When I first submitted my application for the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program I felt like I was on fire, on-top of the world and had a solid application. I still fully believe that at the time of submission, my application was strong and I believed in my bones there was nothing more that I could have done on my own. Once the winners were announced I instantly saw where the weaknesses were in my application and goals. You see this application brought to light a millions of things that I had never given thought to in my career and business (everyday I learn! That is why I immediately decided to seek business mentoring).
Nonetheless, I still wanted to share my 9 biggest lessons learned from writing my Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program application. This is not a post about grant writing but it is a post about the experience of writing my first grant and the mindset going into it. Brooke Shaden wrote a great post on rejection but she approaches her writing from the perspective of things to think about from the other side of the table.
1. Seize every opportunity to learn
Anytime an opportunity comes up for you to learn, you take it. You seize that opportunity no matter what – ESPECIALLY if the help is being offered for free. Many times, these chances will not come again so we have to reschedule appointments, fake illnesses, pull over on the side of the road or do what it takes to seize that opportunity.
Sony hosted several Q&A sessions regarding the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program which was led by Brooke Shaden’s incredible effort to help her tribe. She gathered an e-mail list of people who were serious about the grant and got us all on a Q&A call with Sony. This call was so helpful because so many questions about different aspects of the program were answered. Had I not attended, I really believe I could have easily confused some of the components on the grant.
2. Think outside of the box
During the Q&A call for the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program a topic to the effect of “everyone is going to have similar reasons and things to say as to why they deserve the grant so think about how you can stand out”. In any situation that involves going up against many people for an opportunity, standing out is the first thing that I try to fall back on. The goal is not to be better but to be different. Read that line again: Not better, just different.
How do I do this? I try to hone in with how I feel. If it is something that I am intensely passionate about, like the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program, I try to piece things together from a place of passion and experience. If everyone is going to submit a standard CV or Resume document, could I design a simple yet appealing Curricume (Curriculum-Resume… haha get it?) that highlights one of my proudest jobs as well as my art experience? I knew that my CV alone would not stand a chance because I have a huge gap in exhibitions, recognitions and awards before 2018. So, I decided to roll the dice and dedicate just over a page to two employment highlights and the rest for exhibitions, accomplishments, etc.
3. Do what few are willing to do
What can you do to set yourself apart? How can you grab the attention of the judges? Are you maximizing the opportunity to its fullest?
Before I decided to go social media AWOL there was a lot of chatter about the section that required us to submit up to five images. There were e-mail threads with several artists asking to vote on their strongest images. This is very helpful indeed. Here is where I chose to challenge that for a moment based on what was in my current portfolio. The Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program asked us to submit up to 5 images and/or video of what alpha meant to us. This statement and everything about it is critical. “And/or video” is a huge advantage if leveraged appropriately. You see we had to write our personal journey in 500 words or less, our project in 500 words or less and our budget for the grant in 500 words or less. Our profile video was to be a minute or less. I can promise you based on having re-done everything at least 6 times that you have to seize every little inch that is afforded to you.
So where am I going with this? The original question was to submit up to five images and/or video of what it means to us to be Alpha. Looking through my portfolio, I had nothing that truly symbolized Alpha to me. Instead of just submitting my best work, I treated Sony as my client for commissioned work and created a concept just for this opportunity. Additionally, the simple “and/or” situation allowed me to take Sony through a bit more of my creative process as well as show them from concept to final product an image that I created just for the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program. Since they did not put a time constraint in it, I pushed the envelope a bit and included a 2:47 minute long video.
4. Be bold
I learned through the Q&A’s that you had to demonstrate a high level of confidence in yourself and your work. What I took this to mean is to be bold and ask for what you want, show what you can do, highlight your greatest strengths and take a chance at doing things a little differently. I decided to write a script for my profile video and have a very direct, no-nonsense, passionate tone all the while trying to hold a smile.
5. Be committed, put in the work and set a strict deadline
How badly do you want to win all of the goodness that the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program has to offer? How much will it change your life? How far ahead in your career will it set you?
Commit and work like your life depends on it. Eat, breath, sleep and BE a Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence. Do what it takes. I recommend that prior to diving in to the laser focused, committed state that you speak to the people around you who support you including your clients. Let them know what that specific opportunity means to you, your career and life and let them know how you need their help. That way, the children, house keeping, meals, work, etc. are taken care of. Obviously with your clients, I suggest treading carefully and asking how crucial is their project? If their wedding is this weekend then you MUST go or that poor bride is going to have a full on melt down and it’s going to be your fault. However, if you had an engagement session you can most likely ask your clients to rescheduled and explain why. During the 2+ weeks I worked on this project I had the laser focus of an eagle where I didn’t edit other work, I didn’t work out, I pushed off projects, friends, family and clients. EVERYONE knew what I was doing, why I could not be disturbed and what this opportunity meant for my career. Before diving into the laser focus state, I talked to my husband and let him know where I would need help in everything else (like house chores, caring for the fur-kiddos, errands, etc).
