Much like an athlete, creatives want to keep growing and improving and honing those creative skills. Creating our own personal bests and seeing development in our abilities. So that we can look back on old work and see how far we have come and how much our skill has developed.
Much of this comes through practice. Constantly working at and practicing our skill, so that we get better and better, more efficient and also learn things that work and don’t work, so we don’t repeat mistakes but can do a better and better job each time. Learning and understanding also grows our skills and refines our practice. Doing research, learning new ways of doing things, and taking classes and courses and watching tutorials to better our art.
But one other and often less considered way to improve your creative skill is by the bar you set for yourself. It is the measure you create to define your personal successes. Carefully considering and setting this bar for yourself can make a big difference in how far you go and what you can achieve.
Setting a high bar for creative success is not the same as comparison.
You may be thinking, but isn’t setting a high bar just like comparison. And isn’t comparing myself, my business and my work to others a bad thing?
Comparing yourself to others can be unhealthy and bad for your mind and productivity. BUT setting a bar is not the same thing. ( You can learn more about dealing with comparison in my post 7 ways to deal with comparison in business)
When you set a bar, you are not attached to the end goal, but rather enjoying the process and focusing on how you are going now and aspiring to improve without your happiness depending upon getting to a certain point. It’s about working on improvement in every moment and feeling that accomplishment every step of the way with every small win and improvement that is made. You are not saying ‘I am not as good as Picasso yet, so I am a failure’, but it is more like aspiring to be as amazing and enjoying your progress.
It is also not about leveling yourself up with someone else. When you are lost comparing yourself to others, you are looking at where you are right now compared to where they are right now, and then judging yourself on that. However when you are setting a high bar, you are looking at it from a point of view of inspiration, aspiration and mentorship. It is a ‘that’s what I want to to be like some day’ as opposed to ‘I am not like that’.
Why setting the bar high will take your success further.
When I was in high school, I used to set myself really high bars. While I was fairly smart, I wasn’t one of those kids who was so naturally smart that I could be lazy and still get good marks. For me to get good marks I had to work hard.
I was naturally ambitious and self motivated (in fact I remember my mum telling me off for studying too much and to go outside and take a walk). I would set myself really high bars to push myself to do better. For example, to help get myself a good rank in exams, I would say my goal was to come first in the grade. I think the best I got was 3rd, but I was up against some really clever kids, but I know if I didn’t set the bar so high, I would never have come close.
Then in our final year, our Textiles teacher asked us all to set a goal for our end of school exam and project. I said I wanted to come first in the state. I think she and might class mates thought I was a bit crazy. I ended up coming equal 3rd and my mark was higher then the person who came top the following year. I’d never have got such good results if I set a lower bar for myself. I didn’t beat myself up for not getting 1st, because I knew it wasn’t about being attached to that end goal, but rather setting that high bar to push myself to produce the best I was capable of. And in doing so I also paved the way for others, as the girl who did get first place the following year was from my school. I showed it was possible.
When I later went to study fashion, I did not compare my designs to my fellow class mates, but rather aspired to the top fashion designers in the world. Not in a disillusioned way, where I thought I was the next Chanel, but by looking to them as the higher bar.
Even now as a graphic designer, I look to be inspired by the greats like Paul Rand. I may never go down in history as a great designer, but I look to the greats for inspiration for how I can be a better designer and how I can hone my skills and improve my trade. I can look to them and consider what was it about them that made them stand out and how can I apply that in how I work.
How to set your bar high for greater success
If you want to set the bar high, you first need to surround yourself with people better then you. This can seem scary to some people, as it requires humility.
But if you want to set your standards high and strive to do better, you need to be humble. Humble enough to be willing to be around those further ahead and more talented, so that you can learn from them and be inspired to improve yourself.
If you only spend time with people less talented or with lower skill level, to make yourself feel better about what you can do, it will not help you raise your standard and will more likely pull you down.
“You are the average of the five people you most associate with”- Tim Ferriss
The other way to set high standards, that may scare some people is hiring people better then you. If you get to a point in your creative business where you need to hire others. Hire people who have more skill then you. This will set the standard of the business higher and will help you surround yourself with more talented people. Do not hire someone less skilled, to make you feel better about yourself.
Yes you may need a junior, or someone at a lower level, but find someone who is more skilled in an area that you have less skill in. If you struggle with bookkeeper, get an amazing book keeper. If you are great at digital photography, hire a second who is amazing with film.
If you are awesome at design, but can’t code, hire a junior who rocks at coding.
Always find ways you can learn and be inspired by others, and how they can lift the standards of the team.
It is not about being the best. But helping you better yourself and achieve your own goals and personal bests. And reaching your God given potential, so that you can shine brighter, impact more lives through your skill and produce good work more efficiently.
Finally look to the best in your industry. Both now and historically. Study their work, what made them so good and how they did things differently that made them stand out and how you can apply that and draw inspiration from them in your own work.
It is also not about beating yourself up for not being at that standard, but having a high bar to work towards so that you are always striving to be better without judgement of your current level.
You may never hit that bar, but by aiming it high you will go further then if you set a lower bar. If you only set yourself a pretty average, and easily achievable bar, sure you will reach it and feel great for a moment that you got there, but you are limiting your full potential.
It takes some guts and humility, but you will achieve amazing things.