We all have creative gifts to share, and in that respect, we are all artists. The world needs your work — whether that’s an idea for a book, a vision for a startup, or a dream for your neighborhood — and you shouldn’t have to struggle to create it.

What does it mean to be a “real artist”?

It means you are spending your time doing the things that matter most to you. It means you don’t need someone else’s permission to create. It means you aren’t doing your work in secret, hoping someone may discover it someday. It means the world is taking your work seriously.

It also means that your greatest work will not come from just you. Creativity is not a solitary invention but a collaborative creation. Community offers opportunities for creative work to thrive, and that is a kind of magic we can all create.

Genius Happens in Groups

Creative output is a slog that is often slower and more grueling than we would like and at times can feel incredibly discouraging.

The best artists, or the smart ones at least, tend to involve other people “because,” as Diana Glyer told me, “the life of an artist, any kind of creator, is fraught with discouragement. You need people to correct your path.”

#1 Find Your Fellow Misfits

If you’re somewhat of an outcast, don’t let such inequities disqualify you from success. If anything, let that be your fuel. Use the fact that you are an outcast; find others like you and come to rely on one another.

Because of that collaboration, you will accomplish something greater than each person could have done alone. Community makes possible what was otherwise impossible for the individual.

#2 Let Competition Drive You

A sense of competition often drives our collaboration, even when we don’t realize that’s what is happening. To be creative, you must break away from what is expected, essentially competing with what has come before so that you can create new.

But you can’t do this alone.

It’s too discouraging.

So, you connect with peers who share your ideals and who resonate with your work. After that it is only a matter of time before you begin comparing your work to theirs. This is not a bad thing, however.

This is how you get better. All art requires some level of healthy competition to make the creator a true master. And this requires some gumption, an attitude that goes beyond meekness but doesn’t quite become arrogance.

At times we all feel a little competitive. We may even experience a slight twinge of jealousy of a friend’s success or feel threatened by it. It does no good to wish such feelings away.

Instead, use that energy.

Let it drive you to create and do better work.

You don’t need to fear the accomplishments of others, but don’t ignore other people’s success, either. Pay attention to what your peers are doing, and then let that awareness sharpen your focus so that you can improve.

Great work does not happen in a vacuum. We must have an awareness of what others are doing and a certain level of competition to keep us sharp and continually growing as artists.

#3 Hire Help

Sometimes we need more than just a loose group of peers to help us succeed. We need a more formal group of coworkers, a team to help us realize our vision. And that, too, is the job of an artist.

Don’t push through the challenge on your own; instead, reach out to friends and family, leveraging your personal network and hired help.

When we imagine a full-time artist, we probably picture someone laboring over a drawing-board, alone, working into the wee hours of the night. We picture the final product, the book, the map, the painting.

Whatever we picture, it probably looks nothing like the way successful artists actually spend their time, working collaboratively with clients and employees.

#4 Make a Mastermind Group

Creativity needs collaboration. Without others’ help, we do not produce our best work. The product may be a book or a church or even a map. Whatever it is, we won’t do our best work without a community that understands us and can hold us accountable.

We need people who resonate with our work and have the courage to tell us when we can do better.

Four years ago, three people I barely knew got together and decided they wanted to start a peer group of local business leaders. Each person asked three other people to join the group, and that’s how twelve of us started meeting together every week to discuss our businesses and lives. We’ve been doing it ever since.

This group is not a collective of famous people or successful entrepreneurs. Most of the members were just at the beginning stages of their careers when it began. In fact, you could even say we were a bunch of misfits, not really fitting in anywhere else.

So, we formed a circle of a dozen peers and started meeting to share our hopes and dreams with each other, and I can say without a doubt, this group has been the single greatest source of professional and personal growth for me in the past decade.

Something similar happened when I finally hired a handful of employees to help me run my business as a writer and online writing teacher. At first it was hard, because I was accustomed to working alone.

This is what we are told artists do, after all. But the more I embraced my need for community, the more I saw how powerful working with others can be.

If you want to do world-changing creative work, you must reconcile the fact that you likely won’t be able to do it alone. You need help. Find your band of misfits, use the accountability of that group, and let your sense of competition drive you to create better work.

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Originally published at medium.com