First Hand — Success, money, age and Instagram: Five creatives on how to stop pressuring yourself
A month ago, we spoke to Tori West, editor of BRICKS magazine, on her decision to be completely transparent about her journey with the pressures surrounding age, money and success on Instagram. Revealing that – despite being a successful editor – she also has a cleaning job to pay her bills, Tori lifted the controlled veneer that characterises so much of social media. The response was overwhelming, as Tori invited others to share their own experiences and struggles. We asked a range of creatives to expand on their journeys with self-pressure in an age of Instagram curation, as well as their advice on relieving the negative thoughts that can surround it.
You don’t have to live for other people
Jack Oliver Coles
Jack is an illustrator based in South Wales who graduated from Cardiff School of Art and Design in 2016. Represented by Bright Agency, he’s been commended for his vivid imagery in coloured pencil.
I’ve always compared myself to those around me – noticing the milestones others have reached that still seem unachievable. As someone in a creative field, feeling that everyone else is flourishing while you languish can be overwhelming.
I’m 27 now, still living at home and only just feel like I’m getting the hang of being an actual functioning human. I still feel like I’m way behind the people I went to school and university with, and seeing people’s achievements on social media really doesn’t help. But I’m finally starting to realise that their path isn’t the same as mine.
“The feeling that everyone else is flourishing while you languish can be overwhelming.”
Seeing behind the Instagram page and getting an insight into someone like Tori’s life is something I don’t see too often online; it has really changed how I think about social media. No matter how many followers you have, people selectively choose what aspects of their life they broadcast and for most people, the struggle is kept hidden.
Understand that you don’t have to live for other people. You can achieve your goals in your own time. Be selective about the media you’re consuming and adding to, and if it’s safe to do so, offer insight into your own struggles and showcase what makes you happy.
Honesty is key
Erica von Stein
Erica is a freelance TV producer. Having started her own photography business after university, she soon grew frustrated with her clients’ inability to pay invoices on time, and decided to switch to producing.
At age 28, what I find ludicrous is the amount of funding opportunities for creatives or entry-level internships that have an upper age limit, usually in the 18-25 region. Sure, it’s nice to give youth a fighting chance, but in an age of uncertainty, why deny someone the same opportunity for the sake of their number? Because that’s all it is, a number.
After graduating from university, I wanted nothing more than to be my own boss and to set up business as a freelance photographer. The clients were coming in but the payment terms were so ridiculous that it was impossible to forecast my income. I’d be doing a job in January but get paid in June which would leave me in debt. It got so tedious that I gave up, and moved into the television industry.
“If we all start being truthful about our journeys and help each other out, things will move forward.”
I now work as a producer. TV work is still freelance but wages are processed on a contractual PAYE basis, so you get paid monthly, on time and it’s very reliable work. I find it outrageous that I needed to have a backup career purely on the basis that people won’t pay freelancers on time (emphasis on won’t – money will fast hit your account when you threaten legal action).
When Tori shared her story of how she is both an editor of a successful and well-respected magazine and Airbnb cleaner, it paved the way for many others to do the same – myself included – and it’s very freeing. It’s imperative that the internet has a detox in which truths are presented. I applaud Tori for having the bravery to start this movement, as honesty is key. If we all start being truthful about our journeys and help each other out rather than competing to be the best, things will move forward.
It’s all about patience
Aurielle is a creative director and consultant, currently working on the entertainment and influencer marketing team at adidas, NYC. Formerly a model and international DJ, she previously worked as head of music and community at VFILES.
In an age of instant gratification, people expect fast results, but in my opinion that’s unfair and wrong. As someone who has experienced a cycle of pressure, but also healthy growth over time, I’ve realised it’s all about patience.
I started my career doing unpaid work before getting quality paid jobs. I often felt the pressure of being ‘in between’ as a freelancer, having to make decisions about which jobs I should take for exposure to take me to the next steps. But in the last six years I have been able to apply my art education as an art director, leading me to leave the freelance life, move back to the US and begin what I refer to as a solid career – as a contractor and upcoming entrepreneur. That’s over 11 years of experience in different fields, while the industry has changed a lot.
I am 34 years old now, and while I’m very happy with where I am, there are always those pesky reminders of where you would like to be. My brother, who is two years younger than me, has three kids, is married and a homeowner. I want all of those things, but my path has been different and is leading me to the places I want to be.
“While I’m very happy with where I am, there are always those pesky reminders of where you would like to be.”
