Three Steps to Success!

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)

 

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

Why Ambition Isn’t Enough

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.”

Photo by Simona Todorova on Unsplash

How Failure Can Help You Succeed

I love graduation season! It’s so awesome to celebrate the successes of family and loved ones.  This year we celebrated my niece who graduated with her master’s degree in Public Administration from American University. This girl is extraordinary! She’s charming and beautiful, as comfortable on the floor with her baby cousins as she is at an elegant table with dignitaries. She’s traveled the world and navigated influential political circles, and if you met her you might assume the path to success was laid out for her from the very beginning—that she is destined to be great.

But that’s not quite true.

I mean, she is destined to be great, but the path has not always been clear. You see, in high school she struggled to stay focused. In college, she did not—at first—balance well the responsibilities of school and social life. Like so many young people on their own for the first time, my girl finished her second year of undergrad behind the 8 ball!

Yet, despite her failures, she was, even then, moving in the direction of her destiny.  Although it was not apparent, something was happening.  She was growing up. She was figuring it out and preparing…

The path that led to her eventual success is one with which we are all familiar. Whether you’re 18 or 40, you can, no doubt, point to times when you’ve made poor choices or no choices! Perhaps you failed to start tasks or failed at tasks you started.  Failure is demoralizing, so we tend to avoid experiencing–and certainly avoid discussing—it.  We would rather pretend it doesn’t exist, or steer ourselves towards paths that are less risky—but at what cost? In his book Produced by Faith, Devon Franklin says “It is tempting to give ourselves an easy excuse not to audaciously pursue the career of our dreams [but] whoever said that faith was safe?” In other words, rather than avoiding or being ashamed of our failures, perhaps we should simply glean from them. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)

As my niece worked through her personal and academic challenges, she also learned that every experience eventually works together for good. Circumstances, too, can push us to make the choice we might not have had the courage—or the will—to do otherwise. For her, it was stepping onto campus and into her junior year of college alone!  The friends who’d been with her since freshman year were gone. For the first time she was face to face with herself and God’s purpose, with no distractions.

And that’s when it clicked.

The years of meandering culminated in two years of focus and hard work that not only propelled her out of undergrad with honors, but also into a prestigious graduate program with full financial support!

What circumstances are you facing that might be pushing you towards positive action? Have you avoided failure or shied away from the lessons that your failures might teach? Don’t let present or past failures immobilize you. Let them propel you! It may just be a matter of time before it clicks!

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Cover image by Canva