21 Ways the Modern World is Harming You as a Creative and What to do About it

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Finance / Freelancing / Money / Motivation / Selling
21 Ways the Modern World is Harming You as a Creative and What to do About it. The world is moving. Recession or not, there is no doubt that human society is experiencing rapid change, progression - or regression if you see it that way - and a shift in the way we interact, do business, create, and experience reality.
'Modernity' is of course simply a label, but whatever is happening on our planet needs to be noted. We need to be flexible in dealing with how such changes affect our lives, whilst maintaining a sense of dignity and fulfillment.
I've put together a list of some of the bigger and noticeable challenges being faced by those in the creative industries in today's world. I've also included some suggestions on what you can do to deal with them.

1. Technological advance. With the introduction of ever more efficient technological aids and gadgets, as well as continuous improvements and cost reductions in this area, there is a lot to be said for the benefits provided for creatives.
here are, however, some things to be aware of that are affecting fulfilled creative work from creative people. As technology becomes available to more and more people, and with it the tools required to make creative products, there are more people able to compete with you and undercut you.
Be careful about depending on work that is overly rooted to technology and less reliant on your unique style or experience. You need to factor in how your expertise transcends the technology you use when creating your brand or crafting your unique selling point.
For example, if you carve a living out of generic website design for basic sites using web design software, you are in a more dangerous position than someone who produces websites with a distinct feel, dynamism, and professionalism with lots of added value. There are many ways to add extra value to your area of expertise, from better service to high quality work, and it's up to you to work out what works best for you.
2. A Shift in the Way People Buy
The old ways of buying, advertising and selling are crumbling, and you're at risk if you are unaware of how to adapt. How products are sold to people has shifted, and continues to do so dramatically. Promotional messages aimed at larger, non-defined audiences and groups have less and less impact. People have more freedom and choice than ever before, and this
means the customer dictates what they buy. Because you need to target a very distinct customer who have a range of other options at their disposal, you need to be building solid relationships with them over time instead of selling to people you don't 'know' from the offset. You cannot effectively sell something to a stranger with a non-targeted advert.
My book, 'Promo 3.0', goes into this in great detail. On top of this, the ways in which creative projects are initiated are changing, with platforms like 'Kickstarter' enabling us to create with financial support from fans.
It leads to many opportunities for creative minds.
This is leading to a more level playing field in terms of who is participating in new projects being introduced to the world. But it also leads to many opportunities for creative minds, especially for those who prioritise building up a base of fans and followers.
3. Demands of Independence. Many practitioners of the arts are choosing to work independently as sole traders and freelancers, running their own businesses and doing their own thing.
With such independence comes various challenges, including isolation, having to be in control of all or most aspects of a business, and the discipline that is required for things to be sustainable. True independence is not meant to be easy.
When doing things on your own terms, the one element you cannot let slide is taking responsibility for absolutely everything. This includes being disciplined to wake up and get working, managing all aspects of your business and creating time for other important parts of your life other than work. When you decide to put yourself in charge, the only person who can take things to success or failure is yourself.
4. Entitlement Culture. In a capitalist system, those that suffer the most are those capable people that burden themselves with a sense of entitlement from forces greater than themselves.
If you feel entitled to anything in life, whether that be free health care, a state pension, even a job, then you're sabotaging yourself and putting yourself and your own resilience at risk.
Even though all of these things are perfectly good and helpful features of an advanced society, they should not be relied upon, and yes, you should go out and secure everything you need with your own bravado and purpose.
5. Environmental Destruction
It's not immediately obvious why this is related to our careers as creative people. The reason I'm including environmental issues - whether 'man-made' or not - in this list is because, beyond the environment, there is nothing more significant to the functioning and survival of human beings and the creatures we share this Earth with.
Environmental destruction reflects very misguided and dangerous choices that we have made over time. The effect that climate change and such issues will have on policy decisions, the economy, and ultimately our own decisions and survival will only grow in magnitude.
Don't think you are immune to how our environment is changing .
Whether through what politicians and the public prioritize as important, how we are directly affected by environmental problems, or how we respond as arts practitioners to these concerns over the coming years, such matters will have a bearing on the work we do as creatives.
Those people who lived through Hurricane Sandy or Katrina will know the suffering that comes from the changes we are seeing, not to mention their effect on businesses and everyday functioning.
