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My Four Cents On Starting A Successful Creative Career

This last year made a lot of people I know reevaluate their jobs. There seems to be this collective urge to actually enjoy some of the 40-50 hours a week we spent at work. Many were laid off, many had to quit or scale back to be with kids when they weren’t in school, and for some more privileged it’s just an existential shift. I’ve had this massive influx of people asking me lately about how to get started in a creative career. Five years ago I wrote the below post based on a couple of keynote speaking engagements that I had just given and after rereading it I figured with some updates it’s actually still very applicable. So if you are toying with starting a creative career, if you secretly really want to take the risk but you are scared or you are having trouble pulling the trigger, this post could be helpful.

Now I’m not a professional motivational speaker; furthermore, I’m actually someone who has made 1 million mistakes in my business, but as far as putting myself out there? I did that and I continue to do that which I think is one of the reasons for the success of my company.

But those of you who are hesitant are certainly not alone. I find this especially among my generation. Millennials are much more entrepreneurial and confident than those of us who went to college in the 90s likely because we were raised pre-internet and didn’t see firsthand how you could actually make a living being an artist. What I see most in people that aren’t fulfilled creatively or career-wise is the inability to pull the creative career trigger – to put themselves, their service, or their product out into the world. This inability holds them back, keeps them unfulfilled, and deprives them of much-needed creative expression. And it’s such a cycle – the longer you wait, the less confidence you have, right? Because you see all these other people starting all over the place and you think, gah, I’ll never catch up!! It’s sucks, I get it. But why?

My theory is that this lack of “starting” is attributed to two stupid things: perfectionism and fear. 

Perfectionism is a dangerous demon, and trying to capture it in any facet of your life (career, relationship, or even design of your new English cottage kitchen, for instance) is a fool’s errand that will cause you so much stress, make you less happy and no matter how hard you try, you will still fail to be perfect. So stop trying!!! Sure, I believe in being detail-oriented and having a high level of quality in both styling/photography and my design work. However, as everyone who works for me or knows me knows, I’m truly not a perfectionist and I think this is one of the keys to creative success – especially in the digital age. I believe producing something good is more important than perfecting something ’til death. I know that it’s hard if you ARE a perfectionist, and I’m not a psychologist but it seems to me that perfectionism was touted as some sort of good quality – like being a workaholic – so many people identify with it (by the way it is an actual disorder for some people) but ask yourself if you are truly a perfectionist or is it just an excuse because you are scared.

What I hear the most is that someone’s product or service isn’t quite ready to be put out there. Maybe it’s that their font isn’t flushed out on their site yet, or their portfolio isn’t robust enough, or perhaps their product needs a few tweaks. But this tweaking/obsessing/flushing out process can go on for years. YEARS of you not starting and therefore not feeling fulfilled.

photo by stephanie todaro | from: how to create a design plan

Fear Is Even Worse.

I get it. I’m held hostage way more by fear than perfectionism. I’ve told you over and over that there are some posts of which I’m terrified to push publish. Fear of criticism, backlash, or negativity is something I still battle a bit on personal posts and I have to really force myself to be brave and power through (luckily most of you are really nice). 

But I see what fear does to people – it totally paralyzes them and stops them before they ever start. Just remind yourself what I tell myself all the time – the worst thing that can happen is you fail, and failure doesn’t actually kill anybody. No one will die if I blow this speaking engagement. No one will die if I reveal a project that I, too, fear is sub-par. No one will die if I start a design series for the blog that you guys all think is insane. I’ll simply adjust and move on. In the digital era, people forget so much faster than they used to and I promise you, you have many chances at a first impression.

So here’s my advice to “getting started”:

1. Focus On QUANTITY Over Quality For A While.

This is KEY and opposite of what we have always been told. When I started the blog it looked like this.

It was barely above average at best and I knew it but I had put off starting the blog for over a year at that point and one day I just needed to push publish (I have hasty little sausage fingers that often just press send when my brain is busy trying to deal with fear – thank god my fingers are much smarter than my brain). The inspirational photos were pretty but not perfect, the copy was personable but not even that professional, and the site itself was absolutely mediocre at best. I had built it by myself on Blogspot with zero photoshopping skills and a serious frustration towards choosing fonts (which I still have – I’m strangely bad at 2-dimensional design).

But I started.

Sure, this was in a time when there weren’t that many blogs and the content was mostly inspirational photos scanned from magazines or DIY projects with bad cameras and even worse lighting. As I started to create content in my home I didn’t obsess on perfection either and instead created cute vignettes that had personality and partnered with up-and-coming photographers who needed to practice their craft, too, to shoot random stuff in my house. This is how I created a portfolio and a blog and while neither were perfect, I did it. I started.

2. Create A Website With Your Company’s Name That Says “Coming Soon!”

Add your contact/social media handle – then get on social media instead while you “tweak” your site (you could tweak your site for a year, meanwhile “not starting”). It’s so easy. People accept a “coming soon” website for months, I promise. 

