People are quick to consign you to the ranks of the washed up, especially if you are trying something new, something brave and something you have always wanted to do. There is risk attached to going it alone on a new project, especially an art project which is a radical departure from how you have spent your waking hours to date. No doubt about it. The whole thing could end up a monumental failure. But when is the right time to attempt such a thing? Before you have kids? When you become independently wealthy? When you retire? Never?
It takes a tremendous amount of courage, self confidence, self belief, forward planning and luck to get to a point where you can try to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do. It’s a very rare opportunity, indeed. If you’re going solo, you need to draw on your reserves of skill and knowledge to go forward and produce things you haven’t produced much of before. Without the examples and proof of your body of work to silence the critics, the sceptics zero in. You’ll get asked if you have started looking for jobs yet. People will say things that indicate they have zero confidence in you being able to achieve what you are attempting to succeed at. There will be precious few people that genuinely believe you can get there.
Instead, you will tend to encounter very vocal and pointed detractors and those that damn with the faintest of praise. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps they don’t want you to succeed out of petty jealousy, or perhaps they imagine you don’t already know what a long shot you’re taking. Maybe they’re revealing that they always thought of you as one of those “also ran” kind of people. Perhaps they’ve never understood what your deepest passions and interests truly are and what lights you up and makes you tick. Whatever their reasons for trying to undermine your brave new venture, it’s none of your business. They can think what they think, for whatever reasons they do. It doesn’t mean anything to your project.
It’s daunting enough, to be written off before you have even really started to gather momentum, but you’ll also be facing a steep learning curve, lots of your own doubts and uncertainty (that you will constantly struggle to quiet) and there will be practical limitations you won’t have anticipated. If you suddenly start exercising parts of your mind and body that have lain more or less dormant, while you earned your keep in some day job, you will find that these will feel the sudden shock of new activity and feel tired, achy and stiff. You’ll feel fatigued and exhausted. Like training to run a marathon, out of the blue, after having lived a sedentary life in an office, everything you try to use to train for your marathon will be in abject agony, when you begin working toward your goal in earnest, at least initially. Eventually, though, you will build strength and resiliency, but it all takes time. You might not have enough time.
As we age, our abilities sometimes diminish – especially physical abilities. There is a finite window of opportunity to do the things that require some sort of physical dexterity and agility and you had better get your attempt in, before the rot closes you down. Leaving the attempt until late in life has the advantage of giving you a long run up to plan for the event, but the disadvantage of making the attempt with a body in less than peak condition. It’s not clear which is decisive. Going early, without sufficient wisdom, knowledge, learning and planning can be as disastrous as going too late, once you’re past it. Ignoring fashion for a moment, I think that artists actually improve markedly with age and produce works of greater depth, maturity and meaning in their later years. I realise that this is a minority view. Youth seems to be what the world desires.
All the great things in life have been achieved by people that they said couldn’t achieve them. Think about the really big deal achievements. In every case, there was an overwhelming, majority chorus of people saying that the thing they eventually did couldn’t possibly happen. Indeed, in many cases, the line between success and failure remained perilously thin, right up until the point where success was achieved. Sticking to it seems to be what matters most.
Who truly knows what you can and cannot achieve, until you try? That’s the point. If you never try, you can be assured you cannot. You cannot because you did not. If you try and fail, that’s still worth doing. If you cannot succeed at the thing you love most, which you have been planning to do since childhood and which you have rehearsed a thousand times in your mind’s eye, then what hope is there? Success might not mean being showered in riches and acclaim for having produced your secret masterpiece. Success, instead, might mean going to your grave content in the knowledge that you had a go, without the bitter, permanent regret of having never attempted what you had always wanted to attempt.
A solo art project, which displaces your role as household breadwinner, even if only temporarily, is an act of defiance and independence, as much as you don’t want it to be. It is, by its very nature, a statement that says, “This is me and this is what I love to do most.” That might be disquieting or inconvenient to others, but I think few of us can go through a lifetime without ever making an assertion like this. Tragic indeed would be the person that never revealed who they truly are or what they loved to do most.
So you might be consigned to the scrap heap and people might think you have volunteered to be so consigned, but what other choices are there, in reality? If you live your life in the dedicated service of other people’s goals, dreams and desires, you become a shell of a human being, frustrated, isolated, lonely and unhappy. At some point, you have to do what makes most sense to you, as crazy and unrealistic as that might seem to other people. And in so doing, you will still feel frustrated, isolated, lonely and unhappy, but perhaps you’ll be able to do what you said you were going to do after all. Perhaps the attempt will ultimately bring you some satisfaction, inner peace and deeper happiness.
If you’ve ever been written off as a failure, take heart. Success is how you define it. It’s not up to them.