What happens when your career plans don’t end up working out? Independent artist turned community founder Jamie Smith will explain why it’s okay to allow yourself to shift away from your original goals and move forward with “imperfect” ideas. Afterwards, during the Mental Fuel® segment, I’ll share one of the plans I had for my own business that didn’t end up panning out.
Key Career Insights
- You have the power to create the community you need. If you can’t find an existing, likeminded group of people, don’t forget that you can also take the initiative to organize a community yourself.
- Don’t remain too rigidly attached to your original goals. Listen to what you need and what others need, then adjust.
- Sometimes, you need to get out of your own way and stop fighting against the natural evolution of your career.
- Instead of trying to get a perfect idea out there, get your best available idea out the door, then iterate & improve based on the feedback you get.
Tweetables to Share
- I was first introduced to Jamie by our guest Sandeep Johal from Episode 20. Check out that episode if you’re interested in hearing more about another artist’s journey.
- Jamie mentioned Asana as a free tool she uses to stay organized and Canva, which you can use to create polished graphics and visuals to help you market your ideas.
- If you would like to hear more about the importance of letting your goals evolve, check out Career Relaunch episode 23 with Krishelle Hardson-Hurley
- If you happen to be an artist, feel free to apply for the next mastermind intake on the Thrive Art Studio community page.
Following my conversation with Jamie, during this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I challenged you to give yourself permission to let go of something on your task list so you can make room for another endeavour that matters more to you. Commit to trimming down that list this week, and see what sort of weight that lifts off your shoulders.
About Jamie Smith, Artist & Community Founder
Jamie Smith is an artist, educator and events producer. She is the founder of THRIVE Art Studio. THRIVE provides community and support for female artists through their THRIVE Mastermind program, a speaking series called THRIVE Talks, THRIVE Art School courses, and the THRIVE Podcast.
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): I just find it funny how you can go in with what you think it all should be and these ideas, but sometimes, there are other plans for you. There are lots of things that have not worked along the way, and I had to listen and kind of let go.
Joseph: Hello, Jamie. Welcome to Career Relaunch. I am very excited to hear about your time as an artist and how you created a community for artists. What I’d love to do is just get started by having you tell us a little bit more about what you’re focused on right now in your career and your life.
Jamie: I’m really excited to be here. At the moment right now, I am focused on THRIVE Art Studio, and I have a wonderful business partner, Tara. Our goal this year is to just keep making our master mind program. It’s exciting. We’re moving a little bit more into the education world with it, so it’s a big year.
Joseph: Great. Can you just tell me a little bit more about the mission of THRIVE? We’re going to come back and talk a little bit more about that as we progress with this conversation, but I would just love to hear a little bit more about the setup and also your mission.
Jamie: THRIVE is for female artists, gender-neutral, gender-binary, and gender-fluid artists. We created THRIVE to support them in their journey of becoming or being professional artists, and we have a master mind program. That’s our main focus. They sign up for a year and meet every month to talk about the ups and downs and give each other support. That’s our main focus.
With that, we have a podcast. We do talks in Vancouver, and we have an online program as well. Lots going on, but our main focus is just to create that community in a space where I saw there wasn’t any.
Joseph: That’s a perfect segue way, Jamie, into what you were doing before you created this community at THRIVE. Can you just tell us a little bit more about what you’re up to as an independent artist and go back in time? Then we can move forward from there.
Jamie: I was a high school art teacher, and I decided to pursue my dream of being a professional artist. I worked really hard for that. When the dream was a reality, I actually realized that the dream of being an artist is amazing, but it’s quite lonely. I had my studio, and I was making work, and I was selling work, but I found I was alone working a lot, and I didn’t have a big network at this time in Vancouver where I had chosen to live and pursue this.
I was always trying to reach out to other artists and build a bit of a network and see what was going on, but I found it really hard that there is no direction on how to do this. At the time, I teasingly called what I was doing ‘Lady Dates,’ and I would just reach out to other artists that I admired and were also doing what I was doing and ask them for coffee and chat about the ups and down, because being an artist, there’s no one way of doing it. There’s actually too many ways, it’s overwhelming.
These people in my life were coming in and really helping me realize that I wasn’t alone, that other people were doing this as well, and that I could be successful.
This was all happening, and then I got a bigger studio space, and I thought, ‘What if I brought all these amazing women that I had met during this time together in one room? What would happen? What magic could we create?’ That’s how THRIVE really started. It was six artists, and we came together.
One thing I think that really made a difference in this whole journey is, that night, I said at the table, ‘Tonight, we’re gathered here not as competitors, but we’re gathered here as a community.’ That thread has grown with us as THRIVE has grown, and it’s the real key I think: we had to shift out of this idea of starving artist and this idea of lack and that there wasn’t enough to go around, and instead, build each other up and think, ‘If one woman in the arts goes further, it’s a win for us all.’