3. Start Posting On Social

If you want to be a potter but are intimidated by creating so much social media content or Instagrams every day then simply find photos of pottery that inspire you and post them, obviously crediting the artist. Say something like “So inspired by @BenMendansky’s work – I love how graphic his mugs are and it’s making me get back into the studio this morning. Just add coffee.” Then tag him (which will get his attention). You don’t have to create all your own original social media, you just need to CREATE SOMETHING and then remind people that you, too, are creating something. Pretty photos = likes, and likes = more followers. I used to only put original photography on social media but since I’ve been promoting other people’s work I’ve seen a huge amount of success as they feel flattered and followers love the inspiration. (2021 update: I’m currently on the fence about posting a lot of other people’s work that work in your field as many people don’t read the captions so they can easily just think it’s yours. However, it’s more important to create the account which allows people to tag you. So many times I’ll be at a store and see something that I love and want to tag it, knowing that my follower count is super high and could definitely lead to them having more business, so when they don’t even have an account I get so bummed for them). Put their work on insta-story and tag them there – it’s a more appropriate place to show who inspires you and looks less like YOUR portfolio.

4. Use Your Facebook/Instagram Friends As Your Focus Group.

These are people who probably care about you and want you to succeed so ask their opinion so they will help you promote and might give you the feedback/encouragement you need. 

Over the weekend I was talking to Maxwell (founder of Apartment Therapy), Justina (Jungalow), and Jaymie Derringer (founder of DesignMilk) and all of us chatted about our lack of perfectionism and our instinct to just “create and present” rather than “create and obsess.” I was glad it wasn’t just me – they absolutely ditto’d this theory. Done is better than perfect.

photo by veronica crawford | from: our first ever reader event at the mountain house—a recap

What Happens When You Finally Start? These Four Things:

1. You practice your craft and get better. For me, it was writing, styling, and posting to social media. I had a moderately distinct voice when I started but I’ve certainly honed in on it over the years by writing every. single. day. Like an athlete with a muscle, just exercising guarantees progress if not success. You have to practice your art whether it’s making pottery, interior design, writing, etc and by putting it out there you are forced to practice again and again and again and every day you’ll get better and better.

2. You receive feedback. The internet is one big free focus group – AT YOUR FINGERTIPS!! Companies used to (and some still do) pay so much money to show a product to a group of randomly selected people to get their arbitrary base thoughts. Now you can ask your friends/followers on social media and you will know how people feel about your product immediately. Yes, this is terrifying. One time somebody told me that my designs looked like a child had smeared shit all over their walls. He apparently really, really didn’t like my work and my decorating style apparently angered him A LOT. But most of the time that feedback is absolutely helpful. A few years ago I was getting a lot of feedback that my work was starting to look all the same and as I looked at it, like an objective reader I realized they were right and I started to diversify. If you want faster results and more engagement then ask a question. You can say something like “Excited to finally start showing off my work, but I need feedback – should this mantel have more personality or is it already full enough?” Or if you are a maker you could say, “Thinking about opening an Etsy store (coming soon!) and wondering what price point you would spend on one of my hand-thrown pots?” If you don’t have a social following then ask your Facebook friends. If you aren’t on FB, then get on Facebook (and Instagram).

You don’t need to make a  huge announcement that is like “HEY WORLD, I’M NOW GOING TO CALL MYSELF AN ARTIST AND HERE ARE 147 PAINTINGS FOR YOU TO PURCHASE.” No. Baby steps are good! Create one product or publish one project, and ask for feedback – honestly, this will probably make you feel really good. As you get feedback you can tweak your product or service and make it better. Maybe everyone overwhelmingly says that things feel too busy, or that you need more color – then you know what the market is feeling and if you want to listen (p.s. you should) then you will probably create a product that will be more successful.

3. The third thing that could happen if you put your work out there is that you just. might. succeed. No one can buy a product they don’t know exists and no one will hire you for a skill that they don’t know you have. What if you start creating, putting it out there and it turns into your dream job?!

You simply won’t know until you start. 

That’s my Monday morning wanna-be-Ted-talk for you. Maybe an Em-talk? Charlie just slapped me (deservedly) for writing that – he’s very sensitive to self-righteous know-it-all advice-givers. But here’s the part where I encourage you to START and I selfishly want to be part of the process. So if this motivates you at all, please post on social and tag me in your project/art/creation by using this hashtag #EHDjuststart.

Our web-based world is always ready for more makers, creators, and artists. And with the internet being such an easy and accessible platform for all services and products, you, my friends are in the perfect time/era to put away that “How to obsess over everything and make sure it’s perfect” self-help book and instead, JUST START.

Opening Image Credits: Photo by Stephanie Todaro | From: How To Create A Design Plan


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127 thoughts on “My Four Cents On Starting A Successful Creative Career

  1. I love this! I saw Martyn Lawrence Bullard and India Hicks talk at Decorex last week and they both echoed that “just start” message. It’s an industry where there aren’t necessarily set steps to a successful career, but you’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t do something to get going in the beginning. Not that I’m speaking from experience – I’m very much still at the starting point – but it’s very nice to hear the same message of encouragement from people who’ve made it and who I admire so much. Incidentally, your name was mentioned in their discussion more than once (all very good things).

  2. This post and Friday’s post? I love you Emily. No, but really, these two posts have been amazing to read and mull over and I just can’t thank you enough for sharing these things! How did you know everything I needed to hear?

