Worth It, Using Creative Vulnerability to Enhance Expertise

Worth It, Using Creative Vulnerability to Enhance Expertise

Dilemma: Creatives have literally designed the world that we live in, yet don't ask for what they deserve in return.

Creatives Are More Vulnerable

Feelings rule:
"Nervousness and excitement bubbled up as I arrived. Self conscious about my work, I hoped it was good enough and that I'd get the assignment. I feared that I didn't have enough work that fit. So when they offered me $10,000 for the project, I said yes!"

Later, Sara learned she could have earned $20,000. She was crushed.

His work sings but his heart cries:
Bill, a young photographer, was showing me his work. It was an emotionally compelling series of some families living on a wooded hillside right in the center of a huge city. They were just barely surviving. Bill was clearly gifted at getting his subjects to trust him. I asked how he was able to gain their trust and he said, "I grew up living in a car in..." and began to cry.

I gave Bill the assignment but I've never forgotten the sight of a six-foot plus former fireman crying over his portfolio.

Fast work, slow pay.
The assignment started in a rush. It was exactly the kind of work Tim's firm thrived on. Six weeks in, Tim is presenting the results of the research phase when his client mentions that the purchasing agent is going to call in to talk about the contract. Tim thinks nothing of it, has forgotten entirely when he's handed the phone and hears: "...hello, hello, Tim is it?

"Yes it's Tim."

"Tim, on assignments over $100,000 we require a 15% discount and we pay 180 days after completion. Agree and I'll sign a P.O."

Tim agrees. And later, wonders what hit him.

What happened? Tim, Bill and Sara, all highly skilled experienced creative, gave in to their emotions. What they did is all too common among creatives who find themselves in stressful situations.

What's Really Going on Here?

It's simple. Creatives are more open to their personal vulnerabilities. Our work is personal. Naturally, our self worth and identity are in question when fees or assignments are negotiated. We're more likely to give in when we should stand strong. You must prepare for those feelings.

The solution is actually quite simple, although it took me a long time to get there.

I've been negotiating with people and organizations that are more powerful than I am my whole career. I've been brought to tears a few times. I've rolled over more times than I can remember and, yes, I've agreed to some horrible terms.

Creatives are vastly underpaid in our society. Especially when you consider that some creative person conceived every innovation, new product, new bit of knowledge ever created.

The average hourly fee paid to creative professionals in major cities is around $100 an hour. In the same cities, the average for attorneys is well over $500. The opposite should be the case.

Lawyers are used to asking for the money. We creatives don't ask for the money because we've focused our whole lives on being accepted through the work we do. Our personal definition of success is recognition of our work, not the money.

Embrace Vulnerabilities, Empower Expertise

Ironically, the vulnerability that we desperately try to avoid seems to hold the key to success.

I do a bit of public speaking and it always terrifies me. Years ago someone told me never to admit you're scared. The logic goes like this: if you tell 'em you're scared they'll discount what you say because they'll think you're not "professional". And they'll add: if you don't tell they, won't know. Research shows the opposite. The audience will sense your discomfort and will know you're hiding it. We resonate too deeply with one another not to perceive inauthenticity.

So when I recently stood in front of a group to introduce my new book I felt shaky. Holding up my book I confessed, "I'm feeling a bit nervous tonight, hope you'll bear with me. I guess it's because I'm representing my own work, something, ironically, that I write about often. Thank you all for coming." Feeling better I talked about the book for a few minutes. Then, guess what, they keep me on stage for an hour asking questions.

Three things happened that night. First, I got over my anxiety quickly. Second, the audience embraced me as a fellow human. Third, they accepted my expertise, partly because of the book, but also because I revealed my vulnerabilities.

I could have adopted a power stance: dressed in Armani, ignored my butterflies and summoned my voice of authority. These are methods I've used to get past feeling anxious. Now I think of them as: denial dressed in a great suit faking loud. And I know that many in the audience see through them.

I now know that admitting my stage fright, moving into my expertise, I'll speak comfortably. And although an expert, be accepted more readily because I showed that I too struggle with these issues.

Ted Leonhardt

Ted Leonhardt