THE GIFT OF RISK: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone Has Its Own Rewards

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!

Painting on glass for an out-of-my-comfort-zone book project ultimately led to this new body of work.

As I typed the title to this column, I realized I almost had an acronym! But I couldn’t think of a “k” word except “kindness”. Maybe spell “courage” with a k??? Aw, what the heck, let’s put both in there!

Last week, I shared my story about “luck”, and how we can make ourselves ‘luckier’.  I told how setting aside my expectations of being paid for everything I do opened doors I never even knew were there.

I shared the rewards of that risk, which expand even into today:

  • I had my work published and made visible before the internet made that easy.
  • I created fun projects that not only were well-paid, but upped my own skill set: Using vintage buttons to make distinctive jewelry. Painting on glass, which (I only realized after writing that article) paved the way for a new series of work. I’m painting cave art images on my handmade faux ivory medallions.
  • I wrote and illustrated the first mass-market craft book on carving soft vinyl stamps.
  • I met amazing people, who were a powerful, wonderful presence in my life for years. And I continue to do so! (It turns out our dentist here in California pulled out her stamp carving book to make her annual handmade holiday cards, saw my name on the cover, and realized I was her patient!) (Yes, I autographed her copy.)
  • I’ve bought old copies of my book (which is now out of print) to sell to students who take my stamp-carving classes.

Another big reward from taking a risk deserves its own list: Insight.

  • We cannot control everything in life. Not even close! But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a powerful insight. Here’s my favorite joke about that, but be forewarned, there’s a naughty word in there!
  • If you look back to my previous article, where two Mary’s had vastly different lives, then you will understand the power of ‘framing’, what we pay attention to and what we choose to let go of.
  • I found out what works and what doesn’t work, when it comes to choosing shows. I have respect for the wisdom of “never do a first-year show”….!
  • Not all rewards in life are about money.
  • It takes courage to pursue your dream, patience for it to build into something profitable, and a sense of self-worth to keep it somewhere in your life, even if it doesn’t work as your paying job.
  • There will always be people who will be uplifted by our work—professionally, emotionally, spiritually.

Now for the downside: Setbacks!

  • Not everyone is your friend. There will always be people who are deeply threatened by us, and our work. It’s taking less time for me to suss them out, thank goodness! (Thank you, The Nibble Theory!)
  • Not all shows are as well-managed as others. After all, show organizers/promoters make money on a show even if vendor sales are awful. (Of course, they can’t continue to be successful if their vendors aren’t. Still, there are always people like me who are willing to try….)
  • Hard financial times (9/11, war in the Middle East, the dot.com crash, the stock market crash of 2008, etc.) are especially hard on art and fine craft markets. Art is considered a luxury, not a need. (Debatable, of course) It can feel very personal, like ‘we are doing it wrong’. Many, many people in the industry—artists, craftspeople, show runners, galleries, etc.—suffered mightily in those years, and many never recovered. Many folks took wild chances, shifted strategies, tried desperately to hang on, where sometimes just hunkering down and waiting out the storm made more sense.

The danger of setbacks is, it’s all too easy to give them a major role in our decision-making. Once burned, twice shy, etc. Yes, it’s simply good sense not to keep sticking your hand in the fire.

Otoh (on the other hand), not all failures are useless. As good ol’ Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So here’s that word again: Courage! (I almost went off on a bunch of metaphors based on Tennyson’s poetry, but I spared you. You’re welcome!)

Courage was a relatively new concept for me, as a child. Oh, I had exercised it a few times as a young adult, but always in pursuit of a dream. Going back to school, getting a teaching degree, even traveling across the country looking for work in the 1980’s recession.

But when I took up my art in my forties, I exercised courage in a sustained manner for years, viewing each setback as a valuable lesson learned, and always, always continuing to move forward. Even moving across the country in our 60’s was a monumental act of courage. Sometimes I’m still surprised we did it, though I don’t regret it for a minute. (Well. A few minutes….)

It takes courage for me to write these articles. I get paid a nominal sum, far less than when I wrote for magazines even 15 years ago. But though it doesn’t bring in a big income, it fills my need to share what I’ve learned, and expands my audience weekly. (Thank you, faithful readers!!!)

In fact, all my writing comes from sticking with it, even when it felt like nobody cared. Because…

It mattered to me.

It’s a risk. When I put my work/words out there, I want them to serve someone else as it served me. I hope it reaches someone who needs to hear that story, today. I’m delighted when people say it did. I love it when people pass it on to someone else, who may also need to hear it.

And yet, there are setbacks, too. There is always someone who thinks we’re “doing it wrong”, and they never overlook a chance to let us know that.  There are people who are offended by my titles, fercryin’outloud.  There are those who believe there is nothing worth doing for free, and those who believe my writing is toxic.

Still, I persist.

And now, here comes kindness….

My art, and my writing, have taught me to practice kindness even…or especially… to the naysayers, the contradicters, the folks who seem to be looking for a fight.

