There are people in the world who want to take you down. Don’t let them.
As the holiday season swirls around us, I find myself in alternating waves of joy and despair, lifted by appreciative hosts and customers, and devastated by the casual cruelty of my fellow makers.
Two incidents to illustrate:
I did a small maker show for a prestigious organization that unfortunately was not well attended. That was fine, it happens.
Another maker circled my set-up, someone I’ve encountered before. The pattern goes like this: They let me know they know my work and my writing, and are somewhat flattering. They approach with accolades, which soon turn into “Can you help me with x?” (which I am a sucker for, because I love helping people move forward with their dreams). This quickly declines into push-back (“Let me show you how I am more successful than you!”) on their part.
I see this from time to time, and I know it’s time to simply retreat with no engagement. But then there was the sucker punch.
The person approached me again at the very end of the event, and said, “Do you own a dog?”
I laughed and replied, “Why, yes, I do! How could you tell? Do I have dog hair on my clothes?”
They said, “You smell like dog pee.”
Uh. Oh. Stunned silence on my part.
They continued, “I have a very sensitive nose.”
I stammered a reply, noting that one visitor had brought anxious dogs to the event, and perhaps that is what they smelled. But I know exactly what was going on. (Put a pin here. Next incident!)
Second incident: Someone on social media found a series of articles my blog about display and marketing advice for artists, and shared it with a group. There were many responses from people who appreciated what I’d written, and how helpful they’d found it. I thanked everyone for their kind comments. Until I got the last one:
“Too bad she doesn’t have any photos on her blog.”
Let’s set aside the obvious: When I wrote that series over a decade ago, digital photos were a lot harder to take, almost impossible to edit, and tricky to upload. In fact, the original host site didn’t even have the ability to host images.
A book I quoted in the series, WHY WE BUY by Paco Underhill, featuring the best research on what physically/mentally keeps people from buying had no illustrations.
And most of the issues involved in “turning people off” while shopping are not easily discernible in photos. They are deeply-rooted, near-instinctive reactions, common to all humans. They were only discovered by actively observing customer behaviors in situ, and then going back to examine the environment.
But my biggest irk?
Why would you complain or criticize a resource that’s valuable–and FREE?
My favorite quip when someone argues with my articles is, “I will happily refund every penny you paid for it.”
So what’s going on here? It’s the nibblers again.
It is a short, simple, compassionate account of why some people seek to tear us down by “nibbling” away at our self-esteem. It is a powerful, restorative work that helped me heal from the tiny slashes and gashes some people inflict on others. I urge you to find a copy. It will take you no more than an hour or two to read. And then share it with someone else who needs its wisdom!
Even though these small yet thoughtless attacks hurt, once you understand where they come from, it’s easier to let go.
It also helps to find the good, the funny, the helpful. I told one person about the dog pee remark. She picked up a rolling pin and said, “I would have told her she had a 5-second headstart before I responded in kind.” (“Kind” being ironic.) I would never even try that, but it made me last.
Another person suggested, “Let me tell you where you can put your ‘sensitive nose’!”
What I wish I’d said? “I wish you had a sensitive heart.”
Another person, a store owner highly respected in our city, a staunch supporter of artists and their work, who has amazing employees who work hard to connect my work with collectors, shared their own slightly toxic encounter that week. Which also helped, because….
It made me recall the blessings of that show.
I told the store owner how their name had come up multiple times in my conversations with the other makers. (The fun part of a slow show: You get to yak!) Everyone….everyone…sang his praises, and I told him that. “You are highly-respected and loved in our art community, your store is beautiful, our work is well-represented, and your employees are amazing! You are doing it right!”
I recalled the vendor who shared a simple yet effective display idea that would work well for these small, intimate events. I remembered I thought up a way to engage a larger, younger audience for these events by coordinating an integrated social media campaign with other artists, other venues/galleries/stores, and other art organizations. I pitched another art garage sale proposal, which the other vendors loved. I chatted with employees with the organization that sponsored the event, and learned more about their own creative work, and their own hopes and dreams for their art. We had a delightful conversation about our favorite foods from Trader Joe’s, and I bought some fun holiday gifts from the other vendors.
