I have a young, beautiful, talented friend who is working towards a career as a full time creative, and who recently expressed frustration over where she was with her career versus where she wanted to be. I get this. It is so easy to feel like you are behind the 8 ball when you don’t get the gig after an audition you thought went well, or when you see others on social media living the life you want to live.
This is a common theme: In this day and age of social media we are inundated with information; it only takes 60 seconds to jump on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and see someone having huge success, showing off new equipment, talking about their latest travels, the new gig they got, or being liked and followed by tens of thousands of people. It is so easy to compare our own lives to this and feel like we are coming up short. It is easy to become jealous and then to let that jealousy guide our actions. I see this a lot in the photography world. If you pick an immensely popular photographer, I will show you 100 people copying that person’s style in an effort to re-create that person’s success for themselves. This is a trap. These feelings can get even more magnified because we are really comparing our day to day lives to someone else’s highlight reel. I know a lot of people who are extremely popular on social media, and I can say that in many cases their day to day lives differ quite a bit from what they choose to show on social media.
Then, there are the times when you put yourself out there, only to encounter the inevitable internet troll or person who begrudges you your success, and who goes out of their way to let you know about it. It is amazing how one negative comment can decimate that feeling of success you were having… if you let it.
I suspect all creatives go through this. Heck, I suspect all people go through this. No one is immune really.
Speaking personally, I have had huge successes in my life in almost every endeavour I have pursued. By all accounts I am successful in my photographic pursuits: I am an official brand ambassador for a company I love working with. I have the joy of presenting and teaching. I have the honour of photographing weddings and working with other clients, and I have wonderful conversations every day with people I respect from around the world that I know through social media.
Perspective is everything though, and one of the funny things about perspective is that it can easily be lost. And, when it is, it is so easy to go astray.
Do you see that photo at the top of this post? 99% of the time I feel like the rocks on the left are where I started, the buoy in the water is me and the rocks on the right represent my photographic destination (my creative and business goals). Like you see in the photo, I currently feel like I am about a third of the way to where I want to be, but I know I will get there because I am passionate about my craft and I am determined.
Sometimes though, rarely, I feel more like that buoy (me) is just floating and getting bashed about in the waves. I feel lost, and I tend to struggle to regain focus. This is where it becomes dangerous. It happens to everyone from time to time, you just don’t see the struggle posted on their social media that often.
Recently, ironically enough during a period where things were going extremely well for me, I went through this exact thing: A good friend had huge success with a project. This is a project that I was also given the opportunity to do, but which I passed on due to life circumstances at the time. When my friend was experiencing their success I should have been happy for him, yet instead I felt jealousy. And, once I felt it, it started derailing my other efforts.
At the same time, I had a negative experience with a couple of internet trolls. For clarity, I usually just shake my head with a smile when I encounter negative people. I spent 20 years on an ambulance as a paramedic, responding to about 15,000 911 calls, and I know better than most what real problems are. I think there are few things in life that give you perspective on what really matters like working as a paramedic does because of the hurt, confusion and fear you see in people. Negative comments also usually don’t bother me because it is a truth that when you put yourself out in the public’s eye you are going to encounter people with many different points of view, including negative ones. The first thing I do when I get negative feedback from people is to follow this advice:
“Consider the motivation of the person who is giving you the feedback: Are they sincerely trying to help you? If so, then think about what they are saying. Or, are they just trying to get under your skin? If that is the case, simply ignore it”.
This almost always works for me, but for some reason it didn’t this time.
All of a sudden, just like that, I found myself derailed for a day or two. Derailed by jealousy over a friend’s success (how crazy is that), derailed by a sense of not being far enough down my path, and derailed by some unknown person on the internet who doesn’t agree with my work and my thoughts (and who went out of their way to let me know about it).
Stupid, right? Stupid, but also human as some very good friends pointed out (thank you Patrick and Valerie).
Why am I sharing this? Because I want my friend, this brilliant and talented young actress, to know that she isn’t alone when she feels like this. We all feel like this from time to time, just not everyone talks about it. Success is really an iceberg. On the surface you see the rewards and accolades, but underneath it is nothing but blood, sweat, failure, hard work, frustration, set backs, disappointment, and resistance.
So what do we do, as creatives, to get out of these funks we occasionally find ourselves in?
The first thing has to be to regain perspective. Step back, step away, re-connect with family and friends. We need to remind ourselves of what really matters in life, and to remind ourselves that happiness is intrinsically driven. We own it. We have the ability to create it, and others can only destroy it if we allow them to.
And, as I was recently reminded by my friend Patrick Laroque, we need to create art. Not art guided by what we think others want to see, not art guided by trends, not art created to satisfy the needs of the internet and social media, and not art to further our business pursuits.
We just need to create art. For ourselves, because that’s what we do.
The only way to truly be satisfied as an artist is to create for the sake of creating. Create art for no other reason than we love the process. Create art because it brings us joy, and create without giving a sh*t about what other people think about it.
If I consider all of my successes, I achieved them because I was being true to myself. I created and shared work I was happy with and some people responded to it. That is where we need to keep our focus, because that is the path to being happy and feeling satisfied as artists (if artists can ever truly be satisfied). If you chase trends you are selling yourself out. When you purposely edit your photographs to look like today’s popular artist, when you become photographers of a certain genre because it is currently popular, or when you connect with people on social media for no reason other than they are the “cool kids” and represent where you want to be you are only setting yourself up for failure in the long run.
So, to my brilliant friend I say just continue to create art that makes you happy. Put it out into the world and don’t worry about what other people are doing, just be the 5 year old with the box of crayons and make art because you love it. If you remain true to yourself you will find satisfaction as an artist and, when the time is right, people who respect and are aligned with your vision will also find you. Trust the process, as it is really the only true option. Everything else is just chasing the rabbit down the hole for all the wrong reasons.
Just my two cents.