Setting a strict deadline is also critical. This helps avoid setting something off until you completely avoided it and it’s too late. It also is imperative for your sanity. For example, if you give yourself exactly two weeks to complete something like the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program application then you can write, re-write, re-film and re-work all of the components during that time ONLY. Once your deadline has passed you are no longer allowed to re-write anything only proof grammar, spelling and submit. It is what it is, you did your best and now send it off into the Universe with all of the love that you’ve got.
6. Mindset matters most
In everything that we do, we need to check our mindset. Are we going into a project from a place of love, abundance, faith, hope, etc? Or despair, uncertainty, self-consciousness, lack, fear, etc?
I’ve always believed that how we feel is infused into what we do. That is why art can be so powerful – you have the ability to infuse your emotions and energy into what you do and then connect exactly those things to your viewer/audience. It’s amazing and that is one of the reasons why I love art so much – because of its ability to communicate things that I know I could not otherwise. However, during something like the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program I found that how I was feeling was infused into my writing. If I was coming from a place of insecurity and fear then that would translate into the tone of my writing. If that was the tone of my application, how do you think those judges would perceive me? Probably as insecure and afraid. You don’t have all that long to make a good impression so make sure that you step into your best self whenever you begin work on your project. Dance it out if you must.
The last thing that I found to be so helpful was envisioning what the acceptance e-mail would look like, how I would feel when I opened it and what I would do. Everyday I went through this process all the while dancing to Tiesto’s “Red Lights” (my winning song of choice) and affirming in my living room “I am a Sony Alpha Female! I am a Sony Alpha Female!” This helped to set my mindset in a positive direction prior to touching my application.
7. Steer clear of social media
For as wonderful as social media can be, it can also be a place to affirm any insecurities that you have. During the two weeks that I worked on the Sony Alpha Female Creator-In-Residence program application, I learned that social media was the greatest cause of my personal insecurities and fears. Many of my friends are photographers and artists and almost all were applying for this opportunity. I began seeing posts of things they’d done and stories about their triumphs in life. These things really messed with my head. I noticed that I was comparing myself and being resentful for having a pretty great life. Then, I found myself talking myself down because I didn’t have a traumatic life story – I was a woman, living a dream with a husband who supports her… At that moment I decided to cut my ties with social media for the remainder of the application period and I gave myself a good long “you deserve this because” pep-talk in front of my bathroom mirror.
8. My 2 greatest weaknesses
This was a hard grant and opportunity to apply for. Once the winners were announced and I was able to learn more about them, I instantly understood why they had won. These women are incredibly talented, established in their careers and are ready to take the next step in truly making a difference in the things they believe in. I learned that my greatest weakness was time in my art career. As an emerging artist, there is so much to learn and establish. Sony isn’t just going to giveaway something so huge to someone so new in their career (I’m officially six months in even though I have been an artist and photographer my whole life). What if I decided to quit by this time next year? Sony wants to make sure that the winners will be in it for the long run. This is what I keep telling myself and this is what I choose to believe is my greatest weakness.
Additionally, for as awesome as I thought my budget looked, it lacked true substance. The truth is that I didn’t need $25,000 to survive for 6 months but it would have given me a leg up in having a lawyer write licensing and commissioned contract templates for me, afford to print larger pieces of work, frame them and ship them to galleries in NYC and LA. I also need a new digital camera so this would have been so perfect. I didn’t have lofty goals for my 25k but I knew that I needed it and whatever I didn’t spend in 6 months would go into my savings for future shoots, prints, framing and shipping charges.
9. Be unstoppable anyways
After something so incredible like this I ask: What did you learn about yourself after the fact? What do you really want in life? What is your story? And, if you HAD to spend $25,000 on your career in the next 6 months, how would you use those funds? As artists and creatives, I believe that a lot of us (me super included) have self worth issues, “What do you mean 25k? That’s too much, my business can survive on less than $100 a month.” I am telling you this because I am going through a similar conversation with my business coach right now and that quote, is very close to what I was thinking when she asked me what I wanted to make in 6 months from now.
Just because this time it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean that next time it won’t. Every chance is an opportunity to learn, grow and be more prepared. Everything prepares us for the next thing and we are always where we are meant to be for one reason or another which might not be clear to us in this moment.