Sorry?

I’ve been doing an experiment for about six months now, not my usual sort where I get all pseudo scientific with paper, inks or whatever. This one is a behavioural experiment: I have stopped apologising for what I do.

This all dates back to a conversation I had with my printer friend Ian Phillips who pointed out that ‘if you behave like a housewife with a shed in her garden, that’s how they’ll treat you’. I’m paraphrasing here, but he was quite right: be timid about your art and people will react appropriately. I gave it some thought and realised that I had to change. I needed to stop saying things like ‘I was lucky to get the commission’ and start saying ‘I won that commission’. Both true, but I feel much better about the second!

It’s mainly an attitude thing. I don’t exaggerate my skills, but I have given up under-selling them too. The hardest thing was money of course (what with the double whammy of being British and middle class), but I have found that the opening gambit of a smile and ‘Of course I like to keep my prices affordable while I can’ doesn’t bring the world to a catastrophic end. Far from it, people are actually much more respectful. The second bit of good advice comes in here and this was given to me by a barrister. He said ‘If you must squirm, make it your toes inside your shoes and remember to keep your mouth shut unless you have something sensible to say’ (this suggests that I was on trial at the time, but I promise that wasn’t the case). Note the keeping your mouth shut: no waffling, no justifying along with no apologising.

All this doesn’t mean I have stopped automatically apologising to people who’ve bumped into me. I haven’t turned into Gordon Gecko, but I have managed to change how people see me and, more importantly, how seriously they take me. Try it: it works. Takes a bit of nerve and you do have to be very conscious of it at first. But it gets comfortable and it does feel good to be respected and, like me, you may find you sell better.

5 thoughts on “Sorry?”

  1. Laura, Fran posted this on her Facebook page and I read it and thought: quite right too. I did exactly them same thing after a short time following a move to America. I stopped being so apologetic not only for what I do, but also for who I am as a person. Take me or leave me. (Sounds arrogant maybe but you can do it without being an idiot about it.) As you say it takes courage and feels like being on a high wire to start with, but it’s a pleasantly heady experience 🙂

  2. …resonates with me Laura – I DO believe my work stands up to my peers but am uncomfortable selling myself – your work is just magical BTW – what a pity I’m up in Cumbria – too far for me to travel to attend a workshop – x

  3. Oh dear. I am that housewife – no shed, but all the cringing approach to promoting my printing and book arts. It took me long enough to learn to say ‘thankyou’ to compliments, instead of responding by pointing out the faults in my work. This seems like level 2 stuff but, having read your common sense, I shall practise hard at a more (outwardly) confident attitude.

    1. I found one of the most useful things was to pretend that my work was a product I was selling, nothing to do with me personally, just a product I really believed in. That way it was easier to avoid the desire to criticise it if customers liked it and also to avoid asking for strangers to approve it (your mum, partner or dog will cheerfully do all that for you). It may be a very personal statement, but one it is on view with strangers it helps to think that it is a piece of work, not a piece of you. Good luck and I’m sure if I can do it, anyone can!

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