Don't think you are immune to how our environment is changing. The best thing you can do is to stay aware of these challenges, protect yourself and your work, and make a contribution, like more and more people are. 6. Sedentary Lifestyle
There are few creative crafts that do not involve long periods of sitting down or keeping still. As the demands of work and simply having the flexibility to work more lead to more 'desk-time', this is an increasing issue.
Exercise and move around as much as you can, when you can. Movement is massively important in keeping you healthy, and importantly, creative.
7. Overwork and Taking Too Much On. Definitely one of my own biggest challenges is dealing with the number of projects I set for myself and the sheer number of opportunities that make themselves available for creative work.
Despite what some may say, if you have a valuable product and you continue to build connections with the right people, opportunities will fly through the window like bats to a cave.
The more you take on, the harder it is to focus and give a job deserved attention. You simply must be ruthless in what you choose to do, so that individual projects receive the attention they need to succeed as best they can.
A good rule to have for yourself is to at least keep the weekends or weekday evenings clear of work, to spend time on other things.
8. Reputation Management. Our reputation as individuals, businesses and public entities are more exposed and on the line than ever before. Many things contribute to it, though it is particularly the world's increasing access to media and technology that heighten this.
Combined with a need to be 'politically-correct' and a requirement to withhold anything that could be construed as offensive (made more complicated with the easy access to media channels), and you have a landscape in which maintaining a good reputation is almost a full time profession.
The more influential you are considered, the closer a watch you need to keep on your actions. You need to be careful about what you say and what you do in a world that is increasingly watchful and outspoken of its citizens.
9. Privacy Infringement. As with money, your own privacy is increasingly exposed: To the web, to the media, and to the government, particularly so if you don't take responsibility for protecting it as a creative person. Keep an eye out for ways your privacy is being affected, and how best to combat such infringement. Facebook, for example, offers settings that protect privacy, but most people don't take responsibility in updating it to protect themselves.
10. Distraction. I believe modern-day distractions are one of the biggest threats to progress, faced by humanity. You heard right! We as creators and game-changers require dedicated attention directed at each and every task we face.
Distraction, whether it be your dinging phone, social networking, advertising, mounting social engagements, or just conflicting ideas on how to do things from the media, is detracting from your ability to stay focused on individual projects.
Devising a plan to reduce distraction as much as possible is the right thing to do, particularly if you want to leave a mark. To fine tune this further, make decisions to stay on course with something without deviating.
This is one of the hardest things to do, and you will be duly rewarded for your grit. If you want to get ahead, a sound word of advice would be to cancel your Netflix subscription. Don't hurt me.
11. Piracy. There is no doubt that media piracy is directly harming those creative souls who produce original work and expect rightly to be compensated properly for their work.
This is especially of concern to digital and information media producers. As the authorities continue to play cat and mouse with pirates, it looks like it is here to stay in various guises.
Do what you can to reduce the harm that piracy could cause you. This means getting creative, rather than focusing too much effort on blocking the work itself from pirates.
Think, for example, of the music world's foray into giving away free streaming music, with the bulk of sales constrained to live events.
12. Cheap competition. People with good skills in a range of areas, including creative work, do exist in countries like India, the Philippines and the Ukraine.
The cost of living is lower in these places. As such, these workers are accepting less pay from global clients for certain jobs, and this is affecting the ability for people in higher-cost parts of the world to get work and get paid competitively.
This is why it's so important to boost your own value as a creative and service-provider in areas other than your price. Specialise; become exceptional at one or two skills; develop a style, craft a brand, and become indispensable.
Why should a great client choose you over a cheap but talented worker based in India? 13. Financial Insecurity
We've all seen the fallout from turbulence in the markets, the loss of savings and jobs, and the dangers of borrowing from overly generous lenders.
If the last decades have taught us one thing, that is to take responsibility as best you can for your own money.
This also applies to where it comes from. If your income comes from a company that you don't own i.e. your boss, or you rely on a single source, you are in a more precarious position than someone who owns the source of their income, ideally from a diversified group of income sources.
The best foundation for properly dealing with financial insecurity is knowledge. Read up on money; how to make it; and how to handle it and keep it as best you can.
14. Running Out of Ideas. Some people say that one of the biggest challenges faced by creatives is coming up with better and fresher ideas than others competing in your industry.
Ideas are great, but they mean nothing without execution. This means good branding, a recognisable style, a honed skill, and access to good industry connections.
You could be a photographer with an outstanding concept for a series of quirky, new photographs, but if you have a weak brand, a poor promotional campaign and an inconsistent style, your idea will mean less than someone with a strong brand who delivers.
