive responses had a direct influence on creating all this. If I'd responded that things were slow, that I wasn't sure how I'd cover my expenses, that I felt discouraged and uncertain, that this was a tough occupation and a tough town to be in...people would have perceived me to be a sinking ship. And who wants to support some debbie downer business that is destined to fail?

But here's the thing: fake-it-'till-you-make-it creates an image of success that leads to actual success...but it can also work behind the scenes to cultivate a rotten sense of fraudulence, insecurity, and insatisfaction within the person faking it. At least that's how it's been for me. Not just here with the jewelry/art stuff, back in Mozambique it was the same thing with our consulting work.

There comes a point when you have to stop fronting and get real. Acknowledge your insecurities and weaknesses and frustrations. Voice your doubts. Truly evaluate how things are going, what is working, what isn't. Start being a little more authentic. If not with everyone who asks you how it's going, at least with yourself. The relentless positivity can quickly become denial if you don't let it fade away at some point.


Jody said...

You go girl! I check in on you from time to time because you helped me so much with info about Moz. It has been awhile but I am so glad to see you have started your own thing! I thought of you because I just drove by Villa Algave today, across where you used to live and then after a good friend of mine lived after you. We have never met in person, but I thought how helpful your emails were and how you have changed so much in the last 5 years since we "virtually" met.

I read your post and thought of all the times you have "started up" something before. Great you are doing it again! cheers!

Ali la Loca said...

~Jody - Thank you so much for this. I honestly love(d) helping people relocate to Moz, although my input now is totally outdated I fear. :) Were the people who lived in our flat after us, the friends of yours, possibly the Vaenas? Must be. That makes me happy to think about, and how this small world is ultra connected, especially when it comes to Maputo people. I hope you are well, enjoying the city and all its changes. I find it hard to even imagine what it must be like now. Thank you for your kind words, and for the cheerleading through this latest reinvention of mine. Starting things up is in my blood, and it is exciting to know that people have been reading here long enough to know the before and the after. :) beijos, querida!