    I think part of the perfectionism that holds back creatives can come from feeling that others who have been successful must have figured out some secret *something* that you haven’t learned yet. I know that the remind that no one has it all figured out is such an important one. And it seems to me that your post on creativity, to ‘just start’, that holds so much wisdom for working on improving one’s marriage too. 😉 Many thanks for your words!

    1. Thank you 🙂 It wasn’t planned to do both posts back to back so I was sensitive about it (which is why i’m only reading the comments now). So thank you. xx

  3. Thank you, Emily! This is just what I needed to read this morning. I don’t think I’ve ever commented here before but I want to tell you that this post (and your last post – congratulations!) are what makes this space so very special.

    Just this weekend, my husband and I sat down and had a long conversation about what we want our lives to look like. Neither of us is really doing what we really want in life but we’re so caught up in surviving each day (with little kids + jobs) that it felt impossible to even imagine a better, more fulfilling version of our lives.

    1. Oops. I pushed post too soon!

      Anyway, we decided to really dream our dreams (and support each other in dreaming our dreams) and then figure out a way to make them into reality. And your post today is so so very helpful both for the motivation and for the practical advice. Thank you.

    2. Thanks for sharing this Emily! During the pandemic, I found your blog and purchased your book (which I reference constantly when designing my home). You actually inspired me to become an interior decorator after 7 years as a stay at home mom!

  4. Great post!

    This is probably not as “nice” to talk about but I find the main thing stopping me from my semi-creative dream (opening a homewares store) is money. I have a fairly well paid office job and it’s hard to think about leaving this security behind, especially when it affords me the luxury of buying nice things for my house and occasional travel.

    Was money ever a fear for you Emily?

    1. Money is so important to talk about. I also would be completely afraid to quit a good paying job to embark on a very expensive, and risky endeavor. But maybe there are ways that you could start small, like opening a really well curated online shop (even just starting with Etsy) and using social media like Instagram, FB, and Pinterest to promote it. It would be an insane amount of work when you already have a full time job, but maybe it would give you the confidence you need to make the leap to brick and mortar.

      1. another thing to do is get a booth at a local, antiques, flea market kind of place where you rent space. many let you sell anything, and i know i like going to those where the people put out new things as well as the old. so give it a try, start small and have fun. you already have a good paying job and that is so wonderful…you won’t have anything to loose really. to buy items just get a fed. id number and reg. the name of your business and get buying!

      2. that is just what I was going to say. Start a small online shop. market the hell out of. grow customers and confidance. Then get a brick and mortar. xx

  5. Thank you so much for this post, Emily! I am an avid reader of your blog! I’m a couple weeks away from launching my new blog focusing on styling and the makeover of my house and closing another established creative business I have because it doesn’t fulfill me. Starting over is terrifying and I find myself obsessing over the posts I’ve written and I keep editing them! I sometimes do feel the need to wait until things are perfect, but you’re totally right – we have to just do it. We’re are all at different stages in or lives/business and taking the first step and putting yourself out there is super tough. But we should all take pride in the fact that at least we’re pursuing our passions/dreams, whatever – and that in itself is inspiring and half the battle. Thanks for the post!

    1. Becky,
      You sound exactly like me. I am doing the exact same thing. Looks like were creating the same type of blog. We should chat.
      Thanks Emily for this post. I’m so terrified of rejection, someone not liking what I say. As a people pleaser, throwing myself out there is so scary. You have given us some great suggestions and I will be one to follow them.

  6. Thank you, thank you! Your post really resonated with me as I’m someone that’s looking to break free from Corporate America and start a career in a more creative field. Reading a post like this, from someone whose work and message I admire, helps give me that boost of confidence to work towards conquering my fear of starting something new. Thank you for inspiring your readers daily with your designs and for the kind motivation you give with posts like this.

  7. Your posts are always exactly what I need to read. I “launched” my blog last week after looking at it for what felt like forever. I feel very encouraged and inspired after reading this to keep posting and trying every day.


  8. I love this post, Emily! I’m 27 and I’m becoming frustrated with where I’m at career-wise. At 24 I was accepted to an extremely rigorous Ph.D. program and ultimately decided not to pursue it because I knew it wasn’t the right path for me. I’m now gainfully employed but not fulfilled in any way and my position lacks the room for growth. I want to start over in a creative field, which is scary since my background is all science. But this is encouraging – I should just start. Thank you!

  9. this post is exactly what i needed to hear today (or really for the past 5 years of my life!?) i keep running into bits of inspiration like this and i feel like the universe is telling me to surrender my fear and just share my gifts. so thank you so much for encouraging that in me today. 🙂 xoxo


  10. Emily, I have to say that one of the reasons I still read your blog daily while I’ve abandoned almost every other blog I used to read is because you don’t try to be perfect every day. You show us things and then you often tell us what you did wrong and how you changed it. You make mistakes and you fix them. Of course, you also have the best style. I think the just start advice is the best advice! I can’t wait to see the new house.

  11. Excellent post and advice! I’m bookmarking it as this will continue to give me confidence, especially now that I’ve entered the blogging world! Thank you!!

  12. Hi Emily,

    I attended your talk at IDS West on Saturday. You were the reason I went to the show. It was so worth it. I’ve been reading your blog for years sow – so I kinda feel like I know you. And you are exactly as you are on the blog. Charming, down to earth and very inspiring.

