self doubt

Real Talk

CREATIVITY, MENTAL HEALTH AND MAKING IT IN A NEW CITY: JESS COCHRANE TELLS IT LIKE IT IS

 
Image:    Jess Cochrane

Sipping coffees from her local cafe on a rooftop in a suburb of London’s South East, I caught up with Jess Cochrane, the Australian boundary-pushing artist known for her arresting artworks that blur the lines between what society deems ‘beautiful’ and reality. Her work is an exploration of pop culture, the idea of feminine beauty and how different parts of ourselves are so often disguised by this idea.

Using a mixture of paint and photographic imagery, Jess creates incredibly moving and interesting works that will have you questioning your beliefs long after you’ve left them.

RT: You’ve been away from home for four months now, living in London, how has it been?

JC: Man, this trip has been so eye opening. I’m the kind of person that is so up for jumping in the deep end with my life, and I do that a lot but there’s always a whiplash effect. And the bigger the distance, the deeper the pool (and the bigger that whiplash). I’ve had moments wondering what the hell is happening because it’s such a big thing, but the best part about it is that I’ve had so much reflection time. My ability to deal with my mental health, over the years has become so much better as I’m more self-aware and I’ve actually had some interesting break throughs.

RT: Can you share any?

JC: Well, so often creatives want to be constantly doing (I’m no different), but if there is no solid plan in place, we’ll tell ourselves that we’re not doing enough and we’ll begin to unhealthily compare ourselves to others. I suffer from perfectionism and am so prone to comparison. At the moment that’s with two creatives who are older than me and British, who’ve grown up in London and have built up huge networks and successful careers. So at the start of my trip I tried to match pace by going to see as much art as possible, meet as many people as possible and attend all the right events. This quickly led to burnout and frustration. When I finally got my studio and settled into a routine, I realised that it’s all the same recipe, same method: I know what I need to do but it’s so much slower here for me than in Australia. At home I’m recognised, people know me, which is so cool that there’s recognition. But here I’m a tiny tadpole in the world’s biggest pond. The needing to approach people and getting to know them is more difficult. So I’m trying not to compare myself to people literally born and raised in London and I’ve realised it’s ok to go at a slower pace, it’s still happening. There’s a pressure you end up putting on yourself that’s unhealthy, and I need to constantly remind myself, just to chill.

RT: How else is it different from home?

JC: Being in a big city like London, you realise how small Sydney is (and Australia for that matter). Sydney is not a big city! Coming here puts things into perspective. Realising just how huge a market it is to crack is very humbling and makes you realise how hard everyone works. It’s a tougher and slower process to start somewhere new but that’s ok. It’s really easy to get dejected and think I’m nothing in this city, but you get to a point where you realise the new city has so much to offer, and you start to block out the unnecessary stuff so you focus on the things you want to get out of it.

As a creative that always wants to be doing the most, and constantly needing validation, it’s funny how all those things play on your mind when you’re in a bigger, new city. I think it’s important to reflect on things like this though, so in hindsight, I’ll be able to look back and wonder what did I spend so much time thinking about, what mattered, what didn’t, what came out of it. One things’ for sure I’ll never complain about Sydney traffic again!

RT: How do you feel about social media - how have you utilised it in the past and now in London?

JC: This trip, I’ve loved it and hated it. The main thing that I use it for is as a business tool. I don’t really use it to compare myself to others, more to look at art, what’s going on, scout photography subjects and I tend to see it more as a Pinterest-type gallery so in a lot of ways I have so much love and support for it because it’s helped my career so much and given me so much access to new things. And it’s so easy. But at the same time, in a lot of ways, in the way someone would use it for personal reasons, it’s affected me more. I love photos – taking them and posting them to create a memory board and I think I’ve spent a lot more hours on it personally than for my business because this trip I’ve taken a step back to reassess what I’m doing with my work.

 RT: What are some of the challenges of making a move like this one?

