Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself an artist, if you're a highly competitive person, you should probably stop reading right now. If you're sincerely motivated by the desire to Win or Be Number One or Claw Your Way To The Top No Matter What It Takes (TM), then you and I have very different values. Seriously, if this is the kind of thing that pumps you up:
...then go get your thinspiration elsewhere. I am not about that shit.
No, this advice is for the people like me who hover somewhere between total self-assuredness and utter self-loathing. It's amazing how narrow that gap can seem; it's easy to momentarily lose your footing in one and wind up inexplicably in the other. And that slip/transition does, oddly enough, go both ways.
If you've been throwing creative pasta at the wall for long enough, you've already read all the advice about sticking it out and not reading your reviews and inspiration/perspiration ratios and the importance of showing up. I'd like to refine that and modify it and give you two things I've learned that, from my perspective, yield the most relief from anxiety and access to continued creativity. I'm happier when I keep these things in mind, and my muse tends to hang around for longer. It's win-win-win, assuming my muse is an interested party.
1. Giving up is not an option. Hopefully, any hyper-competitive alphas who sweat pure testosterone and cortisol have already left the conversation to go do burpees until they get rhabdo, so the rest of us can reframe this concept in a more literal and less aggro way. I have no intention of screaming "QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION" in your face until you poo yourself. This is about freeing ourselves from non-existent deadlines and harmful ways of viewing the passage of time.
A lot of artists struggle with when. When will I finish this book? When will I get an agent? When will I get my first gallery show? When when when? The answer to that is unknowable. Either sometime or never. That's the best you can do.
Most of us who make self-expression a huge part of our identity don't actually have much of a choice about that. For me, writing and stand-up feel compulsive, inevitable. They're like air and water. I can't really live without them.
When you finally acknowledge the power of your personal motivation to make art, you can stop being so fixated on the false timeline of benchmarks (awards, fat paychecks, television appearances, whatever). You can stop telling yourself that, if by thirty-_____ years old you still haven't ______ yet, you'll go do something else. Because even if you go do something else for money, you will never want to stop doing your art.
You do it because you love it, not because it makes you famous. So you never have to give up.
Once you realize that giving up creativity is not possible, then you can take your time and chill out and let your art life run its course. Maybe someday you'll be massively commercially successful. Definitely someday you'll die. In the mean time, if you're creating because you're driven to create, you never ever have to quit, even if you don't make enough money to support yourself for years at a time. Or ever. You can take a break, stop for a decade, scale back, try something new, free yourself, and always know that your creativity will be there because it is a part of you. You cannot give up a part of you. You will always have it. (Perhaps you can kill it. But you'd have to kill a lot of yourself to succeed with that... and it's probably a discussion for another time.)
2. Always be kind to yourself. This is a good reminder for absolutely anyone, but artists seem to need it more than most. I think we get caught up in trying to see ourselves the way "they" see us, in an effort to refine our arguments or reach our audience or find a pathway to greater exposure. It can be pretty maddening, and can quickly devolve into full-scale multi-angled relentless self-criticism.
Fortunately, loving yourself isn't the gateway to smug tone-deaf cockiness that many of us fear it might be. You can still be disciplined about your work and be kind to yourself. You can still grow. In fact, it makes growing easier.
Rejection comes quick and often when you're attempting to find recognition and recompense in a creative field. Many of us are taught from an early age that all forms of rejection are preventable, within our control, and totally our fault. "He dumped you? Is it because you gained weight?" "You didn't get the part? Well, you probably didn't practice enough." And so on. Our internal derisiveness ultimately grows to be even more harsh and critical than anything we heard from family, peers, teachers, or coworkers along the way.
If you can manage to catch yourself before you create some pathetic and self-hating narrative to explain away your struggles, if you can manage instead to offer yourself comfort and care and kindness, the pain of those disappointments quickly loses all its power. And that pain can be big pain. That pain can be destructive pain. That pain can suck your soul and shut you down and cut off your access to that creative part of you, sometimes for a long time. Nipping it in the bud is an act of self-preservation. It's a good deed, a mitzvah, a service to the world.
No matter where you are in your artistic life cycle, always be kind to yourself. Kindness will carry you through your development, kindness will nurture your natural gifts into maturity, kindness will reward your hard work when nothing else and nobody else does.
That's all I got, kids. Those two work for me. They're not much like the typical American motivational slogans, but I guess I just don't jibe with the typical American motivations. But just in case you like my advice and you're a NASCAR fan, I can make you a patch too:
There it is. Namaste, bro.