The Real Fears of Creatives: Money, Making Stuff, and Staying Current

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Being a creative — in whatever sense you may be, even if you choose not to use the adjective as a noun — is deeply satisfying. Study after study has shown that job satisfaction and happiness among creatives tends to skew high, and that, conversely, creativity leads to happiness. Overall, people who work in creative fields, and especially those who work for themselves, feel that they’re contributing value to their community and their clients, and are frequently more invested in their work than the average disengaged worker.

But all of these cheery metrics don’t mean that creative people are blissfully whistling down the sidewalk with paintbrush in one hand and a bulletproof sense of self-worth in their pocket. Being a creative is deeply, deeply terrifying. According to a new report released by Adobe — which is full of really interesting information and statistics — creatives lie awake at night, worried about our ability to keep pace with others, to make enough stuff, to stay informed, and, of course, to support ourselves financially.

creative fearsThe report finds that the top two concerns for creatives are the pressure to deliver great content and ideas faster than ever, followed narrowly by fears of being financially insecure. Other fears include being misunderstood (a legitimate concern) and not being sufficiently trained in new skills.

That final worry — that our skill-set isn’t up to snuff — speaks volumes about the industries that creatives operate in. Whether it’s the Adobe Creative suite, rapidly changing social media networks, or the seemingly never-ending onslaught of new camera technology, just staying competitive can seem like a full-time job.

In fact, Adobe found, 80% of creatives surveyed believe that they’re expected to learn new tools and techniques, and 75% agreed that they would fall behind if they didn’t actively stay current with all of the industry’s changes.

The fear of being financially unstable is also a very real one. Entrepreneur and author Ted Leonhardt points out that creatives are simply more vulnerable to being underpaid than other workers.

“The reason is really quite simple,” he explains, “It is because the work that we do is completely personal.”

Having a deep personal connection to our own work can make it difficult to ask for what we’re worth; add to that the fact that many clients simply don’t value the work we do, and that traditionally, getting away with under-paying or outright stiffing freelancers hasn’t been that hard to do, and you’ve got a climate of tentative finances, at best.

Fortunately, some of these fears have concrete solutions. Access to education (oh, hey there. Have you checked out our class calendar?) through online communities has become such a hot trend that even traditional bastions of higher ed have gotten in on the game, and collaboration with other creatives is a desire that many often-solitary freelancers and contractors identified as a way to help assuage concerns about keeping pace and creating enough content. Co-working spaces and other community-minded projects are cropping up around the world, encouraging creatives to face their fears together.

There’s also been a high degree of advocacy for freelancers in the last several years. Sara Horowitz’s Freelancers Union has worked to foster a community that encourages sharing, as well as to get real legislation passed that would protect freelancers from non-payment. Reporting notorious non-payers has empowered freelancers to speak up and demand more.

Freelancers, solo artists, contractors, and even full-time workers who sometimes freelance may not be quantified by traditional labor statistics, but Adobe’s survey proves one thing: We are a real class of workers, and we have real, legitimate fears.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.