    So many points that you spoke about are still resonating. Thanks so much for sharing your insights. P.S Your hair gave me major hair envy. Also, those Rachel Comey mules!

  13. I read your blog everyday, and I have to say this post was pure gold! You gave really great advice and I am taking it to heart! You are so right about just making a start and to practice, practice which is what I am going to do – as I love styling (more events and DIY than interiors) and am keen to continue to build a “portfolio”. Thank you so much for being one of the most open and generous bloggers out there!

  14. This would have been so encouraging to hear when I started my Etsy shop (as a side gig, not as primary income) four years ago. I came up with a name, hem-hawed around for three months, and then posted 3 items I made using a tutorial I found on Pinterest. I was literally in tears that “no one will ever like or buy anything I make and I suck at being creative” when I logged in and realized I had made my very first sale. From there it grew…I made my own patterns instead of using someone else’s tutorial…and four years later I’m in a rut as my bestsellers use chevron and are looking very 2012. Time for a refresh! Thanks for the motivation this morning!

  15. Hi Emily, not sure I’ve ever commented before, but I so enjoy your posts and today’s and Friday’s were so fab I felt moved to! Your warmth and down to earth persona come across so clearly both in what you write and do. You create homes, not houses and I think that translates itself very clearly to your readers. Thank you for sharing your work, your passions and your lovely family with us.

  16. Hey, pretty lady! Thanks for continuing to push yourself and put yourself out there! You have a beautiful funky spirit and insanely cool style; I love seeing your posts in my inbox every day. (And also everyone else’s posts too of course you beautiful EHD crew you)

  17. Thanks for this post, Emily! I’ve been in interior design school on and off for a few years now and you hit the nail on the head on why I haven’t pulled the trigger on my career: perfectionism and fear. Thanks for giving me the motivation and courage to just start! I have all of these little design projects I’ve been a part of, but never felt like it was high caliber enough to show the world. I’m writing out a plan this week to Thanks for your inspiration, Emily! I love your website and your style!

  18. i love this post! {Heck all of them really but especially this one. 😉 } it wasnt until i took a class by brene brown early this year called the courage works semester that i found the courage to dare greatly, believe in myself, and, as you said, just start! i love this and will definitely bookmark it for inspiration any time i forget that everyone is a beginner at some point. thank you for sharing this.

  19. Talk about serendipitous timing, I actually contacted a business that I loved so I can help with their marketing this weekend. I’d been telling myself for ages, “Your websites not quite ready yet, you need to do this first…blah, blah, blah.” Then I saw a Facebook post, emailed the owner and bam… I have a client. You totally do NOT have to have everything together to get started, glad I’m not the only crazy one.

  20. I got this from parenting guru Carrie Contey: Kids don’t want their parents to be perfect; they want them to be AUTHENTIC.

    I happen to think that this is true across the board for human beings. Or at least, if someone is choosing perfect over authentic, there isn’t a lot of love present.

  21. Great post today, Emily! I agree with all your points. I’m still very new at it all (our blog celebrated its first year last month) but so glad I just forged ahead.
    One thing I’d like to emphasize about failure: there’s really no need to fear it. It’s one of the ways (and an important one) that we learn. It’s not a judgment on your personal worth. Unless you were born under very lucky stars, everyone fails at something sometime. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, extract the lesson(s), and carry on. Or stop and start in a different direction. Accept the probability that not everything will work out perfectly and move forward.
    Fearing failure is akin to fearing life.

  22. You are such a great inspiration for me!!! I discovered your blog 3 or 4 yeas ago and I`ve learn so much from your work.
    And as a inspirational coincidence, today (about 30 minutes before reading this post) I launch my online shop, and made my own week routine to organize my time between production and blog`s writting.
    Keep been like this, you reach out more people that you could imagine!

  23. Thank you!!! As I am in the midst of a new and large (for me) project I am filled with both excitement and yes, fear. “Will I/it be good enough?” “Will anyone care?” “Will it be worth the time/effort?” Ugh. BUT, I am doing it. It’s going to happen, so I am in full on prep mode (with a few minute inspo break here) and at the end of the day/week I know I will learn something about myself, my style, and hopefully how to connect with a client/customer. As always, I find your style and voice encouraging and very, very real. Many thanks.

  24. totally agree with all of this. Just Start!

    I think it’s also important to state, that you can be fulfilled by not creating your career out of what you are creatively good at. I think you can have creative fulfillment in your life, even if it’s not your career. Depending on your creativity for your income is really stressful and can become really frustrating. OR, if you are successful as a creative you’re often accused of “selling out”. It can be a double-edge sword. Certainly give it a go, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t find financial viability within a creative career. You are not a failure! Keep making, keep creating, and it’s okay if you need a job beyond that to pay the bills. We ALL have to keep the lights on somehow 🙂


  25. Great post! It reminds me of a poem I found very inspirational and framed.
    “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky,
    And you ask ‘What if I fall?’ Oh but my darling, ‘What if you fly?’”
    ― Erin Hanson

  26. Good post. For those afraid to give up your income, take some time to look at the expense side of your life. Search “extreme early retirement” to find ways to drastically cut your expenses; then you can stash cash away for your dreams or take a significantly lower paying gig without experiencing financial pressures.

