Skip to content

Don't be an entrepreneur, be an artist.

Don't make the same mistake I did; your creativity is your greatest superpower. Learn to feed it.

Matt Munson
Matt Munson
6 min read
Don't be an entrepreneur, be an artist.
Don't be an entrepreneur, be an artist.
Looking for some support? If now is the time to consider coaching (or a CEO peer circle) reach out here.

Waking up to the loss of my creative self

The irony was not lost on me. I was running a company that provided a platform for hundreds of thousands of creatives to share their work.

But I did not view myself as an artist. I had created something from nothing. In my earliest days as a founder, I was partly driven by the compulsive need to create. But fast-forward a few years, and it became about:

  • Needing to make it all work
  • Fretting compulsively about how to keep the company growing
  • Navigating the 'problem treadmill'
  • Working more, doing more, out of an unseating fear I was never doing enough

None of it was about creativity.

Studying at the feet of creatives

Lately, I find myself studying how artists work.

I often find when the universe, my subconscious, or some other force wants me to learn something; it starts coming at me in stereo. And that has been happening of late in my life about art and creativity.

I have found myself on long walks in conversation with a neighbor artist friend asking her how she has the time, energy, and organization to paint, illustrate children's books, run a beverage company, and be a doting mama to two boys.

That same friend gifted my wife the book The Artist's Way, which I found myself reading on our recent surf trip to Mexico when my wife stole the beach-read fiction I had brought along. Julia Cameron's description of her own path through the creative wasteland to fruitful flow was even tastier to me than the tacos we were consuming nightly. Well, almost at least.

I also recently read Make Your Art No Matter What: a wonderful read for anyone trying to find the impetus to bring something new into the world.

In another medium, a different friend recommended Jonah Hill's documentary Stutz about his therapist and their work. The doc has a lot of messages about the creative process. Jonah invites the viewer into his own struggles with creating the very film we, the audience, are watching.

In short, my life of late feels like a masterclass in the creative process.

And...I am grateful; this is a much-needed exploration for me.

My exploration is prompted in the present by both:

  • The many coaching conversations I find myself in with clients who feel detached from their creative selves
  • My own effort to write a book I have been toying with for five years

My curiosity is also driven by a desire to bring some medicine to my prior self, the one who found himself a few years into a creative endeavor detached entirely from the desire to create.

What can we learn from artists?

I thought I might share today a few themes I have observed in my exploration . These themes have been speaking to me in my own creative process of writing. I have also watched them begin to bear fruit in my coaching practice. I hope they may be of use to you as well. The ideas below could each fill an entire book, so please excuse my brevity in introducing them today. I promise to share more as my own exploration unfolds.

My creativity is not me putting something from inside me into the world. It is the universe yearning for something to come into being and me being a conduit for that process.

This one feels a little wonky even to write. If you know me or have read much of my writing, you will know I have not historically been very comfortable with this kind of squishy, spiritual, or 'new-agey' language. But even I find myself leaning into this idea.

It comes up in both of the books I mentioned, as well as in Jonah's documentary. The act of creation is at the very heart of our universe and the experience of life around us. Nature itself is a never-ending process of birth, expansion, and death.

We came into being out of a force that drove the creation of life, evolution, and expansion. That force is our birthright. We cannot escape it, at least not for long.

If we try or think we have, we are really simply like Simba in The Lion King, hiding out in the grasslands and living like a warthog. No matter how many grubs he eats, he is still a lion. And his destiny will come for him.

The idea that creating is about letting something flow through me, not about needing to create something perfect that is coming from me, has been liberating. It eases the ego and renders the negative self-chatter less inconsequential.

Artists don't create perfect things; they let the power of creativity move through them and onto the canvas.

We are all artists.

My job is not perfect. My job is to trust the creative process.

I do not know who told me that perfect was part of the process. Maybe it was school? Maybe some of it is genetic?

Artists seem clear perfect is not a thing. The thing is to create. Let something come into being, then step back and see what you have.