15. Lack of Real World Social Interaction. As more and more creatives become self-employed or choose to work alone, the spectre of isolation does loom overhead and it's something that needs to be made aware of and prioritised as a concern.
No one is immune to 24/7 isolation from other humans. So if you do spend a lot of your working day with the door bolted shut from the outside world, it is very wise to summon the discipline to get out and get into contact with people in the various ways that are available.
This means allocating time in your days and weeks to meet others. You will find that feeling creative and motivated will follow social interaction, even if it's on the phone.
16. Poor Health Choices
The more we see and read every day, the more evident are two things. Firstly, the dieting habits of people in advancing countries are worsening, making us fat and unhappy, with poor food easily available.
Secondly, what we decide to eat (or not eat) has huge implications for our levels of well-being, productivity and health. This applies to creativity and feeling motivated to getting work done.
As such, it's crucial that we get educated on what foods to avoid (refined sugar, simple carbohydrates, too much dairy) and what to eat more of (complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, antioxidants and those brussel sprouts).
You'll hear again and again, that one of the major secrets of successful entrepreneurs and creatives like Richard Branson is keeping fit and eating well.
17. Crowdsourcing
The Internet has brought with it a nest of treasures that include ways to create and do business that were never before thought possible. One of the ways such a network, and its ability to connect millions of people, is changing the process behind creative (and other) projects is through 'crowdsourcing'. This is basically taking advantage of the inputs of many people (often cheap or for free) in creating a single output, such as a logo for a company, or a Wiki article.
A lot of people are making creative work with little to no compensation in this way, whilst at the same time, people argue, talented and experienced creatives are being displaced.
Depending on how you look at it, such a phenomenon is having an effect on the creative industries, and it is something to look out for.
I see no harm in partaking in some crowd-sourced speculative work if it can build up your portfolio and give you practice. However, be aware of how it could be undermining the professional side of the industry, and focus on doing the best work you can for non-speculative clients over the long term.
18. Rising Costs. Costs of almost everything continue to rise and it will affect you and your career and well-being unless you adapt. There are three ways to do this.
Firstly, you can organise your life so that costs to you are minimised. This includes reducing expenses, living below your means (highly recommended) and moving town or even country.
Secondly you can start thinking abundantly when it comes to money and focus on attracting it you. How do you do this? Find ways to be a distinct solver of people's problems in exchange for cold hard cash, and build your assets. This includes your own skills.
Thirdly, you can do both. As a bonus, you could contribute to lowering costs, by inventing something that lowers the cost of something...
19. Zombies. There's nothing that can put a thorn in the side of an artist more than rampaging brain-feasting zombies.
Keep several tin cans stored away in case you need to barricade yourself into your studio, and always keep a good baseball bat handy. This one is a joke. Sort of.
20. Political Threat
Politics has undoubtedly had a strong influence on the creative industries for better and worse. Political decisions can bring more art to people in free art galleries for example, encourage job openings, and support how freelancers get paid.
Politics can also have detrimental effects on us and the creative industry, through the decline of arts funding and a lack of support for the arts in education.
As these decisions vary depending on location and public choices, it's hard to say how each of us will be affected by political movements over the coming years.
This is why we as members of the creative community need to do as much as we can within our grasp to affect political decision-making for the good of the industry.
We can make a difference with action and being loud. In addition to taking action in this way to reduce externally-rooted issues like the political agenda, we need to work on our internal sphere, which is to become as self-reliant as we possibly can.
21. Comfortable Living. The paradox of the modern world, in which people are increasingly stressed and seemingly busier than ever, is that we're also the most comfortable we've ever been.
With the benefits of a higher quality of living than we've ever had, generally good access to healthcare, entertainment, food and shelter, comes a danger in disguise: complacency.
Such complacency means there isn't much pressuring us to take action, care for ourselves and excel at life. On the whole, it feels as if we have what we want, and it is making us lazy.
This is a big obstacle facing modern humans. What's missing?
The importance of striving for something of importance to you and community. Don't get complacent. Keep moving forward and striving for the best in life, before comfort stalls you.
There we have it. 21 very real things to think about as we speed into the 21st Century.
Despite the rather melancholic nature of this post, I like to think that with the issues highlighted, we can feel a sense of urgency and motivation in knowing what to be aware of and how to tackle it as best we can.
One thread has weaved its way through this entire piece, which is the importance of remaining responsible for the security and the development of your creative business.
Ultimately how you fare in a rapidly changing world depends on you, and with you in control, the opportunities are vast.
Thank you for reading! I would really appreciate you telling your creative friends about this with a share, and don't forget to sign up to the Red Lemon Club newsletter tips, here.

