Originally shared on the Blue Cyclops Design Co. Newsletter.
Over the last couple of years, I've learned something about myself, and that is that I can be a very reactive person. What I mean is, if I read, see, or hear something that I initially perceive as unfavorable, I react to it—or at least I did.
I consider this to be one of my worst bad habits.
Now, in different circles, being reactive is considered a successful trait in people and in entrepreneurs. Yes, I believe this to be important too—occasionally and in certain circumstances, but not when it comes to everyday interactions.
The act of reacting quickly and indecisively goes back to our ancestors and our lizard brains—the fight or flight mechanism.
When I sit down and look back at the last four years of working for myself, I think about how often I reacted to something when I should have let it sit and marinate a while.
In reacting first and not being reflective of my own thoughts and feelings and not the other person's perspective, I've probably lost a lot of opportunities with clients and projects.
Last year, I worked on a project that was somewhat fun but not that exciting. The client was excited because it was the first time they had worked with a professional illustrator.
You probably all have a story like this one—the client wants the world, doesn't have the budget, and you are left tired and burnt out trying to make them happy.
Towards the end of the project, the client sent some feedback on a couple of the illustrations I was working on for them. At first glance, the feedback felt negative and seemed like it was the size of Mount Everest.
In my head, I thought, "What's wrong with them? These illustrations are perfect! If they want this much of the illustrations changed, they're going to need to increase the budget!"
So I wrote out an extended response—in the Notes app—and rewrote it repeatedly. Finally, I stopped and read through the email one final time and made a realization.
"Who's this crazy person writing this email?"
I realized that I was jumping all over the place and bringing up memories of previous Clients From Hell, when this client was nowhere near that level.
So I sat back down and re-read the email they sent me.
That "Mount Everest" of feedback grew smaller and smaller until it became only a foothill that I had to walk over, and I'd be done. In fact, most of the feedback they had shared was phrase hidden under some of the changes and comments like "I'm not a fan of that color."
If I had not reflected on everything and re-read that email from the client, I probably would have lost the project and the client forever and soured my reputation—that same client has referred two other clients to me since!
The problem wasn't the client, the problem was me.
I let myself and my ego take charge at that moment—and countless ones before— and cause me to be reactive and almost put my foot in my mouth.
After chatting with many other creatives, freelancers, and studio owners, I know this isn't an isolated case. We all want to react instantly to every email and message that comes our way. We want our projects to be done yesterday instead of giving them the time they need to come to fruition.
Now, I have a process in place. I never respond to emails or messages with feedback right away—in some cases, I don't even read them right away. Instead, I let every feedback email sit for at least a day or two before I respond.
By doing this, I give myself the time to reflect on what the client is asking or looking for. I don't make snap decisions, and I can make sure I understand precisely what they want.
We need to stop this cycle of being reactive and instead focus more on being reflective.
Our egos play a big part in it, don't mistake it. The more followers, subscribers, or fans you have, the more entitled we may feel, or the more our work is "perfect" and "pristine."
This even carries over to my personal life as well. When a friend, family member, or even my wife says something that rubs me the wrong way, I don't react. Instead, I will sometimes sit down and write out my feelings in my journal and think about their side/perspective. It's saved me many times, I assure you!
So next time you get an email, message, or have a chat with someone, and you don't agree or get offended, instead, stop and think for a moment. Let it set in and make sure you look at it from the other person's point of view.