So, we all know about the fear of failure. I feel like too many of us are too afraid to put the work in to whatever our dream is- not because we’re lazy, exactly, well, maybe that’s part of it, but there’s this crippling fear of failure, rejection, essentially that you won’t succeed in whatever you’re doing. I can’t tell you how many Calls for Artists I didn’t participate in because I thought, “Oh, they won’t accept me anyway.”
But what about the opposite?
The fear of success?
What about the fear of achieving your goal only to find that you can’t handle it?
Personally, I’ve had a couple of instances where my art was accepted for exhibition, but I didn’t tell anybody about it. I’m not even sure why. I just didn’t.
There are so many easy things I feel like I could do with this website to better present my artwork: clean it up, have a separate section where I show art I’ve sold/exhibited/gave as gifts, but I’m afraid of doing that too.
I think whenever you’re trying to start something new, learn a new skill, improve a skill or whatever, it’s just as important to consider why you don’t want to succeed instead of why you don’t want to fail.
When I was trying to improve my attention to detail for work, I found that I had this very subtle feeling of resistance. There was a part of me that didn’t want to improve. So, I more or less had a conservation with that part of my brain, it was like splitting myself in two people: The rational me, and the “inner child” me that didn’t like change or anything that would equate to growing up. So, I wrote a list of ten reasons I didn’t want to improve, then ten rebuttal answers. That made the process so much easier. I don’t know how much this exactly improved my attention to detail, but after that, I didn’t feel any resistance.
Yesterday evening, I found a new trick that would get more Instagram followers- which is essentially following more people who follow the pages you like. I added on to this strategy by liking five art pieces of other peoples’ stuff and commenting on at least one thing. I didn’t know how big of an impact that would make- just thought I’d try it out. I woke up this morning to find I had 15 new followers overnight- that’s about how many I get per week. I know 15 isn’t a big number, but it is compared to my usual weekly followers.
In that moment, I felt like a dog who was chasing a car then finally caught it.
I’ve thought about my art journey over the past year, and I’ve been told my whole life that being an artist, that it’s a hyper competitive field and that it would never go anywhere without a backup career- I don’t remember who in my life said that, but that’s what I believed. This past year though, I found that the opposite is true. The more I put myself out there, the more shows I sign up for, the more active I am on Instagram I get more and more successful- even if it’s just a little bit at a time.
I now have 200 followers on Instagram, I’ve been exhibited in four shows, and I’ve even sold artwork.
I’ve been trying to build my following to help my art business for a while, but this huge jump is making that “what if I succeed and can’t handle it” anxiety set in.
What if I get a lot of followers who want to buy my artwork, see that there’s practically nothing in my Etsy shop, then leave?
What if I get more requests for commissions than I can handle?
What if the quality of my artwork falters due to increase in demand?
I love art so much, what if doing this as a regular job causes burnout and I end up hating it?
What if I’m successful for a while, but then suddenly stop?
What if my tendency to work on something at full blast, then my tendency for complacency and burnout sets in that ruins everything I’ve worked so hard for?
What if this causes me to only paint one specific thing? What if this prevents me from experimenting, or improving since people will want to buy only one type of art from me?
Well. As of now, I can only think of 7. Time for the rebuttal!
Getting a lot of followers going to your Etsy shop will probably encourage you to post more listings and be more active on Etsy. Once you make a couple of a sales, that will build momentum to keep going.
That’s silly. You can have a limited number of commissions. You also probably won’t get “more commissions than you can handle” for a long time.
That’s a real possibility, another real possibility is the quality of your art will increase since you will have no choice but to keep working on art, practicing, and getting better.
Again, another likely possibility. The reality is though that most people don’t like their jobs they didn’t go to school for or get passionate about. At least this would be a job that you know has a lot of meaning.
Like you suddenly stop making money? Or your following stagnates? As long as you keep doing what you’re doing, that won’t happen.
Yes, you have done that in the past: work on something at full blast, freak out, then burn everything, but you have been doing that less and less once you decided you were going to keep doing what you love instead of what’s “popular” and especially since you started competing with the person you were yesterday, AND especially since you adopted the “long game” philosophy where sometimes you’re ahead, and sometimes you’re behind.
That would suck. But it would be very much like how your life is right now. You’re working a 9-5 job doing something that you didn’t go to school for, and you’re spending your mornings and free time building your art business and your following. If art did become your 9-5 job, then the time you would have spent trying to make that dream happen would instead be experimenting and working on other art.
Sometimes, we just need to treat ourselves as someone we’re caring for. We need to realize that the people most responsible for holding us back is ourselves- we then need to listen to ourselves: honestly listen to our fears, then in kind, give ourselves a little bit of encouragement and reassurance that no matter what, everything will be fine.
You have art that if shared with the world, could affect the viewer on a deep and meaningful level.
