"Do things before you feel 100% ready for them (because you’re never 100% ready). Ask for help. Surround yourself with people you can go to for a good venting session and pep talk. But do it all with attitude and bravery and ferocity. Because you’ll be fine, even if (when) you struggle. Avoiding failure is fruitless, but preparing for and responding to it with confidence will make you a better businessperson and maker. So the best advice I can give, in a nutshell, is just to get going, and trust that you’ll figure it out along the way." - @bundlehandmade
Hi makers, Lindsay from @bundlehandmade! I'm excited to be guest blogging for Our Maker life on the topic of something near and dear to my heart: the #MakersGetReal challenge.
Social media has problems. That shouldn’t be surprising. There are plenty of studies on the relationship between social media use and depression, anxiety, and other ugly feelings. Psychologists generally agree that the reason for this is that most of what we see on social media is other peoples’ highlight reels, which we then compare to our mundane, lackluster, sometimes ugly everyday realities. Instagram is probably the pinnacle of a highlight reel – everything is visual, beautiful, staged, and filtered.
I wanted to start the #MakersGetReal challenge for exactly this reason. Here are five things I've learned from hosting this challenge, along with some of my favorite prompt responses from other talented makers in our amazing community.
Lesson #1) People aren’t necessarily used to the idea that they can be really real on social media.
“I have to remind myself daily that life is more than business. And that my business is exactly what I make it. If I don't like it I can change it. Nothing is permanent. Even feeling as discouraged as I am right now isn't permanent. And sometimes just knowing that is enough to keep me going.” – @miskunn
I see people every day feeling like crap because they see the seemingly-beautiful lives of other makers and feel terrible that their lives aren’t as seamless, as stress-free, as picturesque as those of the makers they admire. I even saw people feeling this way about me, and I was like, hang on a second here, I am a mess. I really wanted to give people the opportunity to be their unkempt, chaotic selves and to show the people who follow them that being successful doesn’t mean being perfect. I wanted us all to have a chance to remember that what we see in our Instagram feeds is not reality.
And people responded in the most amazing way. Over the last two weeks, people told me that it was refreshing, unusual, and eye-opening to see other makers talking openly about the struggles and realities they face. It was strange, in a way, to be able to speak so freely. And when people did challenge themselves to open up, really cool things happened.
Lesson # 2) Realizing that other makers struggle is super comforting.
Sometimes it feels like there’s a weird hush over the maker community. It feels tacky to share when we feel uninspired, or jealous, or competitive, or resentful. It’s awkward to admit that we sometimes make because we need the money. It’s hard to share when we feel insecure because something isn’t selling, or discouraged because we aren’t getting the same level of engagement that we would like.
A lot of this is, of course, a side effect of professionalism. At the end of the day, these are businesses that we run, and it’s hard to strike the right balance between being honest and being professional. But the unfortunate side effect of this professionalism is that we end up thinking we’re alone in our struggles. And when you feel alone in something, it’s easy to question whether it’s the situation that’s creating the struggle, or whether it’s you. For example, you may ask yourself, “Is it normal for me to feel really burnt out and not want to pick up my crochet hook, or does this mean I’m not passionate enough?”
Knowing that we aren’t alone in the difficulties we face is immensely comforting, because it reassures us that the problem isn’t with us – it’s just a side effect of this business we’re in. I think it’s very easy to convince ourselves that struggling is a mark of failure, especially when all we see in our feeds is what appears to be smooth sailing for other people. But when we know that other makers have been where we are, it reminds us that we are exactly where we need to be, and that we will be able to get past whatever hurdle is currently blocking our path.
Lesson #3) Sometimes people need permission to be honest.
“It's hard to share that on Instagram without seeming like a failure, especially as a business owner. "Admit you can't do it all? That's not the right message to send!" But actually... it IS. I'd rather follow, be friends with, and give my business to someone who is real. Someone who doesn't act like she can do it all perfectly. Someone who I can relate to.” – @sticks_and_stitches
A lot of the feedback I got about this challenge was that it was nice to have a framework for speaking honestly. Many makers shared that they had not been open about their struggles before the challenge because they didn’t want to seem “too negative,” or like they were hunting for attention. I totally get that, and have certainly felt it myself. It’s awkward to get vulnerable.
So how do we give ourselves space to be honest with each other? What I’ve found through this challenge is that so many people in the maker community are willing to share, but they don’t want to be the first person to bring it up. They want someone else to be the first to admit all those things we tend to be hush-hush and polite about – that this business can be difficult, that it’s stressful, that it can be creatively draining and tough to balance. Because once someone else says it first, it no longer feels like a taboo subject and other people can feel comfortable joining in the conversation.
