5 Things I Would Tell My Younger Self About Being An Artist

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What Would You Tell A Younger Version Of Yourself?

As much as we’d like to advise our younger selves, pointing hindsight into the past is like shining a flashlight towards space. There’s nothing that we can do now—but we can change our futures & the futures of others.

The purpose of memory is to look back and learn from our mistakes. In this life we must sacrifice our youth in order to gain knowledge from our experiences, both good & bad.

I can’t change my past, but I can share ways that I intend to improve my future. Maybe you’re like I was at one point, a young artist with no direction, no mentors, and little experience. It’s my hope that these points will save you a lot of pain and inspire you on your journey.

1. You Must Embrace Failure

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Creativity is a gift.

But along with that gift comes a very heavy burden.

The default of the creative life is rejection. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of creative endeavors end in failure. The likelihood of making a successful career as an artist, writing a best selling novel, or snapping an iconic photo are slim (astronomical). Honestly, you probably have a better chance of walking on the moon.

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Kurt Vonnegut kept his rejection letters in a candy box.

People like the idea of being an artist, but they’re often not willing to pay the cost—to carry the load.

So the way I see it, you have two options:

Option One: You consider the fact that most of your work will end in failure and rejection. Yet in spite of this profound frustration, disappointment, and subsequent loneliness—you persist. You carry the burden of the artist—you embrace failure. Because if you aren’t failing as an artist, you’re not trying.

Option Two: You realize the landscape of an artist’s life is so pockmarked by obstacles, setbacks, and defeats that it’s not worth trying.

Bonus Option Three: You can have the security of a recession proof, plague proof, cultural upheaval proof job with insurance and retirement and still be an artist. Whew. But the failure thing still exists. 

Realize that in the art world, there are a few people at the top. All of them have failed at some point, yet none of them have quit.

2. Cultivate A Bulldog’s Tenacity

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My wife and I didn’t know anything about bullies when we adopted Margot. But we learned quickly that they smell, they snore loudly, and if you don’t feed them right, they fart a lot. You also have to clean the creases in their jowls & wipe their butts because they can’t reach them on their own.

Aside from their lack of personal hygiene, bulldogs have a lot of really great personality traits. They’re attention whores (at least Margot is). They don’t seem to care about what/who they sit on. Their expressions are very human like, which makes them good talking buddies. Bulldogs are also tremendously courageous.

Bulldogs get their name from being bread to literally fight bulls (enormous stereotypically mean animals). This aspect of Margot’s nature is expressed when she tries to chase every large truck or vehicle that motors by on our walks. The louder it is, the more she wants to chase it and——eat it? I’m not really sure what her plans would be.

She is tiny in comparison to say—a train. Yet somewhere deep in her dog brain, she towers over iron monsters like a dire wolf.

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It’s not that Margot doesn’t have fear. I’ve watched her cower in a bedroom corner during a thunderstorm. The difference is in her mindset. She does not tip toe through life. She does not stop to hesitate. She doesn’t see obstacles, she simply puts her head down and barrels through. 

This is the mindset that you must cultivate as an artist. It’s not so much the ability to overcome the fear & anxiety—because that will always be present. It’s the tenacity to ignore the obstacles, put your head down, and plow through like a bulldog.

It doesn’t hurt to be a bit of an attention whore either. 

3. Learn To Ignore The Haters—Both External & Internal

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe. I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened. ——Mark Twain

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I think one skill every artist needs to develop is the ability to not care about what others think. Even more so, they must learn ways to ignore their own worst critic—their inner dialog.

Let’s start by addressing the external “haters”. First off, are people really hating or are you making it up in your mind? The truth is, most people don’t care—they have problems of their own. If they are genuinely critical of the choices you’re making—remember that in 100 years everyone you know will likely be dead. So who cares what they think now.

There is an amazing freedom that’s associated with not caring about the opinions of others. If you’re held down by what others think (imaginary or not)—you become stagnant. That’s the opposite of what you want to be as an artist. Artists must pursue action, otherwise they die.

As for our worst critic, our inner voice—we must silence it by training our minds through hard work, discipline, and perspective. Focus on the small victories, remember all that you’ve overcome, and when you catch yourself going down a dark path, change your thinking patterns by reading an inspirational story or message.

4. The Myth Of The Tortured Artist

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Jack Kerouac wrote one of my favorite books, On The Road. I’ve read it several times and I have quotes from it hanging around my house.

Kerouac also drank himself to death.

Society paints artists as these dark, brooding, mentally unstable individuals who translate their pain into art. The truth is, a lot of artists are addicts—there seems to be some sort of correlation between creatives and addictive behaviors. Maybe because in order to create something amazing, you must obsess about it to the point where it resembles an addiction. Nevertheless, you don’t have to become an alcoholic to be a writer. You don’t have to experience pain to make meaningful art.

You can turn your pain into art. But you can also turn your joy, your curiosity, and your humor into art.

If you’re not careful, creativity can take you out.

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There’s a long list of young iconic artists who died before their time. Would it have been better had they lived longer and continued making art? Absolutely.

Creative types are inherently sensitive by nature. It’s what helps us see the world differently. Therefore, I believe it’s our responsibility to recognize our potential dark side—in order to draw from it. Choose meditation, physical fitness, and cognitive behavioral therapy over drugs & alcohol. You’ll be a more productive artist.

5. Write Like Your Life Depends On It

I listened to a podcast recently, and without going into great detail, there was a story about a man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to 20-50 years in prison.

He was faced with two options: die in prison or do something about it.

So he borrowed books from the library and slowly began teaching himself law. He somehow managed to acquire an old typewriter and began writing his way out of prison. After years of living in a cage, learning, growing, and writing—his conviction was overturned and he became a free man.

He literally gained his life back through his writing.

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I was so inspired by this story that I printed out a little typewriter graphic and pinned it to my white board. This will serve as a reminder for several things:

  1. People are suffering around the world right now. Yet somehow they find the will to create.
  2. Something as simple as the written word is powerful enough to save a life.
  3. Absolutely don’t wine when things aren’t going your way—you have your freedom.
  4. Every day you sit down to write, write like your life depends on it.

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These meditations can be applied to any art form. Replace writing with paint, sing, dance, etc. Because our lives do depend on it. I mentioned in number 4 that “creativity can take you out”—it can also save your life. If you treat your creative endeavors with that sort of adoration, who knows what you could achieve.

Who knows how many lives you could save?

 

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