[NOTE: This is a re-working of an old post of mine, from 2013–you’ll see it’s fitting today]
When I first wrote this piece, it started off with this:
Yesterday, I saw that a promising reporter was killed in an auto accident in Los Angeles. He was 33. This morning, there was news that a best-selling novelist had died of an aggressive cancer. He was 47. And now, as I sat down to begin writing this piece, the news confirmed that James Gandolfini (star of The Sopranos) had died. He was 51.
Today, we see the same kind of news, plus all those lost from the pandemic. As of today, almost 70,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Young and old, healthy and not. Gone.
I share this data with you not to depress; but rather to remind you that life is unpredictable and often way the hell too short. We don’t have much time–and yet we spend so much of that in fear and acting our of that fear. That, as the saying goes, is a god-awful shame. In the words of Mame Dennis Burnside (see Auntie Mame): LIVE! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! So, really, what are you waiting for? Do you expect all the planets to align to suddenly show you a safe path that will lead to happiness? That’s stone stupid. Won’t ever happen. You have to let go of your habitual reaction to living with fear. It’s always going to be there, but what you choose to do about it, well, that’s up to you.
Are you afraid of failing? Why? What is the worst that will happen? You’ll lose your home and end up living under a bridge someplace, and you have kids?
You read me right, that is just lame. Guess what! You can do everything right and that dark, bridge-living future can still happen. Have you noticed lately how many people are facing that or worse? One pandemic and, boom, the business is dead. So, it doesn’t do any good to be afraid of failing since not failing won’t save you.
You have one chance at this life (well, one conscious one, if the Hindus and Buddhists, et al., are right) and you have no control over when it will end. So, I ask again, What are you waiting for?
You chose to be an artist and with that came the requirement that you have faith. Not faith in a god (not that you can’t have that) but faith in yourself, in your art, and that somehow you’ll make it all work. That’s fabulous. It’s amazing. It’s actually empowering, if you stop shaking in your boots long enough to remember it.
Being an artist requires you actually acting on that faith. You can’t say I choose to be a photographer/designer/writer and then play it safe. You have to do. You have to leap. You have to try and fail (or succeed) and try again and fail (or succeed) and keep doing that over and over again. Success and failure will cycle throughout your business, just like in the rest of your life. So you have to risk and push and do and try and fail and keep the hell at it.
For the rest of your life.
That is the bargain you agreed to when you chose to be a professional artist. You have to make, and do, and (sometimes) make do.
The one thing you cannot do is wait for things to be perfect before taking the next step. I’m sick of hearing artists say I can’t send the promo because the site isn’t perfect or I’m not sure my list/promo/portfolio/edit/studio/haircut is perfect so I can’t____. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
If you make some excuse for not doing, even now in the pandemic, then (when you can) get a “normal” job; you don’t deserve to call yourself an artist. You don’t have the guts.
I say that with love (you know that, I hope, by now), but it is true. Besides, I bet dollars to doughnuts you do have the guts. You must have had at some point or you never would have chosen to be an artist. You just need to re-find ’em. Now is the perfect time for that.
Now, in the pandemic, is the perfect time to take a good, long, hard work at your work and your business. Are you making YOUR work, not chasing someone else’s (including the “market’s”) trend? Are you valuing it enough? Ask yourself, What would I do differently if I knew there was no way to play it safe?
Frankly, this is true for any profession. It’s as true for me as it is for you. We have to get out there and do. We can’t be bound up by the fears of getting stuff wrong (which, by the way, has much worse ramifications in my profession than yours) or failing. We have to do and leap and try. Every bloody day. And these dark times give us the downtime to check in on ourselves to make sure we are still honoring the choices we made, like to be an artist.
Not only will doing this give you your best shot at being successful (and it will), it will make you happier in the process. Following your dream, doing what you love, isn’t that worth the risk of trying? Why be an artist if you never make your own art, the stuff that lurks deep in your soul? Do it.
Life is (sadly) short for too many people. We are really learning this truth in this pandemic. We don’t know when our last breath will come. No matter how well we treat our bodies, it is ultimately out of out control when Death will say “Howdy.” So we can’t control that, but we can control what we do while we’re here on this Earth. Each of you deserves to love the life you have, every bit of it but especially your work in it. The only way for that to happen is to try, to do, to make your art, to follow your dream, to risk, to fail, and to do it all again the next day.
So, what are you waiting for?