It all started after blogging about my new years resolutions a year and a half ago.* I made a list of my goals for the year and in the comments, an artist friend of mine talked about how silly she felt speaking a pretty significant resolution she had made aloud. Despite the fact that this goal was important to her and she really wanted to accomplish it, she was scared to say it out loud because what if it didn’t happen? She also asked, “What motivates us to follow-through [with our goals]? What keeps us from accomplishing the things that are important to us?”
I really like these questions; I think they’re important. I’m also fascinated by how terrifying it can be to voice our dreams and desires. Why does the thought of our dreams not happening frighten us into not voicing them? Why are we so very afraid of failure? (I'm so intrigued by this idea of failure.)
The thing is, artists aren't just people whose books are published or whose paintings are exhibited in galleries or whose albums are sold in record stores. Being published doesn't make you a writer, just like recording an album doesn't make you a musician, just like having a painting in an exhibit doesn’t make you a painter. Making art is what makes you an artist. Therefore, the only way you can fail at being an artist is if you don't make art.
There. I said it.
Now that that's over with: I think there is something to be said for putting your art out into the world. (That is where art belongs, after all.) Whether this is by recording an album, or having a novel published, or whatever your goal is, it can be a big, huge, scary thing because you’re basically saying that this, whatever this is, is important and you think you’re pretty good at it and you want other people to think so too. You want your art to become Art with a capital A. And that’s completely understandable. (But just to be clear, I don’t think it makes you any more of an artist than the guy who doesn’t go down that road.)
So, “what keeps us from accomplishing the things that are important to us?” (In this instance, putting your art out into the world.)
I think the answer can be one of two things.
The first thing is that it wasn’t really that important to begin with. Maybe you thought it was, but that was actually your parents or friends or whoever thinking for you. Or maybe you just changed your mind – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don’t think anyone should ever feel ashamed of changing their mind, so long as you've thought it through. If anything, it just means that you’re narrowing down your options. That you’re that much closer to the thing you really want.
The second reason is fear. It can be fear of anything, really, but I think that most often it’s fear of failure or rejection or finding out that you’re “not good enough”. Often, I think (and this is my fear, for sure) it’s the fear of those close to us – our friends, our family – discovering our plans and then labeling us as unrealistic.
But let’s face it: we are unrealistic. We’re artists, for heaven’s sake. This is our lot in life. We dream, we woolgather, we ask more questions than is maybe good for us. It's who we are. And when we suppress it, we end up unhappy. So I for one am embracing it. Feel free to join me.
And again, in terms of failure, I think J.K. Rowling says it well:
It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.
Basically, be afraid of not getting your art done. Don’t be afraid of the other things.
Next question: “What motivates us to actually put in the hard work to pursue our dreams?”
First, I think it helps when you take yourself and your goals seriously. Maybe this means renting a studio/practice space, or saying out loud “I want to record an album this year”, or setting aside time in your week to plug away at that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Second, I think it helps to surround yourself with people who are doing what you're doing or what you want to be doing. I find that when I get to know artisans or authors – either personally, through their blogs, or through venues like Etsy – I realize that my dreams are doable, and that the people I admire are normal and are more like me than not. Last of all, and perhaps most importantly, it helps to have a few key people in your life who can centre you again when you start to doubt yourself (or when the doubters around you are getting too loud). I think everyone pretty much knows who their centre-ers are. Mine happen to be my husband and my friend Leslie, and let me tell you: they are vital. Vital.
Last of all, this:
FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE.
I saw this on a sign once. It's SUPER cheesy, I know, but it gets the point across. I think that being brave is key. Being brave is about knowing that it won’t be easy (in fact, it will be really hard and lonely and scary as hell) and then stepping out into the darkness anyway. To really know and trust who you are is extremely hard work, and takes a TON of bravery. And if you can do that – know and trust yourself – then you can trust in your dreams. And it is SO IMPORTANT TO TRUST YOUR DREAMS. To trust that they’re there for a reason, and not just silly fluff in your head.
And if your dreams are there for a reason, the only way to find that reason out is to follow them.
*I originally wrote this over a year ago now, but after reading this, I went back through all my posts to take out any images that I didn’t have permission to use, and when I took the image out of this particular post, the html code went all screwy and I couldn’t fix it. So I rewrote it and posted it here.