  27. THANK YOU. I’m very much a just start and hone your craft as you go kinda gal and I loved all this advice. I’m in my 3rd year of creating and the more I go, the better I get. I’ll be using that hashtag because whether I’m starting now or started 3 years ago, we’re all reinventing and restarting new ideas all the time! xo

  28. This comes at a perfect timing. I recently started blogging and had been putting it off for years.
    Just start is the best piece of advice anybody that is having second thoughts should do. We don’t have to have anything else figured out. Taking the first step is enough.

  29. Wow! This is exactly what I needed right now. Thank you.
    I have a blog and really want to start a art/design business some day (I’m a little early at 15, but it IS my passion) A lot of people need to hear this. Being paralyzed by fear is not uncommon. I’m so glad you started like that considering where you are now.

  30. LOVE this post.
    I’ve been pushing back opening my etsy store (of illustrated personalized portrait) for almost a year, because I didn’t feel ready, didn’t had enough example yet, etc.
    But you’re JUST SO RIGHT. I think it is just what I needed. And I’ll do that, I’ll start it.
    For real, Thanks Emily !

  31. So good! As someone who just started a creative side-business this summer, this post was so encouraging. Just do it, people! You’ll never get the chance to improve if you don’t start!!

  32. This is such an on time post for me! I definitely struggle with trying to get each post just right and over think everything! But you are so right just starting and getting my ideas out into the world help so much and really builds momentum! Great Post!

  33. Excellent Blog! You have given excellent advice to all of us. Way to go with the courage, the fortitude and the ambition. Loved every word.

  34. This was SO ENCOURAGING. I want to thank you and your team for being a constant source of inspiration, knowledge and beautiful things 😀

  35. Dear Emily,
    Thank you for yet another post brimming with generous wisdom and encouragement (I was reflecting on your reflection on creating a lifelong love all weekend)! Serendipitously, I am a potter (haha, I love that you used that as an example! Each of your posts make me feel like you are talking right to me :), and yesterday – after literally a year of self-doubt and perfectionism – I finally experimented with taking photos of my pottery to set up an Etsy shop. Can’t wait to share with you and the world the results soon 🙂

  36. So very true, thank you. My husband and I have been talking intensely about ‘what’s the worst that can happen? we don’t know what we are doing but let’s just start! isn’t this better than sitting at our dead end jobs never having tried?!’ Perfect timing, thanks for the reinforcement. We are planning social media, but the bigger scary part is the brick and mortar – but HEY, lots of people STARTED and look at them…

  37. Hey Emily,
    This is the first time I am ever commenting on your blog in-spite of following you for quite sometime. You are so inspiring.And I am commenting today because the timing of your post couldn’t be more perfect!I have been planning to start my own blog/website for months now but I always was taken aback because of fear of judgement and perfection.I am a full-time Concept Artist ( I paint and create character designs and backgrounds and stylize animation shows for Disney,CN etc. ) but I want to start my own home styling and DIY blog and service
    (push my creative side a bit and see if I can do it or not).My fiance and I got a new house and he has been pushing me to put all my skills and creativity to make it a home (its coming out beautifully) and put it out on blog. And I just couldn’t start all because I just think a lot.Today morning I had to pin myself down to create my website. And as a ritual I visit your blogs to see your portfolio to inspire me everyday and there you have it,your post today ” Just Start”. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that. I just needed that one last push.
    Thank you so much Emily for your words!

    1. Wow. yes. please do it. I’m so glad that i helped but I also know that you are proabably already doing it. DO IT MORE. YAY. I don’t know you but I’m so proud of you.xx

  38. Okay, so for the last 7+ months I have been saying I would document my house renovation and show my reasoning for the choices I have made in all my decisions through out, and I hadn’t done it, all the best intentions but just to many excuses, try a 3 year old and a ten month old oh and a major renovation to name a few, but I finally pulled the pin after reading this post and created a Instagram account did my very first post, edited the post 4 times and used the hashtag #EHDjuststart I’m not letting perfectionism and fear rule anymore. Thanks Emily your one persuasive lady!

    1. I’m going to check it YAY!!!!! I know that your life is insane right now, so congratulations for trying at all and yet getting something done. xx

  39. The one proviso I’ll add is don’t confuse a hobby and a job. You may love cooking but opening a restaurant can suck that passion and creativity dry. Work is ultimately, always, work and people don’t always realize that.

  40. I’m so happy to have stopped by your post, it’s great to know that a lot of successful people are successful not because they were “lucky”…rather because they decide to show their work, leaving the perfection behind.
    And thanks for the hashtag #EHDjuststart that shows us your support.

  41. Wow thanks for the great message, Emily! Love the practical and positive advice. You’ve got me thinking….

  42. What a wonderful post! I have taken those baby steps to start my curiosities and art (I’m a watercolor artist) shop by opening a small shop in an antique store. It’s been over a year and now have regular customers. One thing that has helped greatly is advertising in a small local paper. Learning to budget/manage/bargain/trade definitely helps the $$ go further. Working on an eco friendly branding design next. You have been my dream designer for years.

