Four things I learned at Make Nice

So.

Where do I start? I am delirious with my first cold in years rn, or more likely the flu, courtesy of a sick passenger (probably) on QF574 and my aversion to the idea of getting the flu shot. Add to that an intense weekend in Sydney for Make Nice: An Un-Conference for Creative Women and I really shouldn’t be surprised by my current state.

And while I’ve consumed more tea in the past 72 hours than in the whole year prior (I don’t really get tea?) and am running a white-hot fever, I would do it all over again. Make Nice was THE GOODS. I knew it would be.

There were, however, moments when I wondered why the hell I bought a ticket, particularly as the event drew nearer. Not because I had doubts about its value—not by a long shot. It was more that I’m a card-carrying introvert for whom spending a day in a room full of accomplished creative women—the premise behind the conference, or any conference for that matter—literally makes me quiver with fear. I am awkward and nervous and sometimes misunderstand social cues, and accidentally drink too much in social settings to deal, or just avoid those social settings altogether.

For that very reason, I lack a strong network of creative women. But since I stumbled upon Make Nice at the start of the year, probs while trawling Instagram one day (I don’t remember), I’ve managed to cobble together somewhat of an online network through its AMAZING Slack group. And the conference presented an opportunity to turn this into an IRL thing, at least for a day. So while I was terrified/excited as I bought my ticket, I knew I had to go—that if I let my fear take the reins in this decision, I would regret it.

And it’s like the Make Nice organisers KNOW THIS, because they’d been busting out Instagram nuggets like this in the lead-up to the event:

 Uh, YES. Source:  @makenice_.

Uh, YES. Source: @makenice_.

The conference itself was literally heaving with little bits of wisdom and tips I’m eager to digest and put into action. That is, once I have the strength to get out of the PJs I’ve been living in for the past four days and can open my eyes in a lit room for longer than five minutes (don’t ask me how I wrote this; it was a labour of love to say the least).

But in the meantime, here’s my four favourite takeaways from Make Nice over the weekend:

1. The success of it is doing the thing, not making the perfect thing

 Designer and illustrator Becky Simpson.

Designer and illustrator Becky Simpson.

So, OK. Becky Simpson. Or beckymsimps, as I tend to know her in my head (obv spend way too much time on Insta). Becky’s presence at Make Nice was definitely one of the big drawcards for me. She’s a Nashville-based designer and illustrator with her own online shop Chipper Things, and someone I’ve admired from afar for a while. And since I’m an emerging illustrator harbouring dreams of one day opening my own shop or space, I felt I had a lot to learn from Becky.

I was furiously trying to keep up in my notebook with what Becky had to say about her career and the lessons she learned along the way. She was also MEGA HILARIOUS and witty and sharp, which is always a lovely thing to learn about someone you admire.

But the one thing Becky said that resonated with me SO HARD was how her definition of success has shifted to just doing it rather than doing it perfectly.

Hello, lightbulb moment! For literal YEARS, aka my whole adult life up to around two years ago, the terror I felt around making things that weren’t perfect paralysed me from making anything at all. I’m not really sure how I managed to push past that deeply entrenched feeling when I launched my blog Outlier last year and started consistently putting things out into the world; I think I just became exhausted by it all, and decided I’d rather do something, even if it’s shit, than do nothing.

So maybe I’ve understood the sentiment behind Becky’s statement for a little while now, though not quite recognised it on a conscious level. New life motto, y’all.

Other truth bombs from the mouth of Becky:

  • Nobody’s going to pay you to do something you’ve never done before

  • Starting something now is better than starting something later

  • Allow baby steps

  • Slow progress is still progress

  • It takes discipline to design a life for ourselves. Settling is a decision

2. I’m usually the one sitting at the back pretending to text

 Illustrator, designer and make Nice founder Ngaio Parr.

Illustrator, designer and make Nice founder Ngaio Parr.