So, laughter, support, comraderie, and future projects. All good stuff!
And I remembered that the one slightly-disgruntled comment on my lack of blog images was preceded by a chorus of gratitude and appreciation from other makers.
So when you encounter nibblers, go for the light. As Michele Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” Turn the negative into something positive, and shiny. Be a force for good in the universe.
And my final chuckle?
That evening, I went to bed and woke up one of our dogs who was deeply, deeply asleep on our bed. So deeply asleep that when I roused him and asked him if he had to go outside to pee, he obliged by urinating on our bed.
So there I was at 11p.m., stripping and remaking the bed, spraying odor-eater on bedding, and doing laundry.
And chortling to Jon along the way, “So that remark wasn’t a slam, it was a prophecy!”
P.S. You can find the forementioned series on booth design here (free!), and you can also purchase the eBook here (a paltry $5, and no, I will not refund your money if you don’t like it. Be forewarned!
P.P.S. In creating links to resources here, I discovered there is a new, updated version of Why We Buy, to include internet sales and such. I just book a copy! That’s the version I linked to above, too.
Years ago, I ran into major star at an event. (We were in line for refreshments.) This was someone whose music influenced me deeply ever since my early college years, and I’ve followed them faithfully ever since–20 years at the time, almost 50 now.
I told them that. Even as I struggled to express how much they meant to me, I could see “that face”:
“Yeah, okay. I’m tired. I hear this all the time. I get it. Thank you. But I just want to get my effin’ drink here, in peace!”
They didn’t say that. But the numb expression on their exausted face was clear. I felt awful.
And I felt awful after I did it again recently.
I had an opportunity to meet a star. Another REAL star. A famous person. I got to go backstage, and meet them. And foolishly, instead of just saying “hello” and moving on, I once again tried to tell them how much their work means to me.
And I could tell, once again, how much I bored with my little story.
Again, this person was gracious. I am not complaining. I was embarrassed I’d done it again.
They’d just completed a performance. They get hundreds of those backstage visits a year. They were already exhausted, after working the stage for hours.
And here comes a perfect stranger who hopes to “connect” at the worst possible time. What if every person, the hundreds of thousands of people who love their work, did that? “I know you, you don’t know me, I think you’re wonderful, do you “see” me????”
I have a confession to make…
The older I get, the harder it is to remember, and recognize, my own fans/customers.
This is embarrassing, because…Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You made the time to visit my studio/website/show, you had the sense of purpose to collect a piece, your purchase helps me stay in business so I can continue making, and our conversation lifted my heart.
So when I see you again, and you have to remind me who you are and what we talked so passionately about, I want to sink into the floor.
Most people are understanding. “Why should you remember me?? I was one of hundreds who visited your studio that day! Don’t worry about it.”
But I always remember that first “star” encounter, and cringe. The second encounter was totally on me.
Where am I going with this?
It’s about a creative person’s “dream”, our desire for fame, the need for proof that the world loves what we do.
I realize I don’t really want to be “famous” anymore. I wouldn’t be good at it.
Trust me, it’s not because I’m “more evolved” than these starry folks. They have talent, they’ve worked hard to get it out into the world, and I celebrate every measure of success they achieve. They work hard to be gracious and appreciative of their audience, even when it means putting on a happy face when they are drained and exhausted.
I just realize I would not be nearly as gracious as they are if I were in their shoes.
Do I love what I do? Yes. Do I want my work out in the world? Yes! Do I want my work to be seen, and admired, and respected, and loved? YES!! Am I grateful for the people who let me know, especially when they love it enough to actually buy it? OH GOD YES.
But I also believe my work has a purpose in the world. I feel compelled to connect with my followers, my visitors, my collectors. I’m honored when my work, our conversations, inspire them, heal them, encourage them on their own creative journies.
I can only do that when the encounters are “small”. Personal. Intimate (spiritually.) Enjoyable. I know I would not handle fame nearly as well.
It’s not a “be careful what you wish for, you might get it” thing.
It’s know what you really want, instead of what our celebrity-driven, limelight-lit world tells us what we should want.
Summed up beautifully, and with humor, in my all-time favorite cartoon (Sally Forth) by Francesco Marciuliano.
EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #9: Stretch!