JC: One of the biggest things about being away and being in a new place, like starting a new school you have to make new friends, find your place. It took me about three years to really get that in Sydney and now I’m here at the beginning again which is going to take time. Another thing that’s been interesting is the discovery of London through social media. It’s been easy to feel like I’m not fitting in and trying to learn about it. It’s given me a lot of things to think about – differences between English and Australian culture and different city culture. It’s been a bit of a mind fuck – all the different ways people dress, the music. I’ve felt so out of my depth and not cool enough which is so silly but it’s a lot of life stuff happening as well.

 RT: Also when you’re home you pick up the phone, call a friend or your mum and get through it, but here, it’s much harder.

JC: Yeah exactly. For me, the thing I’ve experienced is a combo of starting my career here coming in from the side and also starting my life here. Trying to figure out the ins and outs of working relationships and where I want to be, what I want to be doing, and my place in it all. I definitely had a point, last month where I was so over it, I was so tired and had so much to process. When you’re putting your trust in a feeling of “I want to be in London, and this is what I want to pursue…” it’s quite scary.

RT: What’s your internal chatter or mental state around this?

JC: A constant push pull scenario that can be really draining! It’s an internal battle and in a few years I know I’ll be so much stronger for it. It’s hard but then I always think of the alternative: I don’t want to sit on a couch at home and be dissatisfied and wonder what might have been. Unless it’s fully happening to you, it’s difficult to understand, the stuff that runs through your head. And people tell you the process should be enjoyable, which it is, and I’m not ungrateful, but I sometimes wish that people would step into my shoes and give me some credit, for moving my entire life overseas. It can’t all be sunshine and rainbows. There’s a pride to it. And the dollar is so weak!! Rough patches teach you so much but they’re so hard to get through mentally. You need to constantly ask yourself, “how much do I really want this and how much am I willing to put up with the shit?” You have to do it because you love it.

RT: And it’s always good to remember that life is life and you find that issues are the same no matter where you are.

JC: The amount of days I want to have the day in bed. But haven’t allowed myself to because the guys I live with get up and go do their successful careers and deal with the city like it’s not a thing, and I think “I’m exhausted”… maybe because I’m constantly trying to match their pace. Then I think hold on that’s stupid, I’m trying to go at their pace, not my own.


“Rough patches teach you so much but they’re so hard to get through mentally. You need to constantly ask yourself, “how much do I really want this and how much am I willing to put up with the shit?” You have to do it because you love it.” - Jess Cochrane


RT: Tell me about the mini series you were involved with for the ABC.

JC: ABC approached me and seven other artists to be in a miniseries, exploring how the self connects with your work – self-portraiture through different practices. It was a real journey through my mental health, which was at its most tumultuous point, and I ended up having a real breakthrough with my art. It allowed me to shine a light on my problems, helped to see myself properly. It was almost like I couldn’t tell people how I was feeling past certain words, but when I painted this thing, it was visualised and I was able to communicate it. People could recognise it and relate to it, that it was from the self and from the heart. I realised that what I was feeling was not uncommon; so many people feel this way so it really resonated. It was hugely therapeutic and cathartic.

RT: How did your art develop growing up?

JC: My dad is an art teacher, I was always art inclined, so many days were spent life drawing and learning traditional art techniques and art history, where women definitely looked certain way. But then I would sit in my room and read every single Vogue magazine and look at the really skinny models, and all the different looks that were in like suddenly it was cool to be rake thin. I spent so long trying to figure out why I felt so inadequate not only as a person but as a woman and also an artist. It felt hard as a woman. We’re fed such contradicting words. We’re just conditioned to feel self-conscious. And making my art which was combining the two – something very glossy and commercialised (how we’re supposed to look in the eyes of the false advertising world) versus the honesty and imperfections of painting and moving paint around, was very interesting to me. It was a meeting of the two binaries, it was my life visualised – it was like I didn’t really realise until this happened, until I had my graduate work. Everyone commented that it was strong, but I wasn’t trying to tick boxes, but rather trying to connect the dots in my own life. And that to me is what makes a good artist. Their work is connecting dots in their own life. It’s always about the artist and the self. So it was interesting. The process of moving on and being in a different city changes the way you work and see things. If you’re away from home, you’re always going to be thinking not just about your own life, but about your work. So it’s a part of being a creative, you’re always putting pressure on yourself because you’re constantly questioning everything. We’re programmed to self-critique: “why is this like this, why am I like this?” If you add your own mental health or insecurities into it, or allow them to take over, it can be really overwhelming.

