redefining artistic success

At the very beginning, I thought I wanted to have lots of gigs.

Then, I thought I wanted fancier gigs that made more money.

I bought some tricked-out gear and thought that would make a difference.

I tried a whole bunch of different genres, and never truly felt settled into any one thing.

Frustration bubbled up. It felt as though I had failed at things I knew how to do, and well. Something was lacking, and nothing fit. These feelings didn't say anything true about my worth or skills, but they did tell me something about where I was putting my energy and what I thought I wanted.

Here it was: the things I was running after and what I really valued were at odds with each other. Each "next thing" had elements of work that I enjoyed and craved, but I realized that there were elements of that work I craved, but that it didn't fit with the other parts of my life.

So it wasn't a failure. It was a reconfiguring. It was an awakening.

To use a gardening metaphor, I was trying to grow something suited for shade in the sun, and sun in the shade. By rearranging my pursuits to fit my actual (newly-discovered) values, my life felt more livable. I could still cram my time to the brim (a bad habit of mine), but the things I pursued didn't really feel like work. It was just what I did.

Through a slow process of trying lots of things and learning what I did and didn't like, a lot of assumptions about what my success should look like started to die.

  • making a certain amount of money (a lot)
  • working close to 40 hours a week
  • specializing in one kind of creative work
  • that this would never change or fluctuate in any way

This last idea--that the plan/map for success is a static thing--is probably the most obviously hard-headed, but is also the hardest one to let die. But it's the most important one to let go of, because it's so inhuman. After all, as my life changes, my needs will change. Stability is something that I crave, but that's never guaranteed. Life could throw a curveball at me and I'll end up in a completely different place. So who's to say that it will stay the same?

And letting go will let me redefine everything and unchain me to pursue what really fits.