Let’s talk about success for a minute.
When I first stood up for my artistic self, it was a powerful moment in my life. I set aside self-judgment, feelings of inadequacy, needing success, ALL the baggage that being a creative person in our culture carries.
The questions I asked myself were:
I see my young children, vital and grounded, full of potential to do anything they turn their mind to. Was I like that as a child??
How can I want my children to live a life filled with passion and fearless commitment to their highest self, and not want that for myself?
How will they know what that looks like, if I don’t show them?
My mantras were:
I have to be an artist, or I’ll die.
I don’t even care anymore if I’m a GOOD artist. I just have to do it.
If one person in a thousand likes my work, I’ll be happy.
In addition to taking my art seriously, I took the business of art seriously, too. I created a business plan, a strong artist statement, hired a professional photography (great images are EVERYTHING), taught myself how to write good press releases, and promoted the heck out of myself.
So, a few years later, I was juried into major high end fine craft shows. My work was juried into art and fine craft exhibits across the country, and my work was carried in 63 shops and galleries in several dozen states. My work was featured in dozens of books, magazines, and newspapers. I wrote regular columns for two craft magazines. I wrote a book for Lark Books.
And I still didn’t feel successful.
I wasn’t, compared to really famous artists and craftspeople. But I was already learning that many of the markers of ‘success’ in our culture can feel empty and hollow. And money–or at least LOTS of money–doesn’t necessarily follow, either.
I had done everything right. But it wasn’t working for me. I quit the fine craft show circuit. I cut way way back on my wholesale market (with help from the 2008 recession.) I stopped applying to juried exhibits. (Oddly, I made just as much money doing one big craft show and holding two open studios a year.)
I’m not saying my good business sense muddied the waters. I believe you can be committed to creating good work, and committed to getting that work out into the world. I’m saying that I need to periodically examine my personal definition of ‘success’. What would success look like to me? And how will that change along the way?
I’ve also learned that we cannot possibly measure the effect of our art, work, our deeds, our words, in the world. For me, ‘faith’ means we do the right thing, the good thing, the kind thing, not because we’ll be rewarded, but because that’s what the world needs from us, whether we ever know it or not. We have to believe that we throw our little stone into the water, and the ripples travel to places we cannot see, may never see. Some days it may seem that the world does not want my art. Coincidentally (or not), I’m usually feeling like a sulky four-year-old on those days. But I also know I still have to make it.
I’ve written over the past few years about this, doing many course-corrections along my way. And recently, one of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, put it succinctly in an article (Life’s Not Fair) published in the September 2015 issue of Oprah Magazine. (Here’s the link, but it’s not a direct link. Scroll down to the second article on this page, to What Redefining Virtue Can Teach You About Happiness.)
In a nutshell, Martha says, “Life’s not fair. It’s possible to face that fact with grace. You just have to stop expecting fate to dispense satisfying little packets of justice.”
It’s an astonishingly good article. I think you’ll be glad you read it.
And whenever I get jealous about how wise and wonderful and well-known Martha Beck is, I just go read one of her articles about that, too.