Maybe, if you weren’t appreciated in this life, your art could continue to live on and inspire a generation who could take more from your art in a way this generation wouldn’t understand.
There’s only one problem.
This art is all in your head. The art that isn’t in your head is only being exhibited in your head.
Because you can’t bring yourself to pick up the paintbrush (or the pencil, woodworking tools, gilding knife, guitar, dancing shoes, or any tool used for the creation of art). You are the worst artist of all time…
…or maybe it’s not art making that’s the problem, you will make art all the time, but what you do have a problem with is setting up your art business! Maybe you don’t apply for art galleries/fairs, get that Etsy going, or make prints of your art to sell.
…the PROCRASTINATING artist…
dun dun DUUUN!
Now that that bit of melodrama is over with, procrastination is one of the most human things I can think of. We all want to do something with our lives, but “I’ll get to it later” syndrome always seems to kick in. Of course, later becomes never. It’s funny really, but I think that besides killing yourself, it’s probably one of the most deadly things you can do to yourself.
Sadly, unlike Michelangelo, we don’t really have patrons anymore that will pay us to keep on track (maybe the extra freedom is a good thing? His patron was kind of a jerk).
It may sound like a joke, but I mean it. Time is one of the most precious resources we have. Once time passes. It’s gone forever, you can’t get that time back. Obviously, it’s more valuable than money, yet we know we wouldn’t give $100 to someone every time we ask for it, but we constantly give our time to people who demand our time even if there’s nothing to be gained from that (sometimes) repeated interaction, like that one friend who calls you up or hangs out, they just complain about how their lives, the government, or existence just sucks.
So, with that being said. If you’re an artist, what can you do to stop procrastinating? I’ve picked up a couple of strategies that work really well for me. I actually didn’t hear this advice from artists, but Med School, Entrepreneurial, and Business videos. I also came up with strategies that helped me stick to a work-out routine that I carried over into my art life.
A lot of what I’m about to talk about may seem impossible. That only a superhuman can accomplish what I’m suggesting. The truth is, humans, when they put their minds to anything, are surprisingly hyper efficient. Getting started on the road to procrastinating less is easy. You just need to start with doing easy things
Here’s what’s working for me:
1. Separate your Art Making into Microtasks
Even though you may not want to procrastinate, you may not want to do hard things even more. Humans don’t like doing hard things which ironically tend to be the things that help us learn or become better people in the long run. We’re not good at thinking of long term rewards. We’re very short-sighted, impatient people.
And this shortsightedness…
… can be used to our advantage.
I’m talking of course into not pursuing big dreams. At least not right away, but instead, break them down into smaller and smaller dreams.
The hardest part of doing anything for most people is starting it. Once you start something, you feel good having just accomplished something, so it’s easier to move on to the next step of your big project.
So, imagine what you want in the long run. Imagine yourself becoming a completely independent artist that has shows in galleries and museums everywhere. Your art is beloved by everyone.
Now slap yourself in the face.
That’s a stupid dream.
Just kidding. It’s good to have a vision like that, and think very clearly about it, but you’ll never get there if you don’t get started, and going to art school will not be enough. That’s a terrible place filled with people who control your schedule. Once you’re out of there, there’s no guarantee you’ll keep going. That’s why so many art majors get jobs that have nothing to do with art if they’re lucky to get jobs at all.
Instead, think very small. You want to create a body of work to show to galleries. No, that’s not small enough. You need to make one art piece. Think smaller. You need to go into your space and paint for fifteen minutes. Smaller! You need to pick up your paintbrush…
Every big action starts with a tiny action.
This is actually a trick I play on myself when I try to enter art shows. One thing I do is imagine myself as two separate people, my ID and superego if you will, the first one is like my inner child: impulsive, lazy, only wants to do easy and fun things, but the second is my rational, adult brain that can think about things long term. I imagine the mature adult brain as a parent or teacher to the inner child. Wants them to achieve and do their best, but not be a cruel slave driver.
I have these little conversations that go like this:
Mature Ashley: Alright, Child Ashley! We just turned on our computer, and now it’s time to enter some art shows!
Child Ashley: No! I don’t feel like it! I just want to play video game instead!
M.A.: I know… I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you open the internet? If you still feel like playing video games, we’ll do that.
C.A.: Okay! Yay! I opened the website! I accomplished something!
M.A.: Very good! Here’s a place that wants art that we have, open the website and upload one picture and fill out the information…
See? Little steps. I have been exhibited in three shows last year because I practiced this trick. It’s easier to accomplish what you really know you ought to do if you let yourself enjoy several micro accomplishments along the way. Sometimes those microaccomplishments will seem daunting, so you can break THOSE down even more. Human beings are very creative, so you will find a way to do this.
There are many microsteps in between, but it’s super helpful. In the long term, I want to want to run on the treadmill for 20 minutes, but I feel good if I can get through five minutes, then then the next five aren’t so bad, and so on.
