Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

You’ve probably heard it a million times before. It’s that piece of advice that people love to dole out when you’re feeling nervous about an interview or presentation: “Just be yourself.”

But have you ever stopped to analyze exactly why being yourself is so important, especially for creatives?

Ashley Ford is here to help you figure this out, while also offering you some nourishment for your creative soul. Ford is a Brooklyn-based writer, podcaster and educator who has been named among Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 in Media and Time Out New York’s New Yorkers of the Year.

From Ford’s point of view, “being yourself” is actually about giving to others. “Whatever you’ve gained is a gift you can give back. If you don’t feel safe being yourself, the gift can’t be shared with us. If you don’t explore yourself, you can’t share with us,” Ford says.

But for creatives, it can sometimes be difficult to view yourself, and your experiences, as unique enough to really explore. Ford has a solution to this that you might not expect: “Don’t think about yourself as unique.” Instead, she says you should focus on what you can contribute to any given situation.

“You never know what people will need, or how to provide it to them, or why you’d even be interested in providing it to them. You may be the only person in the room who has the knowledge to apply to the task at hand. This validates the things you take seriously for joy. It’s just something you love, quietly – and suddenly, it’s relevant to everyone,” Ford explains.

In fact, to flourish as a creative individual, you actually do need others to inspire you, to connect with, to lift you up. It helps to find your tribe. As Ford puts it, “there are seven billion people in the world. You’re not the only person who likes this thing. It’s about finding the other people who are like you, expanding on it, and showing it to the world: ‘This is who we are, this is what we want to talk about.’” 

Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

So where can you turn to for support if you’re just getting started in a creative space? How do you explore your creative process? How do you find inspiration? Where do you find community? Hanging out in creative online spaces – like CreativeLive — can give you a huge boost. You can use social media to follow the individuals you look up to.

Ford always heads to a museum as a surefire strategy to get out of a creative rut. But to find your way as a creative, she adds that you don’t really need a specific place to go.

“It requires real research and real time. It requires talking to people, reading the books, spending the time. It’s not all online,” Ford says.

Know your creative process

“Being yourself” is also about getting to understand your creative process so you can make real progress in a creative career. If you know your creative type, you can understand how you work, what you need for your creative process to flourish – and how to successfully get your work done. Knowing how you work “also opens up the door to let you fall in love with process of creating something, and not just finding pleasure with the end result of your creative process. You can learn more about what it takes to get done what you want to get done,” Ford explains.

It’s not just about crossing the finish line, after all. In fact, the best advice that Ford has ever received is that the only way out is through, which is what has helped her to “find joy in my work, not just the fruits of my work, including money.”

Photo by Ryan Muir for 99U

Push through the doubt

Even as you begin to find your way as a creative, get ready for those inevitable moments of self doubt. There will be times when you just want to give up, wondering why you ever tried in the first place. All of this uncertainty and failure, whether we like it or not, is just part of the creative process. But finding a way to push through these murky waters is also part of the creative process, because it’s incredibly important not to get stuck in that place for too long.

When Ford gets caught up in this kind of negative thinking, she reaches out to the people who know her best. “I let them know where I am. They compassionately show me evidence of my life, and why what I think about myself isn’t true. They encourage me. Deep inside I know that nothing is over until you’re dead. Thinking that ‘I could never learn that, be that, do that’ – no, that’s not true. This helps me find my way back to myself.”

Discover more highlights from Adobe’s 99U Conference here.