What a harpy of a question, one which plagues those of us in creative fields. It arises from—and is fueled by—our insecurities, our doubts, our anxiety about poor time management. Every time we opt to go out for that office happy hour instead of heading to the studio, or reach for the remote, there it is again: the question that, by its very nature, suggests our choice in that moment elucidates exactly why we lack success: we aren’t committed enough, we aren’t driven enough. We aren’t enough.
What if the question itself is flawed? What if we restructured it, gave it a facelift? Then it might look something like: How are you a successful artist? A question that would push us to identify the ways in which we have already achieved recognition or satisfaction as creatives.
This leads to a larger discussion of what defines “success.” In our society, success is viewed in terms of wealth and status. A high-status job often pays well, so one thing leads to another, just as people privileged by wealth are more likely to maintain high social status. The why and how of the devaluation of the arts in our culture is a whole other subject. In any case, each of us has the chance to define what success means to us personally. The fact that artistic work does not tend to be well-paid is unfortunate and unfair, but also an opportunity to redefine achievement beyond dollars and cents. After all, whether valued at zero dollars or a million, the actual art is exactly the same. The only thing that shifts is the perspective.
So, what if you began to think of your art as “worth a million bucks?” In other words, what if your talent and creativity became a worthwhile pursuit? A worthy investment of your time and energy? Perhaps you already have this feeling but haven’t been able to act on it. I’m just too lazy, you tell yourself. I’m not driven enough, not like those other, more successful people over there posting photos on Instagram of their gallery openings and book launch parties. (Guess what? Those photos demonstrate that the objects of your envy have become successful at using social media as a promotional tool for marketing. Good on them).
The thing stopping you from investing in your art, from producing work to sharing it or marketing it, is not laziness. It’s not a lack of discipline, though of course discipline can help, or poor time management. It’s fear.
After working for years with creative students who struggled to complete their work on time, who consistently fell short of the credits needed to graduate, who stayed in bed rather than face a critique, I realized that their problem wasn’t just about time management. The biggest blocker was a fear of not being good enough, of disappointing teachers, parents, peers, and themselves through inadequacy and mediocrity. They would spend hours and hours on work that was “never finished,” meaning it wasn’t yet perfect, and would absorb the impact of a zero for showing no work at all rather than make themselves vulnerable, reveal the “unfinished” work they’d poured their heart and soul into, and risk rejection and criticism. Sound familiar?
Here’s the thing: an artist’s work is never “done.” You will always find things in your work you’d like to change or even blot out completely, and I don’t just mean typos. Growth, by nature, means continual movement. If your work always pleases you to the point that you think you cannot do any better, then how are you growing and changing? It’s like expecting your baby shoes to still fit. Do you want your feet to stay that small?
There will always be expectations surrounding you that put pressure on you to live a certain way, be a certain kind of person. It comes from your (sometimes) well-intentioned parents and teachers and it’s writ large in our culture, broadcasted constantly and reinforced by the public image of The Artist. You live in that shadow. You feel you will never get out of it and all your innermost fears about yourself feed that anxiety.
But you can get past your fear. You don’t have to be governed by insecurity. You just need the right tools: a support system, a plan, and a new perspective. A creative coach can help you get there.
In redefining your metrics for success, you acknowledge you may not win a MacArthur or a Nobel Prize or a Guggenheim. Those are external forces beyond your control and tying your sense of worth to recognition will choke you. Instead, you can be fully yourself, the most “you” you’ve ever been, which includes the creativity you bring to the world. To do that is already a success. So when the harpy of self-doubting questions comes by, you can tell it to f*ck right off.
Want to know more? Contact me.