Joseph: How would you describe the level of competition as an artist? Because I think you’re getting to a really interesting point there that I hear a lot when people are talking about this difference between a scarcity mindset and an abundance mindset, where the scarcity mindset is ‘You’re my competitor and any sort of business or sale that you make is a piece of business or a sale that I don’t get to make.’ Can you just give us a sense of how competitive it is in the world of art and what that was like for you?
Jamie: Exactly what you’re saying – this mindset of lack. I think there’s a good reason that artists feel this way, and that is we’ve grown up in a place where the idea of artists, the stereotype is a white male who toils away in the studio to then later, in the afterlife or when they’re quite bit older, find fame and fortune. There’s not a lot of room for someone like me, like a young woman who wanted—I really wanted—a ‘normal life’ just in the sense of like I wanted stability, I wanted a partner, I want a family, and I really wasn’t sure how I fit into that stereotype.
That’s one thing happening for artists. We come from this idea of the starving artist, and then you’re thrown into a world where, at art school, you learn all about how to think about art and talk about art, but no one’s teaching you how to sell your art, how to run a small business. There’s also this idea that you’re a sellout if you’re going too commercial with your work. There’s just a lot of things happening for artists. Being artist and making great work is a whole journey on its own.
Then we throw in a layer of competition which is it’s really hard to sell work and, ‘How do I do that?’ It’s just a really complicated place to be. I figured with THRIVE, let’s take away even the idea of competition. Of course, we’re always going to compare ourselves and look around us and with Instagram and all these things around us. I’m sure it exists. I feel jealous sometimes too, but our real philosophy is looking at jealousy as a way of, what is it bringing up and how do you want to go further and make your work better? Maybe that feeling of jealousy is because you really do want a show here, and that’s a great thing to know and use that as jewel.
We’re just trying to shift a lot of these mindsets, and especially for women, to build confidence so that you can go further, because actually, there’s very little competition in art because each artist has their own voice, and what they’re putting out in the world actually can’t be replicated. As long as you stay focused on what you’re doing and build a really strong business foundation, there is no competition. It’s just hard to know how to do that.
Joseph: When we spoke before, Jamie, we talked about how you felt like there is this need that you had in your own professional life as an artist, which was to have this support around you. You went off and you decided to create this community called THRIVE. I’d love to dive into this a little bit more and break it down a little bit. How exactly did you go about creating the group? I know you already mentioned that you brought together some individuals who started to meet and chat, but when did this shift from being this sort of casual thing to being something a little bit more formalized, and how did you make that happen?
Jamie: In my own journey of figuring out where I belonged as an artist, I had joined a master mind group for entrepreneurs. I got pretty involved in the entrepreneurial world because I saw pretty quickly that I actually had to learn a lot of business skills.
When I was part of this group, I saw the power of it, and I saw how each person was helping each other out, but I did feel different. The art world operates in a very different way, and there’s a lot of factors going on there that I don’t think applied to a normal business model. I just felt like an outsider.
When I decided to bring these six women together, and that was just going to be this casual evening, I just saw, I was like, ‘This is a master mind group. This could be that.’ These ideas were happening, but at the time, I had also started doing talks out of my studio, THRIVE Talks. I believe that these were my calling and that these talks were going to be the TED Talks for women in the arts.
I just find it funny how you can go in with what you think it all should be and these ideas, but sometimes, there are other plans for you. I remember the very first website I had that I’d thrown together, all it said for THRIVE Master Mind was a little note on the website that said, ‘A group that meets monthly. The group is full.’ It was so bad, but I was talking about these talks and stuff.
As we were going on, I just kept any emails from artists and other women that had said, ‘I heard about this group. I’m wondering what it’s all about.’ I started to listen, and I started to see the need here, and so I decided to start one more. The women before, they were my friends, so of course, they like me and support me. Then I started one with just six strangers, and that worked. Part of this whole journey for me is learning to listen and then to make adjustments.
It’s been two and a half years, and in many ways, it looks from the outside like it has grown a lot. We’re 175 members now from those six, but everything I’ve done has actually been a very slow, ‘I’ll try this, and then I’ll adjust, and then I’ll try this.’ There are lots of things that have not worked along the way, and I had to listen and kind of let go. It was very hard for me to let go of the talks. We still do them, but it’s just funny. We can get in our way a lot.
Joseph: I know you mentioned the talks didn’t quite work out. Would you be willing to share another aspect of the community building that you thought was going to work out but actually in the end was something that kind of flopped?
