Dear students: Get your hands dirty

Kathleen Habbley

Dear students,

Whenever we talk one on one and I give suggestions on how you can improve your work, I am often time met with frustration. It’s not directed at me, I know that. It’s more that you are frustrated with yourself. I understand this, but when I’ve given you concrete leads to go on, and nudging you with examples on how to proceed, short of taking away your pieces and going to work on it myself – I am a little perplexed at why you aren’t excited (or at the very least, appreciative) for the many suggestions and examples I give.

You have to forgive me. Perhaps it’s because throughout my career I’ve had to solve problems that at the moment, seemed insurmountable. I’ve had to crack my head to think of solutions at the drop of the hat. That’s the life of a project manager, of an editor – we come up with ideas to solve problems that’s right in front of us so that we can move on, quickly. Our team depends on us to wade through problems, shifting them aside to create a clear path for others to do their work. We don’t mope, or show our frustrations – not because we can’t, but it’s because we’re busy thinking up other solutions; and can’t wait to begin putting those theories to the test.

At any point during my problem solving process, I have a Plan A, and a Plan B, and a Plan C all planned out – so I’m not worried about the ideas. Those are cheap and easy to come by. We’ve got to work first and foremost and see which ones will work out. And if Plan A didn’t work, we know that we’ll try Plan B. If we were constantly worried about things we couldn’t see or that we think might happen, we would be frozen indefinitely. Too afraid to move, to try, to fail.

But that’s what too much thinking – instead of doing – does to you.

Maybe the internet has something to do with this. Perhaps if you think you googled something hard enough, or if you used your extra time to search for more ideas online, then you’d be spared of the pain of failing. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. You can’t avoid failure. But by avoiding failure, you’ll ultimately be avoiding success.

[quote] When you’re limited to what you have – instead of being frustrated at what you don’t have – that’s when you are able to shine creatively.  [/quote]

Or maybe you’re looking at what you have, and you can’t wrap your head around how you can change it, to tweak it to be what you see in your mind. If all you do is to piece everything together as is, what is your role then? What makes you different? Why would someone hire you, when they could easily complete a project by throwing stuff together, like you did? Tim Gunn’s infamous words “Make it work,” applies here brilliantly – often time you think you need some expensive material to complete a project. But it may not be so complicated – something simple will just do fine. When you’re limited to what you have – instead of being frustrated at what you don’t have – that’s when you are able to shine creatively.

Real life isn’t like the internet, where everything is limitless and available at a click of a button. But having no borders can be suffocating as well. I see young people exclaim that they don’t have the same materials as they see online, so they can’t produce what they want. They’ve boxed themselves in because they feel they’re limited by what they have, instead of making the best of what they have. And that has got to change. You’ve got to change.

Make stuff. Break stuff. Get your hands dirty. Laugh, cry or scream. But you’ll need to learn right now that you can’t just coast by, expecially by avoiding the work. You need to DO the work. So I suggest that you start right now.

{ Illustration by Kathleen Habbley }

[box icon=”heart”] Every week, I teach about the creative process of illustration at a local college. And when I come home, I realize that I’ve forgotten to point this out, or to remind them about something. Dear Students serves as my own personal compilation of thoughts, and is a series dedicated to students around the world who might find my musings useful. To read the entire series, click here. [/box]

  advice, creativity, dear students, illustration, inspiration, popular, students


4 thoughts on “Dear students: Get your hands dirty

  1. I love your comment “But that’s what too much thinking – instead of doing – does to you”. It reminds me of another quote I recently came across; “action creates clarity”. This is so true in the creative process.

  2. I love this quote, wrote it down in the cover of my notebook, because I have to admit *shame8 that this is something that I sometimes forget. Thanks! “Real life isn’t like the internet, where everything is limitless and available at a click of a button.”

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