5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Working for Myself

This would be more aptly titled, “5 Lessons I’m in the process of learning from working with/for/by myself.” I spend an awful lot of time with my own thoughts in my studio, especially now that I am only working for myself. I guess what happens when you are your own boss is that you have to create your own structure, give yourself feedback and get your own ass off the couch when it’s time to get work done.

The following “lessons” (for lack of a less-condescending word) are things I’ve come to understand for my work that I also realize apply to absolutely anyone, in any job. If you read this like you read your horoscope, it will apply to you too.

1. Invest in the right tools. 

These aren’t in a particular order, but this is definitely #1. Across the board, this is about giving yourself the advantage of starting off on the right foot and investing in your own abilities. When I make papercuts, I need only a few materials, but they have to be the right tools for the whole thing to come together. For example, I need lots of X-acto blades, because the very sharp tip that makes clean cuts inevitably breaks off after the third or fourth curved cut I make. It feels wasteful to me to trash the blade after that since the rest of it is still sharp, but I remind myself that it’s worth replacing it, considering that I am investing my time in the end result being made to the best of my ability. The best product, no matter what it is, will always come from using the appropriate tools because the more you invest in the work, the more it will be worth.

Rising Tide

A perfect example of a point when it was time to invest in better tools – the wrong X-acto knife for the job, and a self-healing mat that is dirty and covered in glue and wood stain because I was using it for other projects.
Tsk tsk.

2. Go with your gut.

We’re all pulled in a lot of directions. Maybe your boss wants you to do a project one way, but the client has other ideas and then you’ve got know-it-all colleagues chirping their opinions. You’ll ultimately probably do what makes the boss happy, but it’s also important to remember that there is a reason that you have your job. Let’s assume you are trusted to do your job the best; that’s why you were hired and it’s why you still have the job, right? People are coming to you to seek your expertise, to have you do the job because they can’t or won’t do it themselves. Therefore, I say go with your gut. More often than not, your first instinct is the right one because you already have an arsenal of experience and intuition that have helped you make a decision. Trust your experience and intuition, because it’s taken you a long time to train them on how to help you. In my work, I am asked to create custom, sentimental, aesthetically pleasing pieces of art that one will display in their home. My clients have undoubtedly seen my body of work before commissioning work from me, so they are trusting my design sense right from the beginning. So when they suggest that I include too many images/concepts or downright ugly color combinations, I go with my gut about what I think will be best for the final outcome. I have had several people thank me for making these executive decisions, even though it meant telling them “No.”

Go with your gut.

3. Allow people to compliment and criticize your work. 

*This is where I am still learning.* Nobody likes to be criticized, but everyone should learn how to accept and process constructive criticism. I’ve been through many group critiques in college art classes, but it was easier then because everyone is being criticized and you have the opportunity to think critically about a lot of other work, not just your own. Being in the spotlight of criticism is uncomfortable, but it’s important to consider that anyone who is taking the time to thoughtfully provide constructive feedback probably cares about you and should at least be heard. They might…even be…right. In turn, it can be just as hard to accept positive feedback for some of us who are hyper-critical of ourselves. What I’m working on now is storing the compliments and positive feedback I’ve received so I can pull them out and remind myself of the great work I’ve done when I need a boost. It’s just as important to revisit what you have done really well in the past so you can continue to improve on it as it is to table your pride and swallow some negative feedback.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 10.57.56 AM

To which I responded, “It’s oddly rendered.”

4. Take breaks.

We all know the feeling of having what seems like a mountain of work to get done, and sometimes the only thing you can do is put your head down and work hard until you’ve made a dent in it. And working really hard feels really good. However, just like investing in the right tools is important for the quality of the outcome of your work, you must allow yourself breaks to recharge. Personally, when I make a papercut, I do not stop until I am finished. I can’t start a piece and then come back to it days later because it is all continuous and interconnected. However, I always (always) have to remind myself to stand up, stretch, drink some water, eat a meal, talk to someone. Physically, your body will thank you and mentally, your work will benefit from taking a step back and getting a fresh perspective.

5. Believe in your value. 

This is another one that takes a lot of practice. No matter what you do, no matter who you work for, the amount in which you believe you deserve to be valued shows. It’s definitely prevalent for someone who is self-employed and literally declaring the worth of their work by setting their own rates, and it can be really hard to do. What I try to remember is that I’m the captain of my team. I actually have told myself out loud that “I’m the boss” when it comes to making these decisions. I have to set the bar while also being competitive within my industry. Not only do I create my value, I have to actually believe that my work is worth it. This is when it helps to pull out some of that positive feedback and mull it over. Swim around in it like Scrooge McDuck.


You declare your value, whether it is literal or figurative. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”, as they say. Except I usually wear my pajamas because my studio is also my bedroom.

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