There are two distinct avenues you can follow in developing your creative practice. The most trafficked avenue is Hustle and Grind. But the more scenic, pleasant, and stable path is Humble and Grow.
A fellow entrepreneur friend of mine used to joke that the best part of being in business for yourself is that you get to choose your hours. You alone control which of the 80 hours a week you want to work. There is some truth in that hyperbole, especially when you’re just starting out. But that can’t last forever. You might have to hustle and grind to get things rolling, but eventually you need to get strategic, and find a more sustainable path.
As creatives seek better solutions to build a client base, they often don’t know where to start. When they reflect on how they’ve gotten clients in the past, they see no clear connections between their efforts and the results. They usually experience growth through word of mouth referrals, but how exactly any of those serendipitous leads came about is a mystery, and appears to be entirely outside their control.
Ever Increasing Effort
Without clear cause-and-effect connections between effort and result, creatives are stuck just making effort—hoping and waiting for results to come in. And results to come, just not in ways they could predict. So while there is no direct connection between effort and result, they can vaguely establish a relationship between effort and result—but the only part of that dynamic that’s under their control is the effort part. And so they just exert more and more.
The early startup stages of creative entrepreneurship are pretty exciting. Everything is new. You’re full of hopes and dreams for the future. It’s a thrill to land your first client, and cash your first check. This kind of energy can take you pretty far down the road.
Some creatives are naturally cut out for the hustle and grind. They love the frenetic pace. They might be off the charts extroverts who get charged up by making connection after connection. The combination of talent along with dogged determination and non-stop networking leads to many successful practices.
Not all creatives are blessed with hyperthyroidism, or thrive through frenzy. But for most of us, who don’t thrive for long under that kind of intensity, we need to find a more sustainable gear before we grind to a halt. Thankfully, the hustle and grind is not the only path to success.
A Different Path to Growth
The other path, I call “Humble and Grow.” It’s a slower path. You can take Route 81 to Route 26 and travel from Staunton, VA to Asheville, NC in about five hours. Or you can take the Blue Ridge Parkway and it will take you twelve glorious hours. Both will get you where you want to go, but they are very different journeys.
The difference between the Hustle and Grind Speedway, and the Humble and Grow Parkway is not the amount of effort or work, but rather the kinds of effort and work.
The reason I call this alternate path Humble and Grow (besides alliteration) is that it is a narrower path. It’s the path of PinPoint Positioning—staying focused on one main area of creative service for one main industry. This indeed limits the kinds of creative opportunities you will have, and it will restrict you from exploring every possible avenue of creative expression. You will have to humbly accept some limits. You will have to take the slow and steady route, rather than join the rat race.
More Pleasant and More Productive
But in the long run, the growth that comes from the more humble, more limited focus is much stronger and dependable than that which comes from the hustle and grind. If you choose to grind it out, you’ll be compelled to continue that effort indefinitely. As soon as you slacken your pace, your growth will drop. But the Humble and Grow path establishes a foundation which, at a certain point, becomes almost self-sustaining. Over time it gets stronger, even as you exert less effort. This provides you with all the freedom in the world to pull off the road and spend a minute enjoying a scenic overlook.
If you are a high energy individual who enjoys the intensity of a frenetic pace, then more power to you. But if you’d rather build something that will last, and that will become sustainable without constant exertion, then you might want to consider the road less traveled by, and enjoy a long and successful creative career, without the hustle and grid. It may take a little longer to get there, and require you to choose a single lane road, but the journey can be amazing.