  43. I did exactly *this* this year. I’ve always wanted to do interior design and I’ve been doing it for friends and family on the side for several years so I thought, “why not?” It’s been far more successful than I expected but you also see all of the holes in your abilities pretty quickly. I’ve done a good job of partnering with other people who are positive to work with, but some of the gaps I wonder about. For instance, I don’t do CAD and with it’s use on HGTV, everyone seems to want it. I’ve learned some stuff and done it for a few clients, but honestly, it sucks the joy out of the art of design for me. How do you manage that? Client expectations which seem to be standard with your ability and/or desire to provide a service?

  44. Soooooo needed to read this today. Thanks for the encouragement. Just start! Perfectionism is my enemy and as soon as I get past that, fear kicks in. It really means to a lot to know that you struggled with these as well… And got past them! happy Tuesday!

  45. This post comes just in time!

    Last Sunday I uploaded my portfolio on the Internet. It’s been in my To Do list for months because I’ve always thought it was not good/ready/long enough, but I just pressed the publish button and let everyone knows I was “on air”. Now I’ll keep on creating projects even if I make them in my own house at first.

    Thanks Emily 😉

  46. Loved so many messages in this! I’ve been working on designs for my etsy shop for WEEKS now to make it perfect. My husband has been saying exactly what you said about just starting and putting it out there! The “147 paintings” part made me laugh as my etsy is nursery/kids art, and I started designing a print for each letter of the alphabet. I decided getting the full alphabet complete was not a reason to hold back all of the other pieces I have ready to go! Plus, what if I waited and no one cared for those pieces? It’s nursery/kids art and I finally just went with it this weekend making my “big” announcement!

    Another great point in your post is about showing people a skill you have. Just from a couple of “hey look at things I designed” posts, I’ve had two people reach out to me with big projects.

    Thanks for the encouraging read!

  47. Thank you for this post, Emily. It’s just what I needed to read right now! A lot of times I struggle with the perfectionist in me — this post is inspiring me to “just do it”. After nearly a decade of writing a music blog from NYC, I recently started a whole new site devoted to food and travel and my new home of Denver, CO. I’ve read so much other advice on the “best” or the “right” way to kick-start a new blog and get a stronger following, and frankly some of that stuff is exhausting to read. I’m glad to hear someone as successful as yourself say that you gotta just try things and see what happens. Thanks for giving me license to play!

  48. Love this post! I agree totally, just start and get stuff done! Thanks so much for sharing your insight. I saw a pic of you with a collar chain the other day and I loved it. May I ask where you got it? Thanks Emily!

  49. Don’t apologize for two advice posts! I love reading a more personal side as I’m sure other readers do. I’m a new blogger and wannabe designer in my first home so this really hits home. Thank you!

  50. woe! Good stuff! Wish all of us commenters could help each other too by having our own chat room of sorts. I love seeing creative work. I feel like a snake in a can and the more art or things I see the more I feel like I’m gonna burst. Maybe if I just start a little bit on each of the ideas I do have…

  51. You’re in my brain!!! I literally laughed out loud at how much I relate to this. Thank you for the much needed advice. I will be photographing some of my work tonight and hashtagging like a school girl. Cheers.

  52. This is so timely! Trying to get things perfect was keeping me from going live with my blog. I’ve started it as a way to help me figure out what my next career move will be, perhaps in the creative arena!

    I love your design sensibility. Thanks for sharing your process! xo

  53. Emily,

    It wasn’t this particular post that motivated me to get started with my photography business, but all your previous posts where you made it known that you weren’t perfect and have made so many mistakes in your career. I thought… If Emily can admit this to millions of people than I should just get up the courage to make my website live–even if I haven’t perfected my skills or the money to purchase the best photography equipment. I quit my nursing job in May, purchased my website in June and officially made it public two weeks ago. Boy, was I scared to make the creative plunge, but I kept telling myself: Emily did it. I can too!

    I read your Friday post about your love story and I thought wow, this is similar to the challenges my husband and I faced at the start of our parenting journey with our two little boys (similar in age to your two littles)–rocky at first, but now so incredibly wonderful. Then to top it off, you wrote this post about “just start” and I thought: Is Emily reading my mind?!? It’s just the encouragement I needed to feel more confident about my career decisions!

    I don’t have a twitter account yet but I’m going to open one upon your recommendation to spread the word using social media. Once I have the account set up, I’ll be sure to tag you in a post.

    Thanks for all the encouraging words of “just start”. I love how you are so free about making mistakes. And I love your work!

    Please feel free to visit my site and let me know what you think:

    All the best,

  54. My sister LOVES everything you do and just sent this to me to read. This is TOTALLY what I needed to read. I spent YEARS not starting anything, but wanting to 🙁 And after years of hearing every successful in their field person say that fear of failure is what stops people from ever starting, and after reaching my late 30s 🙁 I finally decided I need to JUST START, no matter what, so I did. I’m pretty much a newborn in the blog world, but I’m having fun and am actually doing something I like. Your advice is awesome, and I follow you on Insta, so I think your work is awesome too 🙂

  55. Emily. You.are.AMAZING! This post is so relevant. I’m a corporate attorney that has been working on my own stationery line for over a year. My launch date was suppose to be Oct 1st, and I’m still in the creation stage. Perfectionism & fear are two of my biggest nemesis. Your advice on not making a huge announcement, just take baby steps, is priceless. I haven’t started, because I’ve been trying to orchestrate this huge launch. But now, I feel relieved that it isn’t necessary for the success of my line. I love these thought-provoking posts, as well as, the design post btw. Continue to design amazing rooms and publish amazing content. Your work is very appreciated.