2. The Pomodoro Technique.
Now that you’ve mastered the art of getting started, what if you decided one of the things you really want to do is dedicated a long block of time to making art, or working on your business? Doing long blocks of time is really daunting, but there’s a strategy for that too.
The Pomodoro Technique was a strategy invented by Francesco Cirillo. It’s a time strategy named after his timer which was shaped like a tomato. He would set his tomato timer for twenty minutes, do his work (and nothing but his work), then when the tomato dinged, he would make a check mark on a piece of paper, then take a five minute break, then set the timer again. After he made four checkmarks, he would up the time. He would instead have a 45 minute work block, then fifteen minute breaks.
When I adopted this, when I decided to have these short bursts of time hyper focused on my work, I was doing three times as much work as I would normally do.
3. Write a Distraction List
The Pomodoro Technique is good for helping yourself get focused for short periods of time, but what if you find yourself wanting to Google
Now, most of us, especially the youngest of us are easily distracted (personally, I blame [insert technology here]) with increasing diagnosis of ADD. To counteract this, The Art of Manliness suggests having a “Distraction List” when something comes to mind, you write it down and say you will wait and attend to it on your break, which is coming soon anyway. Now, for the life of me, I remember finding the distraction list in the Art of Manliness’ article about building willpower, or an article related to it, but I can’t find it now.
I found hand writing a distraction list when I worked on the computer took too long. Instead, I used the Sticky Notes program on my computer and typed it. My distraction lists grew quite long, but oftentimes, whatever “distracted” me stopped being distracting simply by typing it out on the virtual sticky note.
4. Treat the Schedule as your Tool, Not Your Slave Master
There’s a pretty good chance that you hate schedules, and no wonder! Schedules are so constraining, there’s this list of things you need to do. You need to wake up, brush your teeth, take this class, and this class, go to your job, do your homework, you have a big paper to write, and finally at the end of the day, you just want to play video games, binge watch Netflix, or veg on your phone because hey, you earned it.
Artists need to be free, not be constrained by something as petty and archaic as a schedule. That’s what I used to think anyway.
I found that it’s much more helpful to rethink the role of the schedule. Instead of thinking about the schedule like it’s a slave driver, think of you as the master of it. Human beings are ritualistic creatures. As much as we like to think of ourselves as free spirits, we function better when we have normal times to eat, normal sleeping schedules, and repeats of the same thing every day.
Instead of thinking of the schedule as something monotonous, think of it as something that will help you achieve and live the life YOU want to have, versus what your boss/teachers want you to have. Have a normal time of day to wake up, then incorporate a specific time to do art. After weeks, and especially after months of doing this, your artistic abilities, business, etc will have improved and progressed much better than if you have only created art when you felt like it.
Many of us like to sleep late if given the choice, but I changed my morning schedule so that I wake up two hours earlier than I need to leave to work.
When I was trying to find a strategy for writing better papers in the morning, I found a psychiatrist I greatly admired in his paper-writing rubric that he suggested consistently waking up in the morning, and that there was a lot of scientific evidence that suggested that people are more creative in the morning. After being desperate enough to be willing to try anything, I tried this, and it worked wonders! Not only could I write faster and more intelligently, but when I carried this over to my art practice after having graduated college, I found that I’m more sure of myself, more creative, and paint more beautifully in the mornings than any other time of day.
I like to use Instagram as an example, if you don’t post good quality art consistently, you will find yourself losing followers pretty quickly who have made it part of THEIR routine to look at your posts when they come out.
Another thing to consider. If you don’t take control of your schedule, OTHERS WILL. Your boss, your teachers, etc. You may not like the idea of schedules, but I think you might like idea of SOMEONE ELSE ruling over your schedule even less.
How familiar is this story? You wake up at the latest you can get away with waking up to get to work on your time, you go to work, then you come home tired wanting to do nothing more that sit in front of the TV or veg out on your phone or computer.
Worse yet, you willingly use your boss or job as an excuse to not do anything to pursue your dream of becoming a great artist because your job sucks everything out of you.
5. Above All… Remember That it’s Okay to Fail.
I think too many people find that once they do dedicate themselves to something, something outside their control happens that throws their goals off kilter. Maybe you’ve been painting for 20 minutes every day. A couple weeks went by, then one day, you just really can’t get out of bed, or you’re sick, or some big event happens that throws your routine off balance.
The truth is, we’re human. we’re naturally lazy and have a hard time keeping ourselves disciplined. Whenever you set off to do anything, you need to keep this in mind, and not be surprised… or discouraged… when you slip up.
You need to remember that it’s okay. This doesn’t make you a failure. You’re still the same worthwhile human being as when you started. The greatest thing is that you’re still alive. You still have some time ahead of you. If you slip up one day, maybe you’ll feel awful, but you can always try again the next day.
