In the wake of the end of year contest deadline announcements there comes the wave of artist anxiety and fear and sometimes anger and frustration over these contests. Being judged is never a comfortable experience, but I’m here to tell you all that if you’re experiencing a great deal of anxiety or fear over entering these contests, then you’re thinking about them entirely wrong. If the fear of rejection is keeping you from putting your work out there, going after opportunities, talking to the right people, or entering contests then you’re giving way too much power to chance.
There are two kinds of guilt, and it’s a toss-up which is worse: guilt you feel towards yourself, or guilt you feel towards others. In fact, they’re two sides of the same coin — but heads or tails, you’re losing either way. The definition of guilt is “a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation” but I think that sentence inadequately portrays the particular feeling of horror, squirming, embarrassment, and failure that comes wrapped up together when we feel guilty.
We live in a capitalist world, and we thrive on options. Our entire economy is built on choices. We do everything we can to “keep our options open” as long as possible. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Your desire to keep as many choices as possible is getting in the way of doing your best work.
Many of us think negotiation is a dirty word. It has a negative connotation, as if we were asking for things you shouldn’t. We feel that if everything was going well, we shouldn’t have to negotiate. But we’re thinking about negotiation all wrong. It’s not what needs to happen when things go badly—it should be a sign that everything is going very well. With a mental shift and a few go-to scripts, anyone can learn to negotiate confidently.
Dream jobs are still jobs, and they still take work, and they’re often just as hard and brutal day to day as any other job we might have. Unfortunately a lot of artists get so wrapped up in how hard it is to establish and maintain a career in art that we burn ourselves out. Once that happens we have no way to recharge because while we have turned our love into our work. Art used to be something that made us feel good about ourselves, feel confident, feel alive. Now it is something that is often a source of anxiety and insecurity. We need a better work and play balance.
Frustration is a funny thing. It’s kind of the ugliest possible child of disappointment and fear. Frustration is linked intimately with our sense of fair and unfair. We don’t get frustrated with something in our path that we feel has the right to be there — it’s the unfair roadblocks that frustrate us. To beat frustration we must be both optimists and pessimists — simultaneously.
We are taught to never give up. Keep pushing. Work through blocks. Strive. Fight. And that is noble. But sometimes the pushing is not working, and no matter how hard we’re struggling to make something work, we keep sinking into the quicksand. As we fight harder and harder consciously, our subconscious knows something is wrong — and what we’ve been trying to do isn’t working. And those times when our unconscious mind knows something that our conscious won’t slow down enough to accept is when we sometimes end up in a breakdown.
Confident people just seem to have permission to do more, safe in the belief that it’ll turn out ok. People who aren’t confident watch in envy and are convinced that they could never move so easily in the world. Well I’m here to tell you one very important thing: there’s no such thing as confident people — no one feels confident all the time (those people are either arrogant or delusional). Confident people are exactly the same as insecure people, they’ve just figured out one really important lesson.
Trust. It’s a pretty big topic, and honestly one that seems to have gotten fairly “woo-woo” recently. I blame The Secret. But let’s not throw out the baby with the Magical Thinking bathwater, because trust is a critical part of being an artist.
I want to tackle a myth today. A really pervasive one that I think locks a lot of artists into justifying unhealthy behavior. The myth of the tortured artist. The belief that you have to suffer for your art. That you have to be a martyr to make good work. That art is only good if it comes from pain. I think we’ve got it backwards. The cart is before the horse, and it’s holding a lot of artists back from embracing (and enjoying) their creativity.