  56. I love how generous you are with yourself and your knowledge, Emily. You aren’t afraid to cheer others on and seem genuinely happy when they succeed, which is not only a very admirable quality, but a true measure of character. Thanks so much for your encouraging words.

  57. Such great advice! Thank you for this, it’s exactly what I needed right now. Would love to hear more insights from you!

  58. Thanks for this post, I’ve only been blogging for less than a year so I can totally relate. Perfectionism can hold you back, but good thing is it also pushes you forward. I’ve never had a DSLR camera, but I’ve recently bought one to have better quality photos on my blog. And now I’m putting off the moment to start using it (=studying how to use it). Gosh, I really can relate 😀

  59. First time commenting here, but THIS post Emily truly was oxygen and manna for my soul!! THANK YOU!!! : ) #EHDjuststart

    “Listen to what you know instead of what you fear.”

  60. Yes! Just start! I’m still trying to get my bearings as a designer here on the West coast. Sometimes I think about how much further along I was when I lived in NYC, but then I remember just how tenuous a grip I had on my sanity. I had to forfeit some professional currency to get ahead personally. I still don’t feel 100% ready but there’s never a perfect time.

    My advice, ask for help. The people in your life who genuinely care about you *want* to help you succeed. When I think about that time right before I made the decision to move and how powerless I felt, I am comforted by how many loved ones saw my struggle and offered to help. Once I asked for help, everything fell into place.

  61. Great post, and interesting how it hasn’t dated much in 4 years! (although I was a bit taken aback at the swiftness of the comment response until I realised they were all from the original post).
    I agree particularly with the “perfectionism/fear” element, which I struggle with daily (I’m a screenwriter).
    One other thing I would add for anybody thinking of starting a blog or an online shop (I had a small online tea-towel business for a while) is this: You know when people say “Oh once it’s on the internet everyone can see it forever”? Well that’s rubbish. *It’s almost impossible to be found on the internet*. That’s why businesses and bloggers and influencers put so much time, money and effort into making themselves more visible and accruing more followers. You don’t just start out with as many followers as Emily, she worked really hard for years to get where she is, but even she started out with zero followers. So you are totally free to make as many mistakes as you like on your own website in it’s eary days – even your own BFF identical twin won’t be checking in every day (but don’t ask her if she is, because it’ll just start a fight). If you decide afterwards you don’t like something then you can just change it or take it down and all your non-followers will never know. And probably your BFF identical twin won’t notice either.
    The other thing I would say is to be the designer of your website yourself. All the website hosts and Etsy have gone to a lot of effort to make creating a website/shop impossible to screw up, even for technophobes, and have step-by-step turorials and helpers who contact you proactively and for free to help you out. Doing it yourself means that if you suddenly decide you want to delete a blog-post or amend your “About” paragraph or upload a better product photograph then you can do it immediately, and not wait for that web-developer friend to get back from holidays and get around to it. The power is in your hands – and this also makes it much easier to put up something you think isn’t great, because you know you can amend it or delete it any time you want. The difference between my site when I first put it up and my site a year later (when I got bored and moved on) was astonishing to me. Same with my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts for it.
    So if anybody is on the fence about starting a blog/online shop, go for it. You’re “ready” now, the “better” is in the doing and you get to make all the mistakes you need to and (almost) nobody will see them. Do it!

    1. “Oh once it’s on the internet everyone can see it forever” NOPE!
      I had heaps on the internet that I’d writren for clients some years back now and none of it is searchable now.
      N o n e. I’ve disappeared! Bahahaha 😅😂🤣

  62. this is so good and came at the perfect time! I want to ask about social media / perfectionism: it seems a lot of social media is super saturated – there are so many people creating really high quality content. It can definitely feel intimidating to start an account while you’re not even sure what the difference between reels and stories is (couldn’t be me, of course).
    Does the EHD team or you fellow readers have tipps about getting over that block specifically?

  63. I’m so glad to see this today! Weekend before I did create my own ‘art’ Facebook page and instagram. I’m a ways from having any real product but I returned to college at 40+ after raising my family to pursue my artistic talents and figured it’d be fun to document the journey and see where I end up. Reading your tips makes me feel less guilty about the art quotes, other creative articles, and houseplants I’ve shared so far, lol.

  64. Thank you – this SO HELPFUL. Perfectionism and fear are so huge for me ! I also wanted to add- I make a living teaching my creative craft – and in doing so I can get burnt out for making my own work and initiatives . I am personable to my students and colleagues and a lot of energy and engagement flows though that space but I am very much NOT a natural extrovert so it takes a TON of energy. Plus I teach at 2 part time schools so there is not a huge amount of money or security. I have to accept that I need a lot of down time – more than colleagues – and I need to STOP taking care of others to to fuel my OWN TANK so I can continue. And I really have to go deep on self care – like do I really want to go thrift/ CL shopping or is it better to go for a walk in the woods? I was never taught this in my home so its a learning curve. Sometimes I get HUGELY scared and HUGELY perfectionistic because I am SO excited for my HUGE work and all that energy goes to the bad place…
    I think formal groups of accountability with scheduled goals really help a lot for his reason.. Anyways thank you for the great post as I am finally rested, making art, and now planning to start my 3rd and 4th hustles !!!

