Embrace Failure

I help many artists with their careers and one of the most common subjects we discuss at the onset is all the failure they've experienced. Sadly, they seem to focus more on the failures than any of the successes.  I get it.  No one wants to fail.  No one wants to feel that the work they poured their hearts into might not be good enough or that they, in turn, might not be good enough.  Aside from the personal nature of what failure does to an artist, I'd like for you to consider another way of thinking.  Consider this: what pushes you to grow more - success or failure? I can say with absolute confidence that my failures have made me the artist I am today.  Artist advice: embrace failure.

The hardest part about failure is that many of us experience it and then we give up.  We don't see the point in experiencing pain any longer than we need - it seems more logical to retreat. We rather create some impervious bubble around ourselves that keeps all the criticism and lack at bay and in turn, stop the progress that may be around the corner. I promise you, if you carry on, great things are on the horizon. No one achieves any measure of success by giving up. 

If you want to truly appreciate someone's struggle with failure you have to watch this inspiring and uplifting video from J.K. Rowling.  If you've ever been to the place she's talking about you can't help but feel happy for her success and excited for your own.

Too many of us accept that someone else's rejection is a means of confirming our worst fears - that we are not good enough.  Understand and recognize that this fear is something that everyone on earth experiences and you are not at all unique. The way to continue on despite the fear, is to not accept that failure is an option - you've gotten this far. Someone else's failure is not something we should own - too many variables factor into failure and similarities are often hard to find. Stop comparing yourself to others - it's damning. 

I've failed pretty hard over the course of my career. I've dealt with nasty comments, jealous fools, and many, many gallery rejections. At times, I wondered why.  Many times the quality of my work was far better than those who were represented.  I've been rejected from countless juried shows only to see that the winner was far less remarkable. It's a bummer. Trust me. But we are a part of a very uncertain field. Not everyone judges on technical skill, subject matter, or beauty. Judges vote on what appeals to THEM and galleries judge on whether or not they can sell your work to their clientele. Often times, it has very little to do with the quality or appeal of your work. Deal with it. Learn to keep moving on until you find your win or ideal representation. Until then, grow a thick skin - it will serve you well. 

Each time I was rejected, I sat back and reflected. I found myself asking - how can I push harder? And over time, my personal standards have become higher than anyone can ask of me.  I embrace my uniqueness and celebrate all the blessings in my life rather than focusing on all the static in the background. I learned not to paint what I thought may appeal to galleries or judges - I now paint what I am passionate about and that has made all the difference in my success. I LOVE what I do. I love my subject matter and feel jazzed every day when I sit down and paint. If you're not feeling that, you'd better start asking why. 

Looking back, I used to think if I didn't "make it" in my 20s I would never be successful.  In reflection, I'm glad it didn't happen that way.  If I had reached the level of success I aspired to in my 20s I would have never become the artist I am today.  Failure drove me to greater success.  Rejection became my motivation to do more - accept my weaknesses and improve on them. I've seen so many artists peak early on and then slowly slip into obscurity.  Most times, these artists become too comfortable, confident and lazy. They judge their success on the past and never push forward. I never ever want to peak.  I never want to stop demanding better things from myself.  Age, time, and failure is not an excuse.  When you were first learning how to paint or to sculpt or draw, did you give up after the first time you failed?  No, of course not.  You tried again and avoided the failure you made the first time.  Artist advice: this is how you navigate the failures within your career.  Failures are your greatest blessings!!  They push you to achieve more.  They unlock hidden talents and potential inside of us that we never knew we had.  

They say that great people aren't born, they are made.  The greatest people in history failed their way to success.  Thomas Edison failed over 10,000 times before he invented the lightbulb.  His response to his many failures was that he eliminated all the ways NOT to create a lightbulb.  If that isn't thinking in a "glass half full" mentality I don't know what is.   No one is asking you to be that persistent but the lesson to learn is that the answers lie within you.  Success is a road for the persistent.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that you are the only one that has ever failed.  More importantly, do not call yourself a failure.  Failure only happens if you give up.  If you never stop trying you will never be a failure.