We’re Not as Fucked Up and Special as We Think We Are: Why WNW Started a Support Group for Creatives
Justin Gignac / CEO & Co-Founder of Working Not Working
I’m procrastinating writing this article because I’m afraid to write this article. I sent a survey to Talking Not Talking attendees in March and was blown away by the positive feedback to our creative support group. And I’ve been sitting on it. I’m not sure why. Am I afraid to not do Talking Not Talking justice? Am I afraid of not being able to convey its impact? Talking about the experience often makes me emotional and I don’t want to undersell the benefit of sitting in a room full of likeminded people whose struggles and humanity are so terrifyingly and reassuringly relatable.
As creatives, there’s an inherent pride in being special. That we’re the only one who sees the world as we see it and the only one who can create as we can. It’s the flag we carry that gives us the confidence to put ourselves into our work and that work into the world. The individuality of our experience and voice is what sets us apart, sure, but our vulnerability and shared experience are what connect us. There is far more that we share as (creative) people than what sets us apart.
In June of 2017, I was feeling the need for connection. I had many late-night conversations with friends about our collective struggles within the creative industry, whether that was trouble finding work, the changing definition of our roles, or the loneliness that often comes along with freelancing from home. These conversations in private were beneficial and I wondered if there was a desire beyond my friends to talk about our hurdles. The next step was making these honest conversations public with WNW’s podcast, Overshare. At the end of live recordings, audience members asked vulnerable questions and it reconfirmed there are many issues weighing on the minds of creatives. They clearly wanted to join the conversation. Why not make it happen?
So I sent this email to the Working Not Working community in New York, unsure if anyone would respond.
“A sort of creative group therapy. No phones. No podcast. No live tweeting inspirational quotes. Just some creative folks sitting in a circle talking about real shit. We’ll have someone speak for 10-15 minutes on a topic. Then take turns, one at a time, uninterrupted for a few minutes talking about whatever is on your mind. You can share. You can hear other people share. Whatever is said in the room stays in the room. Hell, I’ll probably cry. You may cry, too. Who knows. It’s cool either way. And maybe we’ll all get something out of it.”
I was shocked when the 24 free tickets sold out in under 10 minutes and we immediately had a waiting list of over 70 people. That first meeting I was anxious but encouraged. I very loosely patterned the format on what I had experienced in years of going to Al-Anon meetings. Chairs set up in a circle, a speaker to kick it off for a few minutes, and then others were invited to share uninterrupted. There were creatives from various disciplines at a wide range of stages in their careers connecting over the challenges that inevitably come up. It was powerful and encouraging. And I didn’t do another one for 12 months.
I don’t know what fear kept me from hosting another. It wasn’t until a year later in June when the news of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s deaths in the same week created a sense of urgency to hold another meeting. Since then Talking Not Talking has been held monthly and expanded to Los Angeles and San Francisco. We’ve tackled a range of topics from creative insecurity and reinvention to social media and expectations.
The World Health Organization says that the leading cause of ill health and disability is depression. In a recent survey of Working Not Working members, 60% believed creatives are more susceptible to depression and anxiety than most. It’s important we talk about it.
Whatever you’re going through right now, just know I’ve probably gone through it too. And the design star you follow on Instagram has. And most people in your office or sitting in that coffee shop have as well. You’re not fucked up. You’re not the only one fucking it up. You’re figuring it out just like the rest of us and that’s the best you can do. Take it easy on yourself. Don’t compare your blooper reel to everyone else’s highlight reel.
Let go of trying to do it all. Let go of the expectations of others and, more importantly, yourself. Let go of “I’ll be happy when...” and “I’ll be happy if...” Let go of not being enough. That’s been the biggest one for me to let go of and is a gut punch every time I hear it.
You are enough. Don’t forget it.
I encourage you to join us for Talking Not Talking next Tuesday night, October 15th, in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.
If you’re nervous about coming, you’re not alone. Each meeting, about half of the attendees are first-timers. People are walking in with walls, apprehension, and nerves. It’s normal and everyone gets it. If you want to come and not talk, that’s completely okay. The Not Talking part is just as important as Talking. To have a room full of people truly listening to you is a gift.
If you can’t make it to a Talking Not Talking in person, I encourage you to reach out to some friends right now and invite them for coffee, lunch, or a drink. When you get there ask them how they’re doing and genuinely listen. Attempt to not immediately be thinking of a reply (it’s hard). Just listen and be present for them. And when they ask how you’re doing try something radical—be honest and vulnerable (if that’s not already in your nature). As soon as I abandoned my habit of clinging to a “hustling hustling hustling killing it killing it killing it” facade, it was such a relief. Being vulnerable led to more enriching conversations and evolved casual acquaintances into close friends. The risk is worth it. I promise.
It’s fitting to end this piece the same way we end every Talking Not Talking, with this reminder: No matter what’s going on, you’re living someone else’s dream right now. Whether it’s living in this city or getting paid to be creative or sitting in a room full of like-minded people. Be grateful.