Updated: Apr 22, 2019
One of the biggest roadblocks to sustaining a creative career is fear. And American culture is running wild with it these days. It's hard not to long for the days of simpler times... Ignorance is bliss, right?
If ignorance is not bliss, it certainly lends itself to blind confidence, which is extremely helpful in the pursuit of an entrepreneur...or anything that goes against the grains of the norm (such as art). With a deeper understanding and more knowledge comes more fear: fear of possibility, probability, the unknown (i.e. knowing there is an unknown!).
And yet, we can not remain innocent forever, especially in the age of the internet. Nor should we. Fear holds value and when we learn to measure that value, we can open previously obstructed doors to opportunity.
As I demonstrated in The Mirror Effect, every moment is a choice between fear and love. Why is it easier to fall back on fear than to move forward with love? Author and fellow blogger Eric Barker described negative thinking like this:
Thousands and thousands of years ago, Caveman #1 thought a snake was a stick, got bitten, died and didn’t reproduce. Caveman #2, who walked around petrified that every stick was a snake, had lots of kids and now we’re stuck with brains that create problems even when there aren’t any.
To further evolution, learned behavior like this must be held in juxtaposition with the entrepreneurial spirit, or measured risk-taking. It is this beautiful balance that gives meaning to our choices.
By recognizing that sometimes our subconscious chooses fear for us, we can start to deconstruct those fears and address them with love. This process recalls the Sustainability Cycle (Exploration, Inclusion, & Evolution) and is an effective way to live your life, but it's especially useful for a career so marginalized as that of the artist.
Although we certainly see successful artists, sustainable careers are few and far between, e.g. Aerosmith, Ron Howard, Tyra Banks, etc. In the interest of equalizing the playing field let’s focus on why the many fall behind the few.
Everyone has an X factor: that unique combination of talent, personality, thinking patterns, learned behavior, and belief systems that make a person who they are. Sometimes your X works for you, maybe even granting privileges. Sometimes it’s against you, especially if you’re met with systematic discrimination, exclusion, and/or inequality.
Just because one person’s X does not grant the same advantages as another’s does not mean it isn’t beneficial. In fact, it is precisely your X that is your greatest asset! Allowing it to be defined by another can muddy the path to sustainability. Your X factor, or unique self, is found by practicing authenticity.
And really, the only way to reach your fullest potential is to face your fears. If you have not met the same "success" as the artists you admire most, then it is up to you to find #AnotherWay. Proceeding in the face of the unknown...is to conquer fear.
Centuries ago it was popular opinion that the world was flat. Fear prevented people from venturing out to test that theory, fear of falling off the Earth! Explorers proceeded against those fears and discovered the world as we know it today (round). They, along with the help of scientists driven to prove the unknowable, found a balance between fear and the entrepreneurial spirit. The world, and the people in it, evolved.
There is also a fear of change at work here. Challenging the status quo threatens to overturn the complex structure of society. Artists often find themselves within an exploitive system that values the whole by suppressing the individual. In How to Think Like an Entrepreneur, Philip Delves Broughton writes:
Bringing change to an established market, introducing a novel political idea, adopting a new creative technique or changing the expectations of an audience can require a degree of force. ... [This] can make entrepreneurs easy targets for criticism. Until, of course, they are proved correct, and suddenly they are glorious rebels, the heroes of our capitalist age.
If popular opinion was never challenged we would still believe the world to be flat. Culture would remain static. So change is actually a good thing when we're not participating in systematized oppression through traditional hierarchical models.
Fear of change is also what holds back Arts education. The current system that marginalizes the Arts is broken. It's the devil our society knows...that doesn’t mean it’s better. Once upon a time the Greeks, Mayans, and even Egyptians valued art as an essential component of the human condition, integrating it into their social structures.
And yet today, the Arts are viewed through a fearful lens because they have been cast out of our most important institutions: government and "big" business (a.k.a. the corporation). The Arts are where the outrageous comes from: controversial music videos, risqué fashion design, gender-bending dance performance, and thought-provoking theatre.
Even so, I like to point out the hypocrisy of politics, which has perhaps topped the outrageous scale in recent years. When the stigma, insecurity, and fear that holds us down is released, we can see clearer. This applies not only to the individual, but to society as a whole.
A quick run-down of other fears that artists face (all of which deserve their own blogs):
Fear of hard work/growing up: This is only a fear when “hard work/growing up” means compromising your passion. Change the definition by recognizing those fears and replacing it with #AnotherWay.
Fear of money: This is found in both artists and businesses. Artists are afraid to ask for money and businesses are afraid to allocate livable fees to artists. But there is always #AnotherWay if both sides are open, authentic, and commit to common ground.
Fear of criticism: Sometimes you hit and score, sometimes you strike out. But if you don’t keep stepping up to bat, you’ll be out of the game.
In a vivid meditation I once saw an anthropomorphized wrecking ball, complete with face and arms, in direct combat with...me! It was injured from trying to clear out my negativity and fear. Every time it came in for a swing I pushed back hard - we were both bloody and exhausted. I realized in that moment that fear is the poison that prohibits growth. It was scary to let go, but when I let it finally demolish my fear, I felt open and free. (Disclaimer: This is an ongoing process that never ends! That is why we strive for balance.)
So maybe it’s time to start appreciating the artistic value you have instead of fearing what it will do for you. Bring your X-factor alive and start opening those doors to sustainability!
Emileena is writing a book on artist development called ANOTHER WAY.
Original Artwork by Dave Law, freelance visual artist and illustrator. For more, please visit www.davelawart.com.
If you are an artist looking for development, consider Emileena's E-Velop program.