This is something Make Nice founder and director Ngaio Parr (also: graphic designer, illustrator, curator, UTS teacher, superhero) said during the conference—one she conceived, propelled and built on her own steam (not forgetting her amazing team, though!).

I doubt Ngaio meant to say this as something to take home from the conference, but FUCK this resonated with me. I’m usually the one to sit at the back and pretend I’m texting! And hearing someone like Ngaio say they’re uncomfortable in these types of situations—and then not just putting herself in it but actually engineering it around her and for others—was kind of huge for me (see: intro where I talk about how awkward/antisocial I am).

It’s not a practical takeaway or anything I can put into action, but it’s a statement I’ll definitely refer back to when I feel like declining networking event invitations/leaving the house in general (jj).

3. It’s on you to show people what you want them to see

 Journalist and podcaster Ann Friedman.

Journalist and podcaster Ann Friedman.

I was admittedly unfamiliar with Ann Friedman until I saw her name on the Make Nice line-up, at which point I immediately sought out and subscribed to her podcast Call Your Girlfriend (Ngaio said it was a winner, and LORD I trust Ngaio’s judgement).

Now I find myself low-key obsessed with the woman, particularly as a failed journalist (me, not her, CLEARLY), and I was really excited to hear what she had to say in the context of the conference. Ann is a super engaging speaker and, like with Becky, I struggled to keep up with all the enlightening things she said, including my fav li’l nugget about it being your responsibility to show people what you want them to see.

YESYESYESANNYES. For me, this echoes what Becky said about how no one’s going to pay you to do something you’ve never done before. You need to prove you’re capable of doing the things you want other people to trust you to do. You need to take initiative and create the things you want to create, regardless of who’s paying you (or, more likely, not) to do it.

This is a lesson that took me an embarrassingly long time to learn. It’s why I failed as a journalist (though, to be fair, I ultimately didn’t want to be one), wondering why editors and publications weren’t beating a path to my door despite having written not much of anything at all. I didn’t show anyone what I wanted them to see. And DAMMIT if I’m going to make that mistake with illustration.

Here’s a few other things Ann said that I liked:

  • Look for people who are frustrated by the same things as you

  • Asking questions is the best thing you can do for your work

  • When do you do your best work? Work out a rough schedule for when you work best and stick to it

  • Think about your work and what you like/dislike—what does that say about the conditions surrounding the creation of that work?

4. When you believe everyone thinks a certain thing about you or your work, question it—who is ‘everyone’?

 Dancer, writer and activist Amrita Hepi.

Dancer, writer and activist Amrita Hepi.

I’ve been lucky enough to not have received much negative feedback in my career at all (the joys of being unsuccessful and unknown!), but I have experienced rejection from the likes of publications and potential collaborators, and THAT SHIT HURTS. My immediate response is that my work intrinsically sucks and if they’re rejecting me then of COURSE their opinion speaks for everyone and I should just fucking give up.

As an early-career illustrator, I think I’m yet to develop the thicker skin that comes with the experience of consistent rejection, though I’m sure it never gets to a point where a publication tells you your illustrations aren’t the style they're looking for and it just rolls off your back. Not for me, anyway (sensitive, no?).

Part of it comes down to questioning the ‘everyone’ portion of that internal monologue. Who the fuck is ‘everyone’? Answer: definitely not literally everyone. Not even close to most or many people. I need to hold tight to this advice, which came during the final session of Make Nice titled Imposter Syndrome and Pressures to be Perfect. I’m pretty sure it came from Amrita Hepi, a pretty amazing dancer, writer and activist, who also led us through the least lame energiser I’ve ever experienced at a conference.

There are SO many other things I picked up at Make Nice that I’d like to share but, truth be told, committing more time and energy to drawing more portraits while I cycle between sweating through my PJs and rugging up under piles of blankets just isn’t going to happen.

Either way, I am a Make Nice convert for life. Thanks for the good times, team!