Sometimes, it feels like our art is going nowhere. We write songs nobody listens to, books nobody reads, poems nobody wants to hear. Then, we log on to social media, and it looks like every other artist in town is taking off. Here are a few things to remember whenever you’re tempted to compare yourself unfavorably to others, or feel like you’re the only one struggling.
Bragging is increasingly common today.
Exagerating the obstacles you’ve overcome, your accomplishments, and your impact on others is common these days, in the arts and in every other field. We are even instructed to call it “positivity” or “focusing on the positive” instead of what it used to be called, “bragging.” Just because someone is on social media claiming they did something, or it got this reaction, that does not mean it’s true. Sometimes people brag because they have overinflated egos. Other times, they’re trying to make themselves feel better. Either way, they’re not giving you an accurate picture of what their life is really like.
Everyone who posts about their accomplishments and impact on social media is not bragging, but when it seems like everybody but you is taking off professionally, there’s a good chance a lot of people are overstating things a bit. Never let this make you think everybody but you is enjoying great success.
Most people focus on good things when posting about their lives on social media.
Even those who do not tend to brag or overinflate what they do will probably post only about the good things that happen to them.
Unless you are in a support group, it is almost considered poor social skills, or bad manners, to post about your troubles and obstacles on your social media page. The only exception seems to be when you have already overcome something, and can label the experience a “journey.”
Like bragging about how great everything is, this often stems from the political correctness gone haywire trend of everything being labeled “positive” and “negative,” with “negativitiy” being the worst thing you can be accused of putting out there.
Artists…and others…who don’t bow to social pressures may also avoid sharing their troubles online due to safety concerns. Predatory types often hunt for vulnerable people online. Letting them know you’re feeling overwhelmed with your career is like talking about all the expensive things you’re shopping for within earshot of a pickpocket.
Either way, this does not mean nobody else struggles, or has failed projects, or feels like giving up some days. It just means they aren’t announcing those moments to their online connections.
The majority of your fellow artists have day jobs or retirement income from day jobs just like you.
Every artist’s page looks like their life is devoted entirely to their art, and some people are indeed blessed to get to earn all of their income from their art practice. But most are not. Most artists either work or are retired from a day job they never or rarely mention in their art work on their online space for their art career.
Sometimes, we are blessed with a second career, and/or a day job that directly relates to our art practice. My regular monthly bills are paid with income from a job teaching basic writing skills to adults online. I even get to write stories to use in my teaching. But this was not always the case. We all have times when we just need to do what we can to pay the bills. Before I found my current job, I worked as a cashier and greeter at Walmart. I still thought of myself as a writer, but the only writing I ever did at work was putting a check mark or my initials on somebody’s receipt so the nasty customer service manager or other greeter would realize someone checked their purchases already and leave them alone.
Everyone feels like they’ll never make it sometimes.
Due to a lot of “new age” thought creeping into our everyday lives, many people have come to believe in the law of attraction without ever realizing it. In case you haven’t heard of this yet, the law of attraction teaches that people are like gods, and our energy and thoughts alone can shape and change the world. If you feel like a failure, you are a failure. If you feel like a great success, you are a great success. Whatever you think about is on its way, through the power of your own mind. This is of course nonsense. If the law of attraction were real, your whole life would change with normal shifts in mood.
Those people you look at and see only great success have felt just as discouraged as you have. They may even feel like that now, and are just forcing themselves to work through it. Or, as noted above, they may be hiding it for whatever reason. Feelings do not automatically create reality.
Failed projects can provide background material for successful ones.
Novels, poems, plays, albums, paintings and other forms of art do fail sometimes. So do recipes, experiments, research projects, construction projects, and everything else in every other field. Failure teaches us what not to do, so we can avoid that when we try again, but failed projects in the arts can also be dismantled and examined for pieces that will work for something else.
For a niche website, blog, or YouTube channel, “success” begins when at least ten per cent of your target audience follows you and ten per cent of that population actually interacts with your content. Using statistics on the percentage of people who are serious artists and the population of Utica, I set the target population of a website for artists in Utica at 1500. This means I would need 150 followers and about 15 readers for each article to be considered successful with my site. The first time I made a website for Utica artists, I had about six or seven people following the site, and two people reading what I posted on a good day. I was heartbroken. But I also learned that I needed to work harder on publicity, post only once per week, and invest in better business cards. The failed site also left me with an archive of articles nobody ever read. Many of those failed articles form the rough drafts for the ones you read here.
The arts often have unseen impact the artist never knows about.
One of the most encouraging stories from popular music centers around folk singer John Denver. After his divorce from first wife, Annie, Denver was reportedly planning to give up on music. His genre and style had fallen out of favor with pop music fans, and he had become known more for his lighter, sillier lyrics than his best work. Annie, is said to have encouraged him to keep going. Although she couldn’t tell him this, one of her clients in her therapy practice had changed her mind about killing herself after being touched by the simple sweetness and beauty of some of Denver’s songs.
While everybody’s art can’t literally save a life, you never know when that one person who needed inspiration, encouragement, or even just a few moments of enjoyment or fun might come across your work.
Keep going. Even if it looks like whatever you’re working on right now is doomed to sit on your shelf, keep working at it. You never know what might happen in the future.