The Illusion of Risk
How I learned to take more chances by seeing things for what they really are.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is something quite special. I have discovered that it can be used as a tool for purposes beyond that for which it was designed (learning to manage and reduce irrational fear and anxiety); in fact, I would go so far as to say it’s a necessary technique for entrepreneurs to learn.
CBT makes the lies we tell ourselves plain to see; it brings them into the light and then turns them to dust, like vampires. And that is exactly what these lies are: vampires sucking the life out of us, sapping our strength, draining our courage and keeping us from realizing our overall potential.
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in our thoughts and feelings that we construct a sort of scaffolding of negativity, falsehoods, and fear around our minds. CBT employs straightforward techniques that allow us to identify which (if any) of these thoughts and feelings are based in fact and which are a distortion of reality. When the truth shines through, rational thinking and a new perspective are gained and we can move forward with clarity of purpose and peace of mind.
The applications for this method are obvious for those who need help managing anxiety, depression, addictions, and phobias of many kinds. But CBT is also an excellent tool for assessing risk and making clear-headed decisions in business.
Seeing the positive response to my first two brush sets, I knew there was an opportunity for me to continue down that path and potentially grow the brush business into something special. But this meant taking time away from something I had relied on for a little over a decade to provide me with a steady and growing income: my illustration business. I wanted to go all-in on the brushes, but felt the anxiety growing about turning away from the safe and familiar to chase something new that had no proven model for success.
I have never considered myself a taker of *real risks. No sky diving, bungee jumping, or motorcycles for me, thank you. But my tendency to equate even tiny and well calculated risks (i.e. asking somebody out in high school) with the act of jumping out of a plane eventually led to my overanxious thinking, panic attacks, and inability to sometimes just enjoy my life. I have written about this unfounded and irrational thinking before in this newsletter.
Side note: perceiving any minor decision as a big risk and therefore choosing to do nothing
can will lead to regrets. I know this from personal experience and do not recommend this course of action in one’s life.
Fortunately, I was introduced to CBT by a trained therapist a few years prior to the moment when I had to make a decision about putting my eggs into the brush basket in order to give the business a real shot. Using the method of writing down my worrying thoughts in one column on the left and then challenging them with hard facts on the right, I was able to quickly take action and design my professional life around building the brush brand. It literally only took a few minutes!
Worrying thought (WT): It’s a fad! people will just lose interest in custom brushes and I’ll have no income. Fact: the business is doubling roughly every six months and the response to what I am creating is all positive. There is no evidence this will change.
WT: People will get tired of these two brush sets. How will I keep them excited about them? Fact: I have a well of hundreds of unreleased brushes to pull from and I have ideas for hundreds of new brushes. I will simply keep making new brush sets. I love playing with new brushes, so why should this be different for other artists?
WT: I won’t get to draw anymore. I’ll be so busy making brushes! Fact: I spend as much time drawing to advertise the brushes as I do making them. And, I get to draw anything I want to really show them in their best light. No client is telling me what to do– I have complete creative control!
WT: Art directors will stop calling and I’ll lose my chance to work with them! Fact: I have never let an art director down and have built great relationships with them. If I’m unavailable for a while (even a long while!), I can always reconnect with them later or reach out to new ones. I know how to promote myself as an illustrator.
This is the amazing thing about CBT, if you have learned to practice it well and take its findings to heart: a simple list written on a piece of paper can give you the strength, confidence and assurance you need to move forward. And in business, this is invaluable!
Training yourself to quiet your internal doubting voices, calm your fears, and see clearly through a reality-based lens when it comes to making business decisions is a skill any successful entrepreneur requires in order to take well calculated “risks” that are supported by evidence and precedents. As is the running theme of this newsletter, I discovered accidentally through personal therapy that CBT is an incredible asset for business owners, entrepreneurs and freelancers. I recommend exploring its methods and techniques with enthusiasm. For what it’s worth, this is my favorite book on the subject and I revisit it often.
Thoughts? Questions? Please comment below and keep the conversation going.
Next time, I will write about a little hack I devised to go from selling individual brush sets to signing brush licensing deals with studios like Walt Disney and Sony Animation. I think you’ll find it useful!
Until then, take care of yourselves and of each other, remember to be kind, and I’ll say, Ciao for now.
Resources and Goodies for You
I spent a lovely hour talking about life, art, branding and brushes with Liz Mosley on her podcast, Building Your Brand. Listen here.
A few years ago, I shared a simple breakdown of drawing a face (front-view) based partly on the Loomis method– you might find it useful if you’re getting started with drawing heads.
My kids have been communicating and playing with codes and secret languages for years and thanks to listening to this fascinating episode of Two Designers Walk Into a Bar, they just added a new set of symbols to their vocabulary: those used by the hobos who traveled across the U.S. in the early 1900s.
Speaking of small risks, one of my lifetime hobbies is close-up magic, mostly with cards. The payoff when a trick lands is always worth it. One trick I still have never performed publicly is this classic because I know I need more practice. Let me know how I’m doing here (it’s an old video, and I’m better now, but still not quite there …).
Thank you for sharing the process with anxiety. Back in 2015 I watched you taking a niche product for artists and started selling it independently and turned that into something sustainable. Yours was one of a couple small businesses that inspired me to pursue my own products, and you were the reason I started selling on Gumroad.