The Author

Alex is a project starter, sometimes finisher, writer and illustrator. He started Red Lemon Club in 2009 with the aim of helping talented creative people leave their mark.


  1. madebymarco says

    16.2 = Get a blood test. I was working too hard the past few years with little or no exercise at all (I stay in front of the computer the moment I wake up ’til I go to bed) and ate lots of fast food. Then I just found out that my Triglyceride went up to 507 (Max should be ONLY 150). There you go! Now, I changed my lifestyle. I started running, eating right, lost some weight, and totally reduced my working hours!

    Your health is more important than your work!

    • Alex Mathers says

      Wow thanks Marco – something for us all to think about. Getting a test has been in the works for a while – must get on with it! Health is indeed much more important than work.

  2. Alex; I continue to get so much great value from your posts. This one, once again, covers the many issues, concerns and opportunities I find myself engaged with on a daily basis, both in my own freelance career and on behalf of my graphic design students. I’ll be sharing these as talking points in my classroom and have already done so on both my Twitter accounts. Thanks again for all the time, effort and thoughtfulness you so generously share with those of us in the creative community!

    • Alex Mathers says

      Absolute pleasure Leif, and great to hear it from you. Keep spreading the word and keep reading! All the best

  3. Steve Menard says

    Great synthesis of ideas Alex. Most of these thoughts have been floating around in my head in recent years and seeing them listed together will help me focus my efforts. My takeaway from your excellent feature is that each of us as creatives has to put out into the public sphere the essence of who we are and what we stand for…what are our core beliefs, and can we offer. Each of us has unique strengths, and there are people out there who will benefit from our contributions. It’s finally time to ask myself why — as someone who loves graphic design and illustration — am I spending time putting together WordPress sites. It’s not my main interest, so it will never become my core strength.

    • Alex Mathers says

      Thank you Steve, that is definitely one of the roles we can all play, especially the part about putting out a solid idea of who we are and what we stand for. Putting ourselves forward boldly is one of the best things one can do.

  4. Amy Freeman says

    I’m good with some of the things you mentioned. I struggle with some too.

  5. Felicity Vermeulen says

    thank you Alex..interesting read and tips..will sure share dis with friends

  6. jeff libby says

    Alex I just mentioned your newsletter on my biz facebook page, birdloft.
    and last night I shared this particular story with my wife. The new
    format looks great. your last two articles have had refreshingly
    unexpected nuance and insight into the contemporary creative condition.
    thank you. here’s the birdloft link for reference
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birdloft/186330651472179?ref=hl …I’ll look forward to your next post.

    • Alex Mathers says

      Thank you Jeff! That’s very motivating to hear, so thank you. Keep up the good stuff,


    • Alex Mathers says

      cheers – because web coding costs me upward of $400 just for one post. Easier for me to layout, then get help turning it into images. Text is there in the alt.

  7. Jeremy J. Freeman says

    Thanks Alex!!! I think you’ve just created the “Reference Bible” or “The Blueprint for Creative People in the 21st century”. Yes, some of what you said is tough to digest, but I think you’re very much on the ball! Thanks for your insight. Peace.

    • Alex Mathers says

      Thanks for the encouragement Jeremy! I like the sound of that 😉

  8. Shirish says

    You have a lot of points mentioned there which may harm the creativity of an individual. But we can look at it the other way as well. These same things can bring out the best of creativity in many people.

    Bad economic conditions have brought out the best of many successful people e.g. Oprah.

    Hostile political environment has brought out the best in many artists.

    Technological advances can be used by someone techno savvy who is no longer limited by his geographical and social status to great advantage.

    Ultimately, it’s a question of whether you look at it as a glass half empty or a glass with a potential to get filled 🙂

    • Alex Mathers says

      Absolutely agree. It is, however, only once we see and comprehend the challenge that we can move beyond them and turn a negative into a positive.

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. ThisDesignUp says

    I’, very curious about 2. I’ve read it a lot that as a businesses we need to focus on who were are selling to and not just everyone. How can someone like me know if my group is too broad? I’ve seen it explained what we should be doing but not any examples on that topic. I have my own ideas of who I am trying to sell to but it feels to broad and I can’t seem to understand the balance. One group I am trying to sell to is those who want to expand business to web or improve their web presence. P.S. This the 4th post I’ve read so far today and I’ve learned something from each one. Thanks a lot! 🙂

  10. Really interesting, thought provoking post Alex. Thank you. I find that just the ‘noise’ of the often overwhelming number of images everywhere can become a block. I need peace, without overly relying on media presence, such as the T.V. internet… place me in a city and all creativity goes. But I also have a tendency to work alone too much.

    I think it’s so important to analyse what does and doesn’t work, and try and create a workable balance.

  11. Tony Roland says

    As a consultant to artist, I hardily agree with these thoughts. Creativity is a gift to be used inside and outside of the studio.

  12. So glad to have found this site. Such a great wealth of information, very rarely attended to in such an concise and entertaining way. Thank you.

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