But even though I’m in a better place, I still struggle financially at times. My new position followed three months of unemployment while waiting for my new contract. It’s easy to be down on yourself in those moments, because at this age I should have planned better. But somehow I just feel blessed to be working in the industry on my own terms; and this is the trade-off.
In terms of battling self-pressure, side hustles are always great. I currently have more than four streams of income, as well as recycling and selling things that I am no longer using. Now that I am making more money, I’m working on longterm budgets for six months at a time, including saving. I’ve never been able to save before, but it’s something I am really looking forward to. I’d also advise on cutting back on shopping and short-term expenses that lose value quickly. Invest in travel, moments and family.
And last but not least be gentle with yourself. Growing isn’t easy. Stay focused, keep growing your crafts and all will be as it should in time.
Adopt the ‘water off a duck’s back’ approach
Rose is a freelance digital artist based in London known for her hazy, vibrant colour palettes and tactile textures. Having previously worked in-house at Studio Moross, Rose has built a client list that includes Converse, Nike, Burberry and Jamie XX.
The triple threat of pressures that come with the idea of age, money and success have all crippled and stifled me along the way. Hearing about other peoples’ experiences from across the industry is reassuring, uniting and imperative for our creative mental health.
Where it had been beneficial was that I found energy in initiating myself with personal projects on subjects that I loved. But I subsequently realised I had fallen into the Instagram pressure trap, and I needed to break that. One of the hardest parts of working for myself has been trying to overcome self-doubt and comparison.
I have (to my surprise) just turned 30. I was just a couple of years older than my peers at university and always had this niggling feeling at the back of my head that, because I was a bit older, I had a massive point to prove. I didn’t find my way to art school until that age because my path hadn’t taken me there yet, but nevertheless I still punished myself with negative thoughts for just being older which continued after university.
“Let those painful feelings just wash over you. Your achievements are yours and no one can measure them but you.”
There will always be that hot young thing creeping up behind you, but it’s about standing firm, owning what you’ve learned and achieved and how you’ve grown – no matter how long it took you to get there. For me it’s been about learning to be kind to myself, and flipping the negatives of self-pressure on their head; using it instead to spur drive and productivity.
Give yourself a break. It may sound like a luxury to give yourself a day off, but the act of allowing yourself time off and not feeling guilty is such a mental relief. Embrace that time to just catch up with yourself. I had – and sometimes still do – have a tendency to punish myself for not making the most of my spare time.
Put your phone down, now! I despair at how intertwined social media has become with our lives, and I know all too well how affecting it can be on your mental wellbeing. Distract yourself from those thoughts, or get rid of them: put down that phone or delete that app. This may be a temporary solution, but the less I see, the happier, less clouded and more inspired I feel.
I have taken it upon myself to adopt the infamous mantra used by the winner from season five of Ru-Paul’s Drag Race: “Water off a duck’s back”. Let those painful feelings that only serve to hold you back just wash over you. It is so wrong for a person’s success to be measured by someone else’s. Your achievements are yours and no one can measure them but you.
Live life in your own lane
William founded XYLO, a boutique design agency, in 2004. Initially specialising in club artwork and promotion design, the company has organically grown to a full-service creative and production output, with clients including O2, Warner Music, Mindshare, Classpass and Unilever.
My experience of self-pressure only came on in the last couple of years, via social media. I’ve been running my own agency since straight after university (before the days of social media). Originally the posts people shared were more about friends and memories, but slowly we’ve entered a more toxic stage, where it is becoming more competitive. I honestly fell into the trap of only showing my best self, while also feeling the anxiety of seeing other people appearing to do better than me.
Around two years ago, I was not in the best mental or financial position, while I remember a few people I knew of the same age were consistently hyping online. They’d talk about client wins, hiring staff, press coverage, investor funding, holidays in Dubai – and it really got to me. It made me question myself and my objectives. My thoughts at night were: “Am I behind in life? How are these people ahead of me in a short space of time? Am I doing something wrong?”
“Don’t allow society to convince you that you need to reach a level of success by a certain age.”
I had to snap out of that mindset, because I knew my road to success was going to be completely different to that of others, and I wouldn’t want anyone else’s life. So I just got my head down, worked away and I’m now at a really blessed stage of my career and life. Tori West’s article did change my view; I have to remind myself that I need to be honest with myself and other people.
My advice to anyone is just live life in your own lane. Don’t allow society to convince you that you need to reach a level of success by a certain age. Good things take time. Also, don’t get fooled into thinking everything on Instagram is real. If your main source of self-pressure is social media, unfollow the people who make you feel that way – better still: delete those apps altogether, get off your mobile phone, and go and live real life.