In the rush to quantify success, there’s something important you might be missing!
I made the mistake of listening to an old voice message today, from someone I thought was a friend. She was responding to a question I had asked in a previous message—a simple request, but it would have required two things: (1) her vested interest in my well-being and (2) her willingness to vouch for my ability. Her response was wordy, but it can be easily summed: no.
She was not for me.
What surprised me most is that in the past I had supported her, vouched for her, even promoted her. I mean, I wasn’t asking for money or a co-sign on a car loan. It was merely a request to say in public “this is a person you should know; she has potential.”
Even listening to the message after so much time has passed, it still hit me like a bullet. If a friend isn’t for you, who is?
I once asked a “famous” family member a similar question and felt the same sting when she pushed me off. Apparently, rejection is a place and I’ve been there often.
So, my inclination is to turn inward, shut out the world and bury myself in pity. Forget all of them. I’ll rely on me!
But, all the slogans of self-reliance fall flat, because self-reliance is not enough. Every day the thorn of doubt pokes me in my side making me uncomfortable with success. Every day I question my ability to fulfill a very specific dream that exists only in my imagination. I move in a direction that circles me back to where I started and I can’t seem to step off of the merry-go-round.
Even I am not for me.
Whether it’s the rejection of a friend, betrayal of family or my own inability to rally, it’s the same thing day after day and I’m dizzy from the ride.
There is a story about a man who was called to do something hard, yet it seemed that he, too, was surrounded by opposition. As he was thinking about his challenge one day he happened upon a soldier who stood before him with his sword drawn. Frightened, Joshua asked, “are you with me or against me?”
“Neither” the man replied. “I represent God.”
Suddenly mine and Joshua’s opposition fades to black. Rather than “who is for me” should my question be “who am I for?” Rather than looking for approval and acceptance from people who will always disappoint, I am challenged to look inward and ask if I’m living my life for a higher purpose. If I am, then the opinions of others don’t matter. Being for God means seeking out his approval which I will always find. Being for God isn’t a cop out, it’s a step up! It requires a higher standard, perhaps even a more difficult road, but if I am for Him I get the benefit of His power. If I center my focus on what He has for me I can more easily tune out the noise of opinions, discouragement and negativity. I can rise above the microagressions and see more clearly the path that lies ahead. By looking up, rather than out I’m given an entirely different view of the challenges that lie ahead.
Being for God ensures that He is for me and “if God is for you who can be against you?”
Not even you.
In last week’s post I laid bare my own insecurities as a creative person pursuing success. I talked about how we (creatives) tend to define success as (1) having an audience, (2) getting applause and (3) achieving acclaim. But this week I’d like to disrupt these assumptions.
I believe there is a way to do our work, be fulfilled, and achieve success without an audience or applause!
Sound strange? Read on!
Enjoy the process
First of all, you have to do your work for the love of it. Whether you sing, play an instrument paint, write or draw, if you’re only doing it in order to get something—money, praise or fame—then you’d do better in sales. True creatives do their work because of a compulsion that transcends tangible rewards. If you get enjoyment from the very act of creation, whether people are around or not, then every time you sit down to practice your craft, you win!
Be your own audience.
When you’re in the audience you have a different perspective on the performance than if you’re performing. That perspective is important. After going through the creation process, step back from what you’ve created and examine it as if it wasn’t made by you. The only way to do this is to give yourself some time. Walk away from it, forget about it (as best you can) and only return to it when you can do so with fresh eyes. If you do, you will likely find ways to make it better. You know how great you feel right after you’ve made something? Let that feeling fade—it’s infatuation and it can be misleading. By putting some distance between it and you, you are removing yourself from the emotion which is necessary for creation, but bad for revision.
Think like an athlete…kind of
Athletes are focused on winning and they’re success or failure is measured by how much better they are than their competitors, but for artists, being motivated by comparison is a death sentence! To measure your success by the standard of others in your field is to secure your sense of failure! Why? Because you will never be them! And there will always be someone who does it better, earns more awards or makes more money than you. Not only that, to measure my success by the standard of other writers is to constantly chase a moving target! There are too many writers in the world, and far too many standards of “good writing” against which to measure my own ability.
However, there is another characteristic of a true athlete that I do think is valuable to imitate. While training, athletes don’t look at their competitor’s achievements. They look at their own. A runner trains to beat his/her own best time. Basketball players practice making more shots today than they did yesterday. Gymnasts challenge themselves to increasingly difficult moves—but the standard is theirs.
If you’ve enjoyed the process, then critiqued your work at a distance, you are in the best possible position to determine the next level to pursue. To do so without the pressure to best someone else’s best is to free yourself to achieve your own best! As Chrystal Hurst says “run your race.” Focus more on improving your skills than on promoting them.
Those singers on American Idol didn’t spend enough time with the process. They took the cake from the oven too fast and it flopped! Or, to use a gardening metaphor, they failed to cultivate their craft.
I love what Lara Casey says:
“Cultivating an intentional life is…faith in action. It means planting dreams in faith, even when we don’t know exactly how those dreams will grow—or if they will grow at all. But the possibility is worth the planting”
Did you catch that? Dreams are worth planting whether they grow or not! How can this be? Because there is something to be gained from the process that has nothing to do with your audience and everything to do with you! How will you be changed by your own work? How will the effort and difficulties you face make you stronger? This is how you achieve success and accomplish your dreams. You do your work. Period.
“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” (Proverbs 3:13-14)
Have you seen those singing competitions where the contestants belt out their very best only to become fodder for hungry judges. #eatenalive! The would-be singers are always shocked and dismayed by the audience they had hoped to impress, as hysterical or politely muted guffaws follow their crushed souls to the door. Now, putting aside the very real likelihood that many of these contestants are actually carefully selected characters intended to boost ratings, you know there are some who genuinely thought they were called to sing. We all know a person or two who believes this in her heart, don’t we? Yet every time he opens his mouth you want to cry!
What I wonder is…why are these singers so shocked when people cover their ears or stare in disbelief? Do they not hear the dissonance? What is it that compels them to chase their dreams in spite of clear deficiencies? Can their challenges be overcome? Some argue that certain talents can’t be taught—you either have it, or you don’t. What do you think?
We tell people to go for it! Chase your dreams, be persistent, don’t give up! But, what if you’re really bad? And worse–what if you’re bad and don’t know it? How do any of us know when we’re truly gifted? We could, like those bad singers, be blinded by ambition!
Sometimes people need encouragement. Sometimes they need to know the truth.
When I see non-singers assaulting audiences with their noise, I want to tell them to stop, but I also worry that I’m just like them! Maybe I, too, am guilty of “not hearing” it—and if so, who would tell me? Friends and family don’t want to hurt my feelings! I could be like those contestants whose loved ones send them on their quest for stardom with fanfare, then quietly close the door behind them and let loose! Maybe that’s me standing on the front porch, sun on my face–full of hope and possibility–blissfully unaware that behind me are folded hands and church fans snickering, “that poor girl thinks she can write.”