RT: Do you think it’s important to speak up about mental health in a public arena?

JC: I think it’s important for platforms like this one (Real Talk Project), which is a safe space where you won’t be judged. It’s so easy to feel so much but we as creatives are still always tapped as overly emotional types, like we don’t have real jobs. The stereotype is that we don’t work that hard, but we have to work twice as hard, we have no stability and are putting our whole selves into our work. There’s no switch on and off, making it very easy to get too in your own head. Especially on this trip, I’ve had moments where I’ve just met someone, and I’ve felt like I wanted to pour everything out, which can be a lot to put on people, so you need to be careful. It’s hard being emotional and putting yourself into everything you do all the time. Which is why it’s so important to have safe spaces where there’s no judgement, and you can tell the truth.

For me, if people can look at my work, and what I have to say and can think, “I can relate” and “you’ve helped me”, then that’s all I want. But at the same time, there has to be a balance. Especially this year, I’ve been doing so much talking but not much making that’s relevant or personal enough for me. So in speaking about it, I still don’t feel like it’s enough because I’m not delivering all I want to deliver. So it’s a catch-22. But it’s really important to have the safe spaces to put your whole self on the table and get it out of your body, which takes a lot of bravery and courage. Creatives are the last people to say that: they’re the hardest on themselves. If you’re feeling too much, too overwhelmed or very self-conscious about what you’re doing in a new city, it’s easy to not feel like you can make anything. I had a few weeks of not knowing what to do. You have moments where you overthink everything and forget that it’s something that comes naturally.


It’s a part of being a creative, you’re always putting pressure on yourself because you’re constantly questioning everything. We’re programmed to self-critique: “why is this like this, why am I like this?” If you add your own mental health or insecurities into it, or allow them to take over, it can be really overwhelming. - Jess Cochrane


RT:  What’s one of the biggest challenges of being a creative dealing with mental health?

JC: One of the cycles of being a creative is that if I’m loving what I’m doing, I end up overthinking it, then fear what others think. Then I realise I don’t care so much what people think so I go back to making it and it becomes a cyclical thing. And the further from home comforts, the more intense it feels. It’s ok to feel drained though. Going on big trips or doing big things, it’s all self-discovery really. Sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself to be doing everything in that moment, but really the benefit of that experience is only felt post-experience. So you leave it and reflect, and look at everything that’s happened, then you have the capacity to create. It’s real time research.

I’m also so aware. I wish sometimes I was less aware, I’ve never been at a point in my life where I’ve questioned so much and thought so deeply about things. It’s all happening at once and is so full on. I feel like I’ve lived two separate lives – going to a foreign place is very liberating, I had a huge overwhelming sense of freedom when I first arrived, free of everything people think of me, but at the same time I went from the elation of freedom, to complete isolation, because everyone’s so busy here and I can’t see my friends, and it’s the rat race. It’s almost like bipolar, you feel everything in full effect, the highs and lows. You learn to balance out the feelings but it’s so hard, especially in constantly “on” cities like London. It’s hard to find the balance and neutrality to just stop.

Image:    Jess Cochrane

RT: What’s next?

JC: I’m not sure what my life is going to look like – it’s blurry. It’s a funny feeling like I don’t have a clear path of what next year looks like, I’ve been trying hard to figure it out, but I just don’t know, the unknown is scary, but having said that, I have a goal in mind and that’s to get back to London as soon as I can. I have so much to do in the meantime, which is terrifying and exciting all at once.


