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January 22, 2011
Act Natural: Grow Your Brand By Doing What You Already Do!
 
I always thought that one day I'd have an amazing idea. I thought I'd stumble upon the creative solution to life and career—one new idea that would launch me into creative stardom. Well, it turns out I'm still searching. In the meantime, why not sort through some of the old ideas? An old idea might just be the best one you've ever had. 

Over the last few years, I decided to identify what I was already doing well rather than try to reinvent myself. I work by day as a graphic designer and art director. On the side, I am also a photographer, a vintage type-store aficionado, and a poor guitar player. Most days I love my day job, and I especially love that it's opened so many doors for me, but I still want something that is just mine.

My creative projects have a lot to do with my decision to—as my stepfather says before taking the family snapshot—"act natural.”Natural to me is taking pictures every day, designing logos late into the night, obsessing about typography, reading design blogs, and generally just making sure I'm making something, from art to music.

Think about some old hobbies you enjoyed or projects you put away because real life intervened. Figure out the natural you and go crazy. Make your natural you your brand. Take pride in it, embrace it, and make money doing it. That's what I did. I realized, after some time, that what I do well is what I have always done well,and I might as well take advantage of my skills to serve me—not just my employers.

I started by taking on freelance projects, both paid and volunteer. I started by accepting an opportunity to photograph a friend's wedding in France. I started by collecting typography and old signage and turning it into a vintage storefront. All of it sounds small, but over time this collection of projects has become my brand. 

I have a few responsibilities, like the rest of you, that take up much of my time. I've worked hard through my professional career to make a name for myself as a talented, dedicated, and well-rounded employee. I continue to stay loyal to and enjoy my full-time job, but I also realize that my job is my obligation—which makes it very different from what I do in my free time.

Working like maniacs has unfortunately become the norm in our professional society— but it doesn't have to be. Although I have not mastered the work-life balance people talk so much about, I have learned the importance of it. If you've created a brand for yourself, or simply just enjoy a hobby, you must make time for it. No one else will. Just as you would schedule an appointment with a client or doctor, schedule an ongoing appointment with yourself in order to make time for your brand. Sometimes, I use my lunch hour to tie up a few loose ends. Other times, I schedule a few days where I leave the office on time in order to give myself the proper amount of free time. Even though I'm leaving the office, I think I've become a better employee and a better person because I’ve prioritized the interests that feed my creativity.

These days, I spread my brand as far as possible. I've combined my love for design, my obsession with photography, and my affinity for typography into a fully functioning (and very fun) online store. It started as an experiment and has become a successful collection of all the things I was already doing well.  

Though it took a few years to find my natural me, I now am truly enjoying what I do—from my day job as designer to my night job responding to customers in my shop, and even to the weekends, where my camera follows me everywhere. It's almost like I can't help it. I suppose you'd call it my creative condition. 

There's no time like the present. Think about what you already do well, or have done well in the past—be it photography, teaching, or collecting—and go for it. Realize you can expand your brand and make some extra income—or even a living—doing it. 

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Greta Schmidt resides in Colorado Springs where she works full-time as an art director, graphic designer, and a freelance photographer. Her latest creative project, TYPOS, is an Etsy store that repurposes vintage sign letters and type. On any given day, you can guarantee she's working the creative mojo or enjoying the outdoors. More of her work can be viewed at mycreativecondition.com.
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