I'm a small city dude from Iowa and I need to get out of my bubble to find my people. I find my people by getting out of my comfort zone and heading to conferences across the United States.
This past week, I flew solo to Creative Works Conference in Memphis, TN. I heard great things about the conference last year so I kept it on my radar. When they finally dropped the lineup, I literally bought my attendee ticket along with workshops within 10 minutes.
In my personal opinion, this lineup was stacked. Josh Horton and Dan Price did an incredible job putting this together. I got to take workshops with lettering legends Ken Barber and Erik Marinovich for only $5o a piece! The speakers were some of the people I looked up to most including Ken, Erik, Andy J. Miller of the Creative Pep Talk Podcast, Ghostly Ferns, Rogie King & Justin Mezzell of Super Team Deluxe to name a few.
Did I mention outside of pizza that BBQ was my second favorite food because I smashed a ton of that too?
As the cool kids of our country would say, this conference was lit.
While I'm worn out from travel, I wanted to make sure I documented some of the biggest takeaways I got from the speakers. Here are my top 7 that I think will greatly benefit you as well.
Let's get started.1. Get Off the Floor
Leading off to bat was one of my biggest inspirations, Andy J. Miller of the Creative Pep Talk Podcast. Andy's talk was witty, funny and emotional. Basically everything great that you've come to expect from him on his podcast.
His talk was powerful, but the biggest call to action that stood out to me was from his "Get Off the Floor" segment. We have to face the truth that we're always going to get knocked down and constantly doubt our creative abilities. You can either lay on the floor and take it, or you can get up, make stuff and keep going.
You have to get off the floor not only yourself but for others as well. He followed this up by stating: "You can't help the world thrive if you're not thriving."
Safe to say he put a creative pep in all of our steps and set the tone for the conference.2. Slow & Steady Grind
Next up was Odin Clack from Odin Leather Goods. What stuck out to me was his self-awareness, patience, commitment and work ethic of running his own side hustle outside of his day job.
Something I struggle with is feeling I have to have it all figured out now, but what am I rushing for? Odin reminds himself daily to focus on the slow and steady grind and enjoy the process along the way.3. Pioneers Take All the Arrows
Austin Dunbar of Durham Brand & Co. filled in due to a last-minute speaker conflict and he absolutely murdered his talk.
One of the things that stuck with me was when he said: "Pioneers take all the arrows." As creatives, we are called to take risks and we have to be willing to make sacrifices. When you share your work or take a stand for something you believe in, people will be waiting in line to scrutinize and critique if they don't understand or accept what you're doing.
As a pioneer or someone who is trying to build something bigger than themselves, it's important to keep pressing on and pathing the way for others.4. Relationship > Reward
Jesse Bryan of the Belief Agency had one of those talks that spoke to my core. I admit it, his storytelling and well-timed statistics he peppered in choked me up at times.
His talk was all about service and that we need to put our focus on the relationship instead of the reward. For example being motivated for the quick sale instead of over-serving and creating a loyal customer relationship.
He instilled in us that we all have the ability to be great through the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: "Anyone can be great because anyone can serve."5. You're Not Done Making Bad Work
Not only are Rogie King & Justin Mezzell extremely talented and know how to party, but they are insanely generous and empathetic individuals.
Their talk centered around building friendships and not "networks." Cultivating meaningful friendships is a by-product of getting uncomfortable and reaching out to people.
They also drove the point home that putting yourself out their takes guts and that you're never done making bad work. I definitely left their talk ready to hug everyone and take a shot of Bourbon.6. Never Settle & Change Your Style
Erik Marinovich is one of the coolest cats and down to earth people I think I've ever encountered. Everyone loves this dude not only because of his work but due to his infectious personality and how he lifts everyone up around him.
I'd have to say his talk was my favorite as he combined lettering with the evolution of hip-hop culture. He gave a lot of great takeaways but what hit home the most was his point of, "Never settle and constantly change your style."
I struggle with the fact that my work is all over the place and I don't have a set defined style like you see on hyper-curated Instagram accounts. It was encouraging to know it's perfectly okay and that I have to keep pushing my limits with experimentation.
If I draw small all the time, I need to push myself to draw bigger. If I use ink pens all the time, I need to push myself to experiment with a paintbrush.
Between his workshop and talk, he left me determined to push the boundaries of what I'm able to create and to keep developing my style.7. Learn to Love the Crust
Confession, I've never been to a talk where the speaker didn't use a slide presentation and it raised some concerns. However, Ashley Ford definitely didn't need them as she held the audience captivated with her storytelling and moments of comic relief.
The key to her talk was about being vulnerable and sharing your story. Something that really stood out to me was her point about loving the worst thing about yourself and others. She called it "Learn to love the crust of a motherfucker."
She closed the conference down encouraging us to tell the story that you're scared to tell. No matter what, you're affecting somebody's day.Find Your People
Do you feel alone with your struggle?
Do you feel isolated in your own world with no idea how to push your creative career forward?
If so, you need to find your people at conferences.
See this as an investment in yourself and your creative future.
There are people out there dealing with the same demons as you.
There are people out there who nerd out obsessively over the same things as you.
You can find these people at conferences.
You owe it to yourself to get out of your comfort zone and find your people at a place like Creative Works Conference.
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