Get some Real Talk in your inbox!

Real Talk is an online wellbeing project for creative people, written and curated by me! Through a monthly newsletter we share original articles (like this one) and exclusive curated content that we feel will compliment the topics we’re discussing in our articles. Things like TED talks, podcast episodes, videos, wellbeing exercises, worksheets and many more inspiring resources. Sign up to our newsletter to get your monthly dose of Real Talk and be empowered to improve your wellbeing so that you can lead your best creative life!

 

Real Talk

DAY JOB CONFESSIONAL

 
Real Talk by Kitiya Palaskas.jpg

This article has been brewing for a long time, but I have hesitated to post it until now because I'm still trying to process how I feel about this little secret that I want to share with you. Although I have hinted at it a few times over on my personal Instagram, spoken about it at conferences, and been honest whenever someone has asked, the whole time I've still felt a secret shame about it that I can't admit to. At times this thing has made me feel invalid, less-than and like an imposter. But it has also made me feel gratitude, relief and freedom. I feel like I'm at a weird AA meeting when I say this but, I'm a successful craft-based designer, and I have a day job. 

I don't know when or how this crept into my head, but somewhere along the line I formed a belief that to be successful in your career you had to do it full time. Anything else didn't count, or was proof that you were doing it wrong. I will be the first to vehemently tell anyone that this way of thinking is unhealthy, outdated, and just plain disrespectful to all the wonderful and talented people out there working so hard and kicking goals with multiple income streams. But despite trying to do my part to shift this perception for others, I still find it hard to believe for myself.  

Real Talk by Kitiya Palaskas.jpg

Throughout my career so far I have experienced life as a full-time designer, as well as life with a day job. I have worked many different kinds of day jobs, some creative, and some that were so completely not creative and so completely not me that once when my friend visited me at work she would not believe me when I showed her my desk because it was 100% void of anything to do with my personality whatsoever. (I was working as a Policy Analyst. Needless to say, I quit soon after). Both of these lifestyles have had their pros and cons. I think there's a perception that being a full time creative person is as good as it could ever get, but as rewarding and fun as it can be, it can also be fucking hard and pretty unglamorous too. Then there's the perception that day jobs mean you haven't quite 'made it' yet. From personal experience I have to disagree. I have done some of the best work of my career while having a day job.


“I've done some of the best work of my career while having a day job”


At the end of 2016, after a mix of of growing my business alongside part-time day jobs and experiencing stints of full-time freelance design, I decided it was time to devote 100% of my efforts to being a craft-based designer forever. I hadn't been full-time freelance since moving to Melbourne and although what I was offering had always been quite niche, I'd been in Melbourne for 4 years and I felt I'd built up enough of a client base that I could take the leap. I decided I would give myself a year of truly trying to make it work, putting in 100% effort and pulling out all the stops to do this craft-based design thing full time. The year started strong. Among other exciting projects I published a book, which has without a doubt been #1 on my bucket list since I was 12 years old. I had some really exciting stuff going on, and I was feeling great, but then, the work dried up. As I hustled for new jobs, feeling more and more disheartened, I wondered if it was changes in design trends causing this drought, or maybe the financial climate, my elaborate marketing schemes falling on deaf ears...or perhaps my greatest fear of all - that I was offering something SO niche that it couldn't ever amount to a full-time career and that I had been working my ass off for 7 years for a goal that was always going to be unachievable. 

Well, whatever it was, jobs were VERY few and far between for a long while, and it was a really stressful time. Like, REALLY stressful. Not only was I feeling the pressure financially, the stress killed my creativity and I couldn't make any new work, which as you may know is one of the worst things for a creative person to experience. I couldn't attract new opportunities if I wasn't actively making work, but not having any opportunities was making me stressed. The stress was killing creativity, which meant I couldn't make new work, to get new jobs... and on it went. It was the worst cycle ever! Eventually I reached a breaking point, bit the bullet and got a day job. I hated doing it. I felt demoralised and upset with myself that I had failed to achieve my goal that year of going full-time freelance. I felt like I was taking a step backwards. 