I recently attended a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit in downtown Los Angeles. I was blown away by the sheer volume of work he created in a few short years (he died at the age of 27). He created around 1500 drawings and 600 paintings!

You cannot create at that volume if you are obsessed with getting it right before you have even put the work on the page.

Why do we, as founders, entrepreneurs, and leaders, feel we need to get it perfect?

The work is to string the next pearl. And every pearl has a turd. 💩

In Jonah Hill's documentary, his therapist Phil Stutz, introduces a tool he calls String of Pearls.

The idea is this: our job is to do, or create, the next thing. Each thing we do, or create, is simply the next pearl on the strand.

Our job isn't to worry about how it all fits together, whether anything is good enough, or how it will all end. Our job is to put the next pearl on the strand.

The next part is to note that every pearl has, as he puts it, a turd in it. Amazing, right?

We are building a string of pearls and embracing on the front end that each pearl will have a turd in it: it will be imperfect.

There is no perfect film, no perfect painting, no perfect poem, no perfect startup deck, no perfect product, and no perfect life.

I find this liberating.

Great writers trust their editors.

This is a big one for me in my own craft of writing.

I get so hung up on needing to write something good. Every time I write, and it is even happening this very moment as I am writing this sentence, I have a voice in my head saying: This writing is terrible!

The hardest part of writing for me is pushing through that voice, or more accurately, noting the voice's presence, blowing it a kiss, and continuing on.

Thinking of the work as getting a shitty first draft down on paper is helpful to me; it helped me write despite the voice.

I can trust that I, or an editor, will come back later and clean it up.

I might even dare to trust that perfect does not exist and is not the point anyway.

Tying this back to the idea the universe wants something expressed, what if my job is not to get something out of my head perfectly and onto paper? What if my job is to trust the expression of the idea (image, product, experience, etc.) in whatever form it shows up? After all, you can come back and edit a blog post or book; what about a painting?

Painters paint once, and it is a thing of beauty.

Walking through that gallery exposition I mentioned, I marveled at the difference between the creating I was trying to do (a book I could edit and re-edit ad infinitum) and a painting.

A painter can sketch the idea or practice painting a certain subject a few times, but when she sits to paint something, she has to paint it at the end of the day. When the paint dries, the painting is done.

The finality of the draft of part of the art form. You cannot paint without embracing the implied imperfections.

Where might holding yourself as an artist unleash your own craft today?

Wherever you find yourself in your connection with your creative self today, how might you benefit from approaching your work as an artist rather than a 'founder,' 'entrepreneur,' or 'business-person'?

What if you are really helping something to be born into the world that the universe wants to be here?

What if a rough draft is all that is needed today?

What would it be for you to trust your editor? Or to trust yourself to edit later?

How would you change the structure of your day or week if you saw yourself, as you truly are, as an artist?

At its heart, so much of the entrepreneurial experience is undeniably a creative endeavor. But how we often work as founders, CEOs, or leaders fails to treat it as such. We then wake up wondering why we feel so disconnected from our ability or impetus to create.

Take some time this week to reconnect with your creative self.

I appreciate that you are here. If you were forwarded this email and it resonates, you can subscribe here.

Well wishes from LA

If you would like some support in exploring how to make that happen, or if your creative self feels too far gone to reach easily, please reach out. You can reply to this email. I would love to support you.

-Matt

Looking for some support? If now is the time to consider coaching (or a CEO peer circle) reach out here.
ceo psychologyentrepreneurshipfounder burnoutcoaching

Related Posts

Members Public

Sanity Notes #031- The power of writing things down

Want to supercharge your clarity? Write it all down

Sanity Notes #031- The power of writing things down
Members Public

Sanity Notes #030- Assuming the best of our partners

The moment your co-founder, teammate, or romantic partner frustrates you the most may be the moment of greatest opportunity

Sanity Notes #030- Assuming the best of our partners
Members Public

Sanity Notes #029- Depression as data

Anxiety, depression, and anger come for us all. Consider looking at the experience as an indication of what is missing.

Sanity Notes #029- Depression as data