It felt impossible at first. It’s obvious my work is not for them, and that’s okay. The kind thing to do, of course, is for them to simply stop reading, or to delete it, or move on to the next studio on the tour.

But I’m learning. Like the people who call pastels “just chalk”, or the people who claim fiber is not an art medium, etc. they are where they choose to be. Yep, maybe even doing the best they can.

By responding with as much kindness as I can muster, I can let go. I am restored to the person I want to be in the world. My risk—putting my work out there to be criticized or ridiculed, is offset by the knowledge someone else is grateful I did take that risk.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

In the end, the choice is ours. We can play it safe. We can avoid risks, ditch change, never step outside our comfort zone.

It’s up to you. I can’t even pretend to think I know better than you. As I always say, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!

I can only share what’s lifted my heart, write what’s helped me move forward, what restores me to my better self.

What risk have you taken that’s moved you forward? What did you learn when it didn’t work out? Remember, both are valuable, and both are worth sharing!

HATERS GONNA HATE: You’re Not My Friend

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Rude, perfect strangers are one thing. What do you do when a FRIEND is rude??

So far in this series, we’ve focused on perfect strangers who sometimes say the oddest things about our work. Before I continue, let me say it again (and again, and again) that most of the time, people don’t realize they’ve said something that triggers us. They simply want to connect, even if it’s a very broad “me, too!” These are the people we need to give the benefit of the doubt, and respond with our “higher power”.

But sometimes the remarks verge on being downright rude, or tasteless. There’s the customer who makes constant sardonic remarks about your work. It’s “supposed” to be entertaining patter, all in fun–but it sure doesn’t feel that way.

And sometimes, it’s not a perfect stranger.

Sometimes it’s a friend who gets a little mean. Or another artist. Or even a family member. How do we handle them?

I’ve heard this referred to as “talking smack”–an exchange of put-downs and insults between friends. It’s all in good fun, right? Otherwise hurtful remarks are disguised as ‘jokes’: “Oh, I’m just kidding!”

I say there is a time and a place for such practice–maybe in a bar over a few beers discussing your favorite respective baseball teams. (“How about them Red Sox?!”)

But never in our place of business. Never in our studio, at a show, in our booth. Never where we are trying to earn a living. NEVER in front of our customers.

I had a “friend” who did this at a show. (Spoiler alert: This was my first real insight that this person was not really my friend.) As they looked at each piece, they had a crass, or even crude remark to offer. They had done this before, and I’d always laughed it off. “Going along” to “get along”. (Another spoiler alert: Does. Not. Work.)

This was a prestigious, juried show I’d spent well over a few thousand dollars to be in. I was on my game, and on my feet, 8 hours a day, for a week.

That day, I simply wasn’t in the mood to tolerate this anymore.

I called him out on their behavior on the spot. I was gentle, respectful, but firm.

I said, “You know, I love to goof around and say silly things. But not about my art. And not when I’m at a show. I’m as serious about what I do here as you are about (insert their profession here.) I hope you understand.” (Big smile.)

I said it quietly, without any rancor. I did not shuffle my feet or hem nor haw. I did not apologize.

I meant every word, and they knew it.

It worked. They were embarrassed. They mumbled a vague apology, made some token effort to look at my work “seriously”, and left soon after.

Years later, we realized we’d overlooked a lot of crap from this person, because of their charm and wit. It took a long time to see what was really going on. Better late than never!

In this case, they were envious of the authenticity, and the integrity, of the work I was making. The “jokes” were a way to diminish me in a socially acceptable way. “Hey, I’m just kidding! You’re pretty sensitive, aren’t you?”

I used to apologize for being sensitive. Not anymore. YES, I’m sensitive! I’m a friggin’ artist! My heart is open to the world around me, highly-tuned to nuance in design, color, story. It’s who I am, and I am never going to apologize for that again.

And neither should you.

The person in our life who acts this way, whether a friend, or a family member, is acting this way because something in us is affecting them. Intimidating them. Scaring them. We have something they don’t have, or haven’t had the courage to reach for.

We are committed. We are courageous. And our work is precious to us.

We constantly tune our technique because we are committed to doing our best work. We put it out into the world—posting it on social media, enter it into juried shows, approach galleries to represent us, etc.—because we have found the courage to do what needs to be done. We practice how to talk to people about our work because this is the work of our heart. Like a child or a puppy, it needs our love, our best intentions, our best efforts, to thrive in the world.

As life coach Danielle LaPorte puts it so succinctly, “Open, gentle heart. Big effin’ fence.

Last, when we get to the point where we have to say this to someone we love and/or care about…

When we have to set our boundaries, gently but firmly…

If they ever do this to us again….

There is the final blessing, the biggest gift of all, this beautiful, powerful insight from poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: 

If it happens again….they have shown you exactly who they are.

Believe them.

We may choose to still love them, to keep them in our circle. We just now know for sure who they are, what they do, even if we never understand why. That is their journey, not ours.

We just know to consider the source, to protect ourselves, and deflect the negative.

And we need, above all, to keep on making our art.