Real Talk by Kitiya Palaskas.jpg

But then I got my first pay check and those feelings miraculously melted away. All of a sudden I wasn't worrying about money, and found my creativity coming back as the stress decreased. I started making new work again, and subsequently new opportunities started presenting themselves. Spending time at my day job also gave me the space away from endless thoughts and worries about my business. I didn't realise it prior to this but I desperately needed a break from my thoughts. Focusing on something that had nothing to do with my creativity was a much needed relief. My day job kinda saved my career. 

I don't think this experience would have been anywhere near as shit if that horrible perception I spoke about earlier hadn't been festering in my head the whole time. I don't doubt it still would have been stressful, but I know that without the perception of 'full-time creativity = success' I would have saved myself a lot of personal anguish, negative self talk, and feelings of failure at a time when I really needed to  maintain a positive outlook so I could be proactive and motivated to improve my situation. Thoughts can be so powerful, and if a negative one slips in there at the right place and right time, it can have a long lasting and devastating effect. That's why it makes me so sad when I hear others tell me they're ashamed of their day job and they want to keep it a secret, or that they think less of themselves because they have one. What is so shameful about working hard? Being resourceful? Balancing two workloads and multiple commitments at once? Or doing whatever you have to do to make sure you have money coming in so you can live, while also being your best creative self? Absolutely nothing! In fact, if you are doing all of these things then you are a bloody champion in my eyes. And why do we have to call it a day job anyway? Isn't it simply just another job? All jobs are jobs, no matter if they are creative or not. Also, and this is important: having or not having a day job does not in any way relate to creative success. You have the ability to be creative and achieve amazing things with a day job, as well as without.  We need to constantly remind ourselves of that. I need to constantly remind myself of that. 


“Having or not having a day job does not in any way relate to creative success.”


Look, I'm gonna be honest, sometimes my day job crushes my soul, but being  a full-time designer can too. Sometimes day jobs make me feel like a total pleb, but during other times when freelance opportunities are few, or when I'm going through creative block or feeling uninspired, I feel so lucky and relieved that there is still money coming in every fortnight and that my creativity doesn't have to equate to financial success. Sometimes (most of the time) having a day job makes me work 5 times as hard at my true passion - my design career - which in turn leads to more creative opportunities, and more creative fulfilment. Sometimes creativity strikes when I'm at my day job and I'm trapped at my desk unable to do anything about it,  but other times being there is like a sweet slice of relief from the stress of running my own business. Mostly my day job relieves the pressure of the constant hustle, something I can easily get fatigued by. It opens up precious space in my brain for new ideas to flow and allows me to simply just be creative.

This is probably the greatest gift of all. 


Get some Real Talk in your inbox!

Real Talk is an online wellbeing project for creative people, written and curated by me! Through a monthly newsletter we share original articles (like this one) and exclusive curated content that we feel will compliment the topics we’re discussing in our articles. Things like TED talks, podcast episodes, videos, wellbeing exercises, worksheets and many more inspiring resources. Sign up to our newsletter to get your monthly dose of Real Talk and be empowered to improve your wellbeing so that you can lead your best creative life!

 

Real Talk

I FAKED MY WAY IN HERE: SOME THOUGHTS ON IMPOSTER SYNDROME

 
Real Talk by Kitiya Palaskas.jpg

Last year I got invited to speak at a BIG conference. It was the sort of event where there were maybe 2000 people in the audience and even more watching live from around the world (so no pressure or anything!) On the day, when I entered the green room to prep for my talk, I found it already full of other speakers. I knew them all by reputation already of course - they were heads of design agencies, industry game changers, and successful creative entrepreneurs that I had been fan-girling out on for ages prior to this moment.