    1. You ight be interested in Gretchen Rubin’s “The Four Tendencies”. I’m an Obliger (sounds like ypu are too) and tge need for replenishment and the struggle in doing self-care is so very real!

  65. I can attest to all of this! I am an artist and used to also teach art full time. I knew I was getting burnt out and wanted to get out of teaching, so I started doing design projects for friends and family on the side, learning design programs, interviewing other designers, and then eventually launched a (very not perfect!) website and social media account. I started getting clients right away, and was able to quit my job and am now working in interior design full time. I still can’t believe it sometimes. I just keep a ‘gratitude and growth’ mindset, and embrace every chance to learn something new (happens several times a day at this point). It’s ALL about just doing it!

  66. I tried to “load more comments”, but it didn’t work.

    It’s like you read my mind, because today, I set up a meeting with my mentee’s Case Worker in regard to PEN+NAPKIN aaaand, after working over the phone for over 2 years for my mentee (we started when she was just 17, she’s now nearly 20), we’re meeting at my house on Thursday!!!

    I’m waiting to hear back from you re: the venmo budget for her (Sienna’s) room design project. I hope your move is going well. I’m ready to press the magic button once you say “GO!”😀

  67. Another timely post from you, Emily! Thank you so much. I so want to build a following while we renovate and love on an 1860s farmhouse in the western NC mountains and FEAR and PERFECTION keep holding me back. I am just going to START. Actually posted something on Insta this morning halfway through your post to do it do didn’t # you, but I will next time. I do also worry about market saturation but figured I’m also doing this for ME as much as true followers. Cross your fingers!

  68. Absolutely! I started my toy shop on Etsy when my kids were very small. Looking back my first photos were awful, my descriptions wordy and some of my policies and products weren’t the best. BUT I started and worked and more than ten years later Little Raven Toys (after an unplanned covid break to homeschool) is a successful side business and way for me to help support my family. I’ve learned so much about so many aspects of business by just jumping in and then listening to my customers when they had feedback. Great post!

  69. This is my first time reading this post, and I just wanted to echo the thanks in the comments above! Your discussion of the ways in which fear and perfectionism are paralyzing is spot on, and this was just really kind and practical advice (for a variety of fields, actually, I think).

  70. This is just perfect Emily! My husband always said to my perfectionist tendencies that ‘Done is better than perfect. Just start!’ And he was absolutely right and so are you! We creatives really do obsess don’t we? 😏 I wanted to ask, when you first started blogging, didn’t you worry about ‘getting in trouble’ for sharing other people’s work without their permission first? I can imagine how anyone would love a shoutout from you considering you have so many followers, but when you were starting, did you ever worry about that? I constantly want to post great examples of work and I always email the designer first for permission but so far, no luck! I’d love your input on this please? Thanks!

    1. I think if they don’t respond, you credit them, includinb where you found/saw their work. Yes?

  71. What a great post! I really appreciate all of your ideas and I feel more inspired to really go for it with my business. Thanks Emily!

  72. I highly recommend the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” This book is an excellent science based look at how to have happiness in your career, whatever that may be. While I agree with Emily that there is no time like the present, I definitely don’t think people should quit their jobs until they have built up enough career capital i.e. skills, to really make it work. This researcher found that it is actually autonomy and control over one’s projects and work life that lead to the most satisfaction, and that often only comes with an increase in skill. He shares the story of a woman who loved yoga, did one yoga teacher training certification course, quit her high-paying corporate job, and tried to open her own studio and failed miserably, because she really had no career capital. He then contrasts that with a young bluegrass musician who, in his early twenties, had already gone on several tours with famous bluegrass musicians etc and had a record deal. He profiled how the young man’s intense dedication to learning his instrument as a child led to the payoff of a career in music. He also profiles a similarly successful Hollywood screenwriter, and the career steps he took to “make it,” which involved paying his dues, taking whatever came his way, writing a TON on his own, making connections etc. But I also want to put in my two cents that creativity and art are REAL even if you don’t get paid for it. I.e. you can be an artist AND be a nurse. A creative life is not dependent on making money from it, although it sure is nice to be able to combine the two. But I can attest that even though my theatre work is mainly in a volunteer capacity at this point, I am still very happy and creatively fulfilled because I own my own grant writing consultancy business. I set my own hours, work only with people I choose, and work on the projects I think fit the client. I have a ton of flexibility and autonomy in my career at this point. But, I was only able to pivot to doing that because I had built up 10 yrs of grant writing experience and successes at the same time I was pursuing theatre etc. But I do agree also with everything Emily said! Good luck to all the budding entrepreneurs, artists, and creatives out there!!

  73. Thank you for this! “Hasty little sausage fingers…” Hahahaha I love that. And about the “hitting SEND before you can think about it” mention: I know that well. That’s how I’m here out in L.A.! I was writing a friend about the idea of moving out here and hesitated before I pressed the key because I knew my life would change in a big way once I did. So I hit it quickly before I could think about it. And the rest, well, you know. 🙂

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