Friday, August 10, 2012

Water the Damn Tree (also, Stories are Important)

So today, instead of talking about the stuff I make, I'm going to talk about business.  Like serious, nuts-and-bolts, efforts-that-go-into-trying-to-turn-the-stuff-I-make-into-money business.  Specifically, today I'm going to talk about motivation.  Just as a note, the phrases that are capitalized actually are proper nouns for the internal scripts that I think a lot of makers have going on in their heads. If you are a struggling maker, I'm going to bet that you've had these scripts running at some point, too.

Let's face it: Unless you're either incredibly lucky, or incredibly luckily connected, getting publicity and visibility is Hard Work, no matter how awesome your product is.  I have, over the last few months, been coming to terms with the fact that I am neither of these things, nor is some magical Business Partner likely to sweep down from on high and save me. So, I'm having to try to become at least passable at all those marketing/promotions things that I'm Bad At and, quite frankly, terrified of.  Making and Marketing are supposed to be an oil/water thing, right? How do I deal with Promotion without sliding into Pushy? And the Big Question: If I'm not getting the fairy tale of being magically Discovered, and my products aren't Speaking For Themselves, might that ultimately mean that I am Not Good Enough and/or Don't Deserve Success?

It is at times like this, when I'm on the verge of a panic attack, that I start looking for some kind of different viewpoint, some metaphor or story that makes it not about my personal internal Virtue, or what I Deserve, and more about something I have some control over.  In this case I was very lucky, because not-quite 4 years ago a complete stranger gave me a story to use against just such a case as this.

It happened at Disney World (which shouldn't be surprising. If there's any place in the world that runs on stories...), in the gardens around the roots of the Tree of Life (a fantastic work of art and engineering that is the centerpiece of the Animal Kingdom theme park. The "bark" is carved with loads of animals.).  A cast member named Justin who I'd stopped to ask a question of had decided on a whim to give me a personal tour of all the gardens, and we'd paused  in a spot where we had a very good view of the part of the tree with the carving of the ant.  He then told me one of the origin myths that had been created for the tree.

Short version: Ant, alone in a parched land, has a Dream of having other animals around so he's not Alone. Gaia hears his wish and grants Ant a seed, saying "This is the seed that will grow your Dream." Ant plants the seed, and then treks off some distance to find water to bring back for it.  The seed sprouts, and Ant hikes off and haul water back to water the sprout every damn day. The sprout grows into a sapling, and the sapling grows into a tree. Other animals start coming to visit and rest in the shade of the tree. Gaia looks in on Ant and notes how well the tree is doing. Ant says "This is awesome, but I wish there were a way to honor all my animal friends who come visit." Gaia says "Keep watering the tree. There's more to come." Ant keeps watering the tree. The tree's roots eventually find the bedrock and split it open allowing the water trapped beneath to flow to the surface as springs.  The tree is now self-sustaining, and as it continues to grow, the images of all the animals who have visited become clear in the pattern of the bark. As the new springs create this oasis in the desert, more animals come, and more images appear in the bark, and the seed of one ant's Dream became the Tree of Life.

Then Justin performed a few small bits of slight of hand to produce for me my very own Dream Seed, coalesced from my personal Dream, and then, with admonition that this seed would not grow a tree like the one we were standing under (that was how Ant's Dream came to pass. Mine would be different.), we finished the tour of the gardens, parted ways, and I've never seen him since.

This story was a revelation to me, especially at Disney, because when I was growing up all I ever heard from a lot of people was some variation of "If you have a dream and hold it close, and don't risk it, and believe in it hard enough, and you're "good," & "virtuous", you'll get a fairy godmother to make your dream come true." If this sounds familiar, it should.  Try replacing "fairy godmother" with "media savvy business partner", or "influential blogger", or "angel investor".  This was really the first time anyone had explicitly said to me that just wishing really hard wasn't going to cut it. (Seriously. When I was growing up I was led to believe that the world was going to fall at my feet because I was "smart." That didn't work out at all.)

That story has carried me through some difficult times.  It got me to go back to school and pursue an old dream that I thought was dead.  It got me through the required Calculus class, guided me through a fork in the road, and got me through the Accounting class that was required on the new path.  It got me through that last class I needed to actually complete my Jewelry Design Certificate program (the one where you have a show to prove that you've learned everything from all the other classes), when I was sorely tempted to take my knowledge and run like everyone else in the program before me.  And now, when I'm facing Marketing, quite possibly the most terrifyingly difficult thing I've ever done, The first thing I'm asking myself every morning when I get up is

"What are you going to do today to Water the Damn Tree?"

The thing I tell myself to quit procrastinating on the hard stuff is "Water the Damn Tree already!"  I Know I'm doing good work and making awesome stuff.  It's just a matter of persistence in getting people to see it.  There's a lot of junk and a lot of noise out there, and I just have to keep Watering the Damn Tree if I'm ever going to be seen.

The thing about stories is that if someone had just said "Think of your business/hopes/dreams/life like a plant that needs to be nurtured and worked on.", it probably wouldn't have had any impact at all.  But, that particular fairy tale, at that particular time (I was feeling very lost then), in that particular place (my policy with Disney World is that I suspend my disbelief and cynicism at the door), made all the difference in the world.  I bet the fairy tale meant more to you than just the advice would have, too.

What did I do to Water the Damn Tree yesterday?  I finally set up a Tumblr for NightshadeRose Studio. There's not much there yet, but there will be.
What have I done to Water the Damn Tree today?  Well, this post is a start. :-)

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