You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.
IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.
This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.
I’ve been there myself, and here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way:
1. Deliver the higher value. If your work puts names to things people already know in their hearts, you take them to a place they don’t want to leave. If your work traps a moment of life in its full beauty and shouts it from the rooftops, you enact a revival of spirit. And if your work gives people hope about what they can be, you force them to look at new horizons.
That’s art that matters. And if you can focus on making a real contribution and allowing your audience to decide how to repay you, it will be worth it in the end. On other hand, if your job sets a cap on how much you’re allowed to give, run. Because what you sell has to supplement the soul, not just hang on the wall. Does your work reach down inside and reward what it means to be human?
2. Honor the slog. Playing for keeps takes prodigious acts of courage. For example, sometimes it’s hard to get up and go face the world. But that’s a good thing. If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth it. If it wasn’t hard, there would be nothing to push against. And if it wasn’t hard, there would be no way to stop the people who didn’t want it badly enough.
As Joseph Campbell writes in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, “Some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul’s destination.”
The point is: The anxiety of being an artist doesn’t go away. It may vary, but it never fully vanishes. And if you want to make out alive, you have to learn to love that tension. Greet it with a welcoming heart, listen to what it has to say and exploit it in the service of something real and true. How will you keep desire burning?
3. Throw pottery, not punches. As we all learned from The Little Mermaid, the seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake. Next time you hear about another artist who’s more successful and more famous than you, try not to get too pissed off. As my grandfather reminds me, “The meanest feeling of which any human being is capable is feeling bad at another’s success.”
Instead of making justifications about why other people don’t deserve success as much as you, use their accomplishments as glowing sources of inspiration. Build off their energy. Convert it to fuel. After all, they must be doing something right. Turn toward their triumphs with a hospitable heart and distribute your motive force accordingly. What excuses do you make for other people’s accomplishments?
4. Fortune favors the bold, but it frequents the consistent. Considering how hard, how long and how smart you work – I imagine it feels like you should be more successful by now. But you’re not. And you keep wondering, “How much longer will I have to pay my dues?”
The answer is: Longer than you’d like. That’s the most frustrating reality of any artistic career path – it takes freaking forever. And sometimes you feel like you’re the only one who hears the music. But as Seth Godin once wrote, “Art takes a long time to pay for itself, so you better believe in what you do. Because it may take a long time before it catches on.”
That’s why consistency – that is, showing up, every single day, even if you’re not in the mood – is so essential to playing for keeps. The big question is: How long are you willing work your ass off before the right people notice?
5. Go out into the world in strategic fashion. During a recent radio interview, actor and comedian Jay Mohr said it best: “Every role I audition for I play completely. There can’t be room for potential. I swing for the museum every time.”
Notice he didn’t say “outfield,” “fence” or “upper deck.” Museum. That’s one hell of a strategy. That’s one hell of a positive attitude. Mohr proves that when you respect everything life has to offer, when you present yourself as though you were a gift, it’s hard for people to ignore you.
Even if you strike out and fall on your face, at least the crowd heard the wind cry like a bitch when you swung with all your might. When you take your art to market, what strategy is guiding you?
6. Push the boundaries of your medium. Derek Sivers changed the record industry forever by breaking rules and ignoring the voices of dissent. He writes in Anything You Want, “You can’t live on somebody else’s expectations. You don’t have to please anybody but your customers and yourself.”
That’s what playing for keeps means: Maintaining a healthy respect for your own visions and opinions. That way, when people try to bash your opinion out of you, you can stick your fingers in your ears.
Besides, you can’t argue with a ringing register. If the customers who like your work buy it, all the criticism in the world doesn't matter. If you were taken away would people find a replacement or howl in protest?
REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.
Make the decision today.
Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.
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That Guy with the Nametag
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Never the same speech twice.
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Friday, August 26, 2011
You’ve chosen an uncertain path.