So I challenge you to try being the one to say it first. I guarantee you aren’t alone in any of the issues, big and small, that you face on a daily basis. Someone out there feels or has felt the exact way you do, and when you have the courage to put it out there, not only are you giving yourself the chance to connect with and be reassured by somebody else, but you’re also giving them permission to share their story with you. Isn’t that such a beautiful thing? We should always try to be that person.
Lesson #4) For the most part, we’re all looking for connection.
“My daily struggle is Imposter Syndrome, and the fear and anxiety that creep in when I feel like I can’t keep up… I tell myself a few things on a daily basis. I remind myself of how far I’ve come and to always be grateful. I tell myself “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” And lastly, I forgive myself. I do my best and I know I’m giving it my all – what more could I ask for?” – @woodsandwool
One thing I realized through this challenge is the maker business community isn’t like others. We aren’t only interested in the products makers sell. We’re interested in the people they are, the stories they have, and the ways we can connect with them. So if all we get from an account is generic, pretty pictures and generic messages that could just as easily have come from somebody else, it’s a lot harder to connect with that account or that maker. But when you come across somebody with an interesting story that you can relate to, it’s so much easier to feel invested in that person and their success.
I’m certainly not suggesting that you should divulge your deepest darkest secrets in the captions of your business Instagram. But I would say that sharing a little bit about the person you are – the person who makes mistakes sometimes, who has quirks, who has been there and who is down to talk about things other than the products you sell – will likely be met with overwhelming positivity. I have always believed in the power of honesty, and after this challenge, I am even more firmly committed to the idea that it’s important for us as makers to connect through honesty and vulnerability.
Lesson #5) We have a lot to learn from one another.
“I wish someone had told me in the beginning that it's great to be inspired by and to take tips and tricks from other makers, but to really focus on making my shop and my products my own! To absolutely love and be passionate about every product I sold and designed. When I stopped loving what I was knitting for customers, I really had a hard time staying motivated because I wasn't enjoying any of the work. So I think that's my 2 cents advice. Make sure you love what you're creating, whether it's something a million people or no one else is making.” – @toastytribehandmades
What happens when you share with a large group of smart, experienced, insightful professionals that you are having a rough time? We’ve already covered that they will share with you that you are not alone, and that knowing that will bring you comfort and connection. But you know what else they’ll do? They’ll give you some insanely useful tips on how to get through it.
For instance, when I opened up about struggling with things like mindfulness and patience in the making process, I received a long list of tips and resources to help me slow down and appreciate the present. When the challenge asked us all to share the advice we would give new makers, I read post after post of amazing insights about the importance of confidence, asking questions, building one’s tribe, enjoying the little things, following your own creative instincts, and being present. When I talked about how much I hate the taxes part of running a business, other makers directed me to really useful resources for organizing all that boring money stuff.
I admit that I didn’t go into this challenge thinking that a major takeaway would be to take the time to learn from one another. But a really delightful realization that came out of this challenge, for me, was that the people in this community are crazy intelligent, insightful, and helpful; in other words, they are our best resources. So being honest with one another not only gives us the chance to connect – it also gives us invaluable opportunities to learn.
“It got to a point where I thought about quitting my Maker biz because I couldn't keep pace with orders and craft shows. I did some real soul searching and decided I needed to change focus and find a way to do what I loved without it becoming something I hated. I set some real boundaries around certain parts of my biz and incorporated products and processes that allowed for more me-time. The result? A business that I'm much happier with and a yarn stash that's no longer in fear of being burned to the ground!” – @tlyarncrafts
I loved hosting this challenge and I really hope that everyone who participated was able to get something meaningful out of it. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to scroll through the #MakersGetReal on Instagram and reach out to some new friends! I’ve already made some lovely new friendships through this challenge, and I’ve loved every minute of getting to know others in this beautiful maker community. Thanks to everyone who has made this challenge so fun and so significant!
“Starting your own business is tough. You are not only consumed by the fun stuff. You're also consumed by comparison, number of sales, likes, comments, budgets etc. At times it can be depressing and hard. So my advice is to celebrate your little wins, lean on your support system, and don’t be too hard on yourself! Try to let your business fill you with joy because it will be hard and you need to hold on the good things if you don't want it to consume you.” – @teathoughts
Lindsay is a knit and crochet designer, full-time grad student, occasional blogger, and hopeless procrastiknitter. She is the sole maker behind Bundle Handmade, where she does her best to advocate for real talk and make fiber arts accessible to all.