Jamie: Another thing that I was determined is that I thought there should be a THRIVE Retreat, like a weekend away where you just have this time to talk shop and grow. I just pushed for this retreat. It was supposed to happen last year in January, and it was going to be in Squamish, which is outside of Vancouver, but who likes to go to Squamish in January? It’s freezing, and it was just such a hard sell. We had like two people sign up, and I was so crushed. I just believed that this was so needed, and now, I’m so grateful that never worked out because I do not want to run retreats. That is so not what we’re about now.
I think failure’s a wonderful thing because you can get really good at failing. I fail way better now. I fail way quicker. I fail and I get back up way quicker now. I’m a great failure.
Joseph: That’s really interesting, this idea of failing quickly and also bouncing back. Do you have any tips on how you managed to do that? Because that sounds great, the idea of being able to have something not work out and to just brush it off quite quickly. I’m just thinking about myself. I’m not always great at doing that. Any insights on the best way to do that?
Jamie: I used to want everything to look perfect, especially when I started building a community. All of a sudden, I had an audience. That’s a beautiful thing, but that’s also very scary – with this retreat especially. I wrote the entire programming before we even talked about it because I believed that I had to know what we’re doing if I was going to sell the retreat.
Now, when I have an idea—I get a lot of them—I put it out to the community before anything has been done, before any time has been spent on it, and then I listen. That has changed everything for me because I’m too close to it, and I think I know what people want, but these are individual people, and they have needs and say.
Now, I look at the community as a place of co-creation. We have our meetings, our in-person or online, and then we have an online platform that we use. That’s where ideas are shared and people are making connections, and that platform has shifted so much over what I thought originally what it was going to be.
Just having, whether it’s a newsletter, Instagram, or whatever you have that you’d like, it’s kind of brave enough to say, ‘Hey, I have this idea. What do you think?’ I’ve started doing that more and not putting so much effort and time because that’s when the failure hits you hard, and I’ve been there.
Sometimes, I just have to see an idea through, so I still do it where I have to just go through the idea, but I think I’m getting better at deciding what ideas I have to take all the way through and what ones I can just put out there and accept and listen to the results, not push it.
Joseph: Just a couple more questions about community building, because this idea of creating a community sounds fantastic. Yet, I would imagine that, in addition to maybe some of these ideas that didn’t work out, that it obviously has some challenge that’s involved with bringing a lot of people together. Would you mind just sharing what you found to be the hardest part about creating this community for female artists?
Jamie: A big block I had for a long time—it kind of goes back to standing in our own way—is that I had this idea that if artists were brought into my community, I had to help them reach all their goals. I was taking on all these things, and it was the people piece. It was just like this is a person who has goals, and I have to help them get there, and I was putting all these stuff on my shoulders. That was really paralyzing. Now, figuring and looking at what was happening, I started to see there’s so much magic in the community supporting each other, and it’s not about me. I found a real struggle in letting go.
The whole idea of THRIVE, it’s peer-to-peer mentorship and community. That’s not about Jamie Smith, the leader of the gang. It’s just really accepting that and then working hard. I look at my role now. My role is just to create a structure that everyone within it can get different aspects of what they need. Any idea we have, it’s figuring out, what’s the organizational piece that would allow someone to contribute, to gain knowledge they need or to participate in some way? Shifting my role has been actually a really interesting journey for me.
Joseph: I think this concept of creating what you need is really powerful. What do you think stops more people from doing this? Because obviously, it seems like there had been some sort of a need for community. I’m just wondering, what do you think stands in the way of people going out and creating these sort of resources that they need?
Jamie: It’s just time that it takes away from what you’re doing. For example, for me, I’ve had a real journey of figuring out who I am as an artist now because building community, all of this, has taken full focus, full-time effort the way I’ve done it. To build community, you don’t have to do what I’ve done, which is really take it on. You can build community by reaching out to friends to going to events together every month. Community to me means a lot of different things.
I think what stops people is this piece that someone’s got to be the leader, someone’s got to take ownership and organize, especially in the arts. I see a lot of initiatives fail because there has to be an exchange. The leader or the organizer has to feel whether that’s social value or a better life for them.
For me, it came down to money. I charged for this service because I had also done free stuff in the past, like an art walk that I volunteered and was happy to do, but I saw very quickly that if THRIVE was going to be sustainable, and I was going to give up a lot of time and away from art time, then I had to make it a business. That, for me, has worked. I’ve just decided to extend my timeline on the artists that I set out to be.
I don’t paint the way I used to. I have a specific time every month that I paint, four days a month, and right now, that’s awesome. I love it, but a lot of artists I know, they would never want to give away painting time to be organizing community, but I find this very creative. It brings out my entrepreneurial spirit. It brings out my teaching spirit.