As I introduced myself, hoping I didn't have lipstick on my teeth (which always happens to me in situations like this), I thought: "I hope I can be a successful designer too one day. I wonder what it feels like to be legit and speak at big conferences like this..." Then I remembered, DERP, I was speaking at this conference. I was here for the exact same reason as them. So how come I didn't feel as legit?

Don't get me wrong, in general I am quite comfortable with owning my talent and skills and recognising that I am a legitimate designer, but sometimes, in moments like these I can feel like I've somehow faked my way into this scenario and someone will eventually realise this and expose me for the fraud that I am. Standing there in that room, my brain started to churn with thoughts like: "Is it a mistake that I was invited?", "They're probably all wondering what I'm doing here", and  "I don't have any actual talent like these guys, I just hot glue stuff!"  I know this sounds ridiculous, but hey, imposter syndrome IS ridiculous. And yet, it's a thing! 

Real Talk by Kitiya Palaskas.jpg

According to the dictionary imposter syndrome is a term used to describe "a false and sometimes crippling belief that one's successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill". I feel you dictionary. I feel you. But where does it come from? No one at that conference was actually sitting there pointing at me being like "She faked her way in here! Get her off stage!", and yet I found myself believing it to be true in that particular moment. Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? When does it manifest for you? It may not happen in every scenario, but if it does, I find it's usually at times when:

  • I'm being praised or recognised for my work or achievements

  • I win a pitch for a job with a big client

  • I achieve something or get an opportunity that's so awesome it feels too good to be true

  • I find myself in a social setting with big-name people from my industry and get asked "So, what do you do?"

  • I put something completely new and big out into the public for the first time (like starting this project for example!)

In writing this list, it's occurred to me that imposter syndrome usually doesn't come from anything anyone else thinks about us, it comes from inside ourselves. When someone gives us an amazing opportunity, a reward, or some kind of positive reinforcement and our negative self-talk happens to be too loud and overpowering in that moment, imposter syndrome kicks in as a manifestation of our self-doubt. 

Real Talk by Kitiya Palaskas.jpg

I believe that identifying what imposter syndrome is,  and understanding where it comes from and when we're likely to be more susceptible to it can help to lessen it's effect on us. Recognising that it's just a by-product of our self-doubt, and that our self-doubt might be raging in this moment because we're about to do something we may be unsure of, and that these feelings are all completely normal will help to diffuse it.

One way in particular that I've personally found helps diffuse imposter syndrome-y feelings is to take a look at my portfolio of work as a whole. Whenever I'm revamping my website to add fresh work or edit out older projects, I find myself realising just how much I have actually achieved so far in my career. Looking at the body of work I have created from that zoomed-out place is a great way to gain a wonderful perspective on everything I have accomplished. I'm usually zoomed too far in on the details of things to see it like this.

In relation to this, I also feel that it's super important to make sure we celebrate our achievements, no matter how big or small. I think this is something that we as creative people often neglect to do, because, as I said, we can get so zoomed-in on certain details, or are already looking ahead to the next project without pausing to reflect on what we've just accomplished. We might still experience imposter syndrome at times, but in reminding ourselves regularly of our value, those fraudulent feelings might just be fleeting rather than forever. Taking time to truly acknowledge and celebrate each achievement is a great way to serve ourselves some ongoing validation that we are in fact legit, we do know our shit, and we definitely deserve to be here.


Get some Real Talk in your inbox!

Real Talk is an online wellbeing project for creative people, written and curated by me! Through a monthly newsletter we share original articles (like this one) and exclusive curated content that we feel will compliment the topics we’re discussing in our articles. Things like TED talks, podcast episodes, videos, wellbeing exercises, worksheets and many more inspiring resources. Sign up to our newsletter to get your monthly dose of Real Talk and be empowered to improve your wellbeing so that you can lead your best creative life!