If you allow this room to forgive yourself (again, thinking of yourself as a loving and encouraging care-taker that praises your inner child for little accomplishments).
Here are some links I recommend to help you be a more productive artist:
Med School Insiders – This channel is geared at med students, but they have a lot of techniques that can help you be more productive. This is where I first learned about the Pomodoro Technique.
The Art of Manliness – While this website may be targeted at men, they have a lot of good advice on how to focus, build Willpower, finding meaning in your life (which I think is the most important part of becoming an artist) and. I and other female artists do recommend these guys greatly.
Simon Sinek – I’ve been listening to Simon Sinek a lot at work lately. I highly recommend him because he talks about how you need to know “Why” you do things. Some things he helped me realize is that art shouldn’t be about creating that one masterpiece or be in that one museum, but instead playing the long game where you’re trying to always just be a better artist than what you were yesterday, which I think helps reconciles and keeps you encouraged when things like that feeling of your art being inferior when you encounter an artist who’s better than you.
Thomas Frank – or College Info Geek – This man probably changed my life forever and is the reason I’m able to wake up at 5 am every day. He has a lot of videos mostly geared at college students and how they can better stay, stay organized, and stay motivated, but he introduced me to a lot of mindsets, tricks, and apps to better wake up, paint, and go to work with the feeling that I gained some semblance of control over my life rather than rolling out of bed with the immediate knowledge that a job I hate is coming up immediately after.
Blah. That’s just how I feel is blah. This past weekend was absolutely insane at work. It’s this kind of weird thing with retail that we’re all well prepared for the rush before the holidays, but AFTER the holidays, it’s just mayhem. I didn’t change my school schedule for work, and while that may have caused me to miss out on some money, the knots in my muscles are glad I did that. Yesterday, I had it completely off, and I slept in until noon and I didn’t get out of my pajamas all day. I did get started on some artwork though!
Come to think of it, I may have been a little sick too.
Now that I’ve had some time to recharge. I want to talk about working a “crappy” job like retail a bit. I’ve worked at the same place for several years while going to school. With graduation just around the corner, the increase in irate customers (like, there actually is an increase in irate customers, I thought at first maybe it was just my perception of them after working there for so long, but my managers actually said there was an increase in irate customers), and especially the holiday season really taking a beating out of me, I’ve found myself really not being satisfied at work lately. I used to love it. Heck, even the idea of having employment was enough to keep me going. But lately… that feeling is just not there.
Sometimes I really just want to go home and do art, but I’ve had no energy to. Usually, I would’ve uploaded a couple of YouTube videos by now, but I’ve barely started on any this week.
There were times here and there where I felt like I didn’t care if I got fired, worst case scenario, I just apply for a couple of new jobs every day and have some more time to work on artwork.
And now, for my much deserved slap in the face to come to my senses!
Here’s the thing though. If I allow myself to sink farther and farther into this way of thinking, it’s not going to be good. In fact, it’s really bad.
I’ve had my fair share of meeting people looking for work who didn’t apply to work at say, Starbucks or retail because “it’s beneath them.” I mean, sure, if you’ve applied for said job, and they turn you away because you’re overqualified, then this way of thinking makes perfect sense! But if you’re not even going to apply, or worse yet, you’re in this job and you’re thinking, “Oh, I’m above this,” then I just have to tell you (and by you, I mean myself included) that if you’re really above this job, you would already have a better job.
I thought of a nice list of working retail, at least, until I reach my dream of becoming a full time artist and art conservator.
The hours. Retail for me has been great while going to school. Since it’s not a typical 9-5 job, I can put in my availability that I need Tuesday-Thursday off to go to classes, internships, and that kind of thing.
My coworkers. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really great people. Especially during the holiday season, knowing my friends at work were going through the same exhaustion and we were all working together has made the ordeal so much easier.
The exercise. As a salesperson, I have to be on my feet and running around helping customers, cleaning the department, and keeping up with everything. I have been able to go to the gym lately, but the holiday season has more or less helped me stay fir through it.
Discounts. ‘Nuff said.
Everything that happens at work, STAYS at work. From what I’ve gathered, several jobs have issues where you have to bring home paperwork, have phone meetings at home, and let’s not forget if you’re a teacher and have to grade papers every moment you have off. You don’t have that in retail. You do your work, you clock out, you go home, and don’t have to worry about it until you go back the next day.
The particular store I work for also has great health, dental, and generous time off.
So, is retail a crappy job? Yes. Sometimes. But if I was really “above” the job I’m at, I would already be working a better job. Now, that being said, after graduation, I will be working harder to find a better job, hopefully, in the graphic design department of the place I work for, but most preferably assisting in the art conservation field. But we’ll see.
Until then, I’m going to work at my retail job, and I’m going to do the best I can!