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Stressed? Impossible projects and demands getting to you? You’re not alone. The stresses of life get to everyone now and then and we don’t always know how best to channel those stresses in the most productive way. I don’t know of anyone who escapes the stresses of life, regardless of career field. In the creative world, stress can have a significant impact on your creative abilities, so it’s important to have some coping mechanisms in place should things ever seem overwhelming.

I’ve been luckier than most, having the ability to choose only the clients and projects I’m very passionate about. For me, that’s a really important asset. If I really believe in a product, cause or person, I’m going to give 1000% to them, no matter what. That’s what drives me. That’s what makes me successful. It’s never about the money. It’s always about what I call The One Thing.

What is this One Thing? It’s the sole reason you’re involved in the project. The one driving force that propels you to higher levels, better production and meaningful work. Once you know that, everything else becomes remarkably simple. Unity of purpose solves a lot of less important, more routine issues that come up during the creative process. It’s easy to find the drive when you remember the reason you’re involved in the project in the first place. You’re passionate about the project. You want to do the best work. You want your work to be meaningful and timeless.

So how do you find this One Thing?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, of course, but I can tell you how I do it and maybe that will help you along your path. To begin, take some time to examine why you’re doing what you’re doing now. I’m not talking about something as small as a specific project. I’m talking about why you’re even in the profession you’re in right now in the first place. Why did you choose it? Are you passionate about it? What about your profession is essential to your existence?

Granted, everyone needs a purpose in life and this one appears to be yours, but did you choose it or did it choose you? I’m already quite well aware that your answers to these questions may startle you a bit. If it takes you too long to figure this out, maybe a career examination is in order. I’m not joking. So many people tend to fall into their careers rather than falling in love with them. Sometimes the answers are reaffirming of your choices, and sometimes inappropriate career choices just seem to bubble to the surface. No matter your answers, be honest with yourself and write these things down. They’re the key to your professional (and possibly personal)  happiness.

You’re in the right business

Assuming your answers reaffirmed your career choice, you know you’re in the right business. That aside, it’s now time to begin examining your daily work. If you’re happy with your profession, but not overly satisfied with your daily work, maybe it’s time to ask yourself some of the same questions above, but from the perspective of one who has the choice to move laterally into other segments of your current business. Are you involved in exactly the work you want to be doing? If not, what’s stopping you from pursuing that segment of your business in a vigorous way? What help do you need to move into that segment? Training? Skills? Funding? These answers are important.

Plan for success

If you’re not involved in the work you really want to be doing, there’s no reason to quit what you’re doing right this very minute, but you do need to make some serious choices here. How bad do you want to be happy with what you’re doing? How bad do you really want it? If you want it, then do it. Plan for success. Start with some backwards planning, calculating your end goal, then working your way (in reverse) to outline the steps you need to take between now and then to end up there within your specified time frame. Don’t worry, you don’t have to have all the answers at this point and, truth be told, you’ll never have all the answers you need before you need them. No one’s a fortune teller.

The right work

One of the most significant changes you’ll need to make as soon as possible is choosing the right work. In fact, most of the dissatisfaction I’ve witnessed in most people isn’t the fact that they don’t like their chosen career. It’s the fact that they either can’t or don’t control the projects they’re working on. If you have no control over which projects you work on, that’s one thing you can start working on right away. Put yourself in a position where you have more control over choosing your projects or at least which part of the projects you physically and mentally work on. If you’re part of a team, this part can take some persuading and coordination with others. If you’re the only person in your organization who handles this type of work, then your choices can be a bit more limited, but not impossible. If the impossible situation does come up, you might consider freelancing as a protective measure. Freelancing can be a rewarding and meaningful way to combat this situation. I’ll write more about that in future posts.

Choosing projects

It probably goes without saying, but project selection may be the single largest factor in how happy you (and others) are with your work. If you believe in what you’re doing and it’s important to you, that goes a long way toward your own fulfillment with what it is you’re doing. It’s best to really examine potential projects, selecting only those that are important to you and those matching your goals. For example, if you want to design websites for a specific market segment, it’s not going to do you a lot of good to accept design projects in unrelated segments unless you intend to use them as learning experiences. My question to you is this. If you’re willing to invest your time in learning experiences, why not more carefully choose learning experiences within the target market you really want to work in? That way, you’ll be getting relevant experience and not just general experience. The takeaway here is only choose work that is directly related to your goals. The more closely your ideal projects match-up with your current projects, the happier you’ll be and the better your work will be.

Alignment

The central idea here is alignment. Aligning your current projects with your version of the ideal. Aligning the work you want to be doing with your current profession. Aligning your passions with the choices you make every single day. You are the only one who knows the answers to the really important questions in life. No one else. The closer you can make the professional you just like the personal you, the better off you’ll be. Great divides between your personal and professional personas aren’t very healthy for a person. Not for you. Not for me. Not for anyone.

The One Thing

Going back to the beginning, The One Thing is the most important thing driving your decisions. The one thing you hope to accomplish. The one reason why you want to accomplish it. It’s a necessary step to discovering your motivations, your passions and your reason for pursuing those passions. Use this One Thing as a guideline in accepting new work, making new connections, and making your work more meaningful. You owe that to yourself. I think you’ll find that not only will you be more passionate about your work, your clients will be more passionate and respectful of you.

To me, that’s a win-win. I hope it is for you too.

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