How to deal with the unsuccessful times: an artist’s perspective

Happiness is the key to life. What is happiness? Well, that’s an argument humans have had for aeons. In today’s world, it feels as if success and happiness are linked so closely. If we succeed we will be happy, very happy. If we succeed in love, friendship, career and in our personal lives we will surely be happy. Failure will equal unhappiness, shame and that all-consuming desperation to be somewhere better than where we are. The funny thing about art, there is no wrong or right. There is no success or failure, it is all up to the opinions of the on-lookers, the decision makers and the passers-by. Success is based on collective personal tastes and sometimes sheer luck. If success is happiness and we are artists, how do we deal with the unsuccessful times?

We want to please, we want to entertain, to move, to touch and to change people with our art. We have this unwavering urge to do something that changes and affects our audiences. We want to brighten up that one person’s day who only a few hours ago felt worthless. We want to make the selfish, self-centred person think of another’s suffering for a once and to be moved by it. That seems to be the centre of it all when you’re an artist. You want to tell a story, whether it’s your own or another person’s, you have a story to tell. The thing is, in this fast-paced world of the Instafamous and the Youtube millionaires how do we deal with no money, no job, no recognition and no respect?

Failure is inevitable, unhappiness and feelings of worthlessness and ‘what’s the point?’ are unwelcomed guests in our minds. Sometimes I wonder why I want to act, or sing, or dance, or write or do any of this. Why does this have to be the thing that I am drawn to every day? Why does this have to be the thing I think about constantly? Why does this have to be the only thing I want to do? I need to make money, I need to eat, I need to feel a sense of accomplishment and success. People need to recognise my efforts as an artist before I can say I’m successful. Wait – do they?  When they do is that when I can finally call myself a successful artist?

I feel as though I am constantly at the mercy of other people. I am at the mercy of the important decision-makers who will decide if and when I am a working actress. I am at the mercy of the casting directors, the producers, the directors and my peers who will be the ones to decide if my efforts have been fruitful. I aim to please them. In all my artistic ventures I aim to show them that yes, I am successful and talented. I aim to be what they need me to be so they can give me a real job. Their harsh words hurt me, their advice and ‘feedback’ eats away at me for months. Their seemingly helpful constructive criticisms gash holes in my soul but I continue to show up ready to be torn down.

So then, if this is what reality is, how can I justify this journey? There came a point recently where I allowed myself to be privy to some unwelcomed ‘advice’ from a decision maker. The words took over my mind and I didn’t see a point in what I was doing. I felt like a failure, like my continued venture of aiming to please these people was utterly pointless. It was pointless and it still is. After many hours of tears, I came to realise I was done trying to please. I am an artist because that is what I am and no one can stop or change that. No casting director, no critic, no producer, no agent, no director and none of my peers can decide whether or not I am an artist. No one can decide that besides me, myself and I.

I needed to really think about why I wanted to do this and what I hoped to achieve. Money? Yes, that would be nice. Recognition and respect? Sure, I won’t say no to that. Feeling like I have changed or moved at least one person? Absolutely. That is the thing that makes me live every day for this. I want to do this because I love it but deeper than that, I want to tell meaningful stories that will shape and change people for the better. I want to give a voice to the misunderstood, I want to make people laugh, I want to make people cry, I want to make people think about the world and to challenge the so-called norm. I want to be ugly, beautiful, angry, happy, sad, in love, heartbroken and everything that makes us human. If I am true to that and work every piece with that kind of integrity I think I can say I’ve succeeded. I think I can call myself an artist and be at peace with that.

Happiness is key therefore doing what makes you happy, content and fulfilled should be considered a huge success. Think about all the people who can’t do what makes them happy because of circumstances beyond their control. Think of those who are so consumed with their own fear they never follow their heart. We are successful because we wake up every day ready to do what we love. Let’s all try to remember that the next time someone tells us we can’t, we aren’t good enough or that we aren’t what we are – artists.

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