I actually feel like I really found my purpose in this, but I think a lot of people, their purpose is in the painting, so they shouldn’t be taking away from that to build community. They should just find a community and support it, and that’s what I really ask people: if you want community, you don’t have to make it, but just show up and give encouragement to people that are willing to do it because it’s a lot of time.
Joseph: That’s a great lead-in, Jamie, to this balance between helping others versus focusing on yourself. As I’m listening to you talk about this, I guess sometimes I feel this weird paradox myself, because especially when I got started out as a career coach, I was doing a lot of one-on-one coaching work. I was sometimes coaching people trying to start their own businesses on the very things that I was struggling with myself. I’m just wondering, how do you go about balancing helping others with managing your own artistic ambitions?
Jamie: I had to let go of some goals that I had set in the beginning days. I realized that I was so set on those goals that I was ignoring that my life had changed drastically and that I had been focused on something else, THRIVE. We talk about this a lot at THRIVE. Don’t let goals run you. It’s okay to let those go and say, ‘Those no longer serve me.’ Goals are supposed to be something that serve you.
Before, it was all about selling my work. It was about getting certain shows. Now, my only goal as an artist is to make great work. Because I don’t have to put the money piece on my art right now, I’ve put that onto THRIVE.
Letting go and then shifting the timeline and just saying, ‘I have 10 years to do this,’ is very different than how I was feeling when I first started THRIVE where it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to keep going as an artist and get to all these places I wanted to go in five years?’ Now I have 10, and I’m like, ‘I’m fine. I can do that.’
I think it’s a balancing act, and sometimes, I’m not as okay with it as I am right now, but then I just have to look and really adjust. It’ll be like, ‘Why?’ There’s usually things that come up, and usually, that has a piece of maybe jealousy or a piece of like, ‘I really wanted that opportunity,’ and it’s like, ‘Okay, just write that down, and that’s now a goal for later.’
Joseph: That’s really interesting. I definitely suffer from having these rigid goals that put incredible pressure on me from these self-imposed deadlines. I don’t even know where they came from, and I so I think this is a good reminder that it’s important to let your goals flex and to also just remind yourself that you actually have a choice about which goals you want to go after.
Jamie: I had a mentor say to me, he’s was like, ‘Look at your to-do list and give yourself the gift of just taking through things off of it.’ At first, I was like, ‘No, that’s my to-do list.’ He was like, ‘No, take three things off.’ I tried to do that, and I actually trimmed down my goals in the same way. We would do the things that are the most important if they were. If a goal’s been sitting there, just staring at you, and you haven’t done it, it’s probably because deep down, it’s not important. Just X that thing off. I like that a lot. I try to do it.
Joseph: This actually reminds me. I did want to also ask you, since we have been talking so much about support, what sort of tools or resources do you use to stay on track with your own career goals?
Jamie: I love Asana, which is a task-management program. It’s free, and I just think it’s so amazing when these great tech companies offer things like this for free. I have a business partner, Tara Galuska, who’s an artist, and then we have three interns that are amazing. We do all our tasks and everything on there, and we love it.
The other thing that saved my life is Canva.com. It’s a free Photoshop service, and it’s what we use to make everything look really professional, especially if you’re not the artsy type, it makes your marketing look awesome. I would highly recommend those two resources.
Joseph: I’d love to wrap up, Jamie, with what you’re doing right now. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about your THRIVE Master Mind group, and I understand you’ve got an upcoming intake.
Jamie: We do intakes in May, September, and February. We have our applications open all the time, but intakes just mean that that’s when meeting starts. You would start a year with us from that time. We have an application on our website at THRIVEArtStudio.com. Artists can go there. There’s a little video we had made. It tells you all about the program. I have a conversation with all our artists, and we make sure that we can support you and your goals and then get started. It’s an exciting time. I love the new intakes because it’s new artists, and it’s so exciting.
Joseph: Where can people go, Jamie, if they want to find out more about you or find out more about THRIVE?
Jamie: THRIVE, everything is THRIVEArtStudio. We spend a lot of time on Instagram and our website. We also have a podcast, which is a little mini master mind meeting. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, that’s a great resource. Then my art can all be found at JamieSmithStudio on Instagram, and I just got a new website made, which is Me Investing in My Artist Self, which has been really important to me the last little while.
Joseph: Very exciting. Jamie, thanks so much for telling us more about your life as an artist and being okay with imperfect ideas, the importance of community, and also a good reminder that you sometimes have to let your goals just evolve. Best of luck with THRIVE, and I hope the people you support continue to do great work out there.
Jamie: Thank you so much for having me, and have a great day