What Does Success Mean To You?
The word “success” can conjure up a variety of confusing definitions. On the one hand, it’s a tangible goal every creative strives toward- to be known, to have influence and to pay the bills as an artist instead of a 9-to-5 worker. On the other hand, it’s easy to feel like success eludes you- there’s always more to learn, more to perfect, more to create, more to earn.
True success is as personal as creativity itself. How you define it for yourself is a major step in your professional journey. It doesn’t always have to do with notoriety or financial gain. To understand that success isn't always monetary, look to street photographer Vivian Maier or poet Emily Dickinson- both of whom were unknowns while they were alive, only to be posthumously discovered and lauded as creative geniuses. In another way, you can look to the dissolution of every boy band of the 1990s to understand that great financial success doesn’t mean you'll feel fulfilled as an artist. Financial success and adoring fans may come and go, but it's more important that what you do is meaningful over the long haul.
You must discover your own definition of success. And a good way to start is to practice checking in with yourself. Look at where you are in your career. Maybe you’re just starting out, or perhaps you’ve been in your particular industry for years. Wherever you are, notice which experiences, opportunities and connections you have. Even if your current place isn't the picture of success you dreamt of as a kid, you can find success when you find gratitude for what does exist in your life. Ask yourself: what am I able to do now that I wasn’t able to do before?
Cataloging your experiences helps you determine how far you’ve come. Perhaps you once felt art school was a long way off, but here you are about to graduate. Maybe you never thought you’d make a living using your creativity, and yet you sell your paintings to pay the rent. Wherever you are in your journey, notice where you started and where you are now. Look at this timeline with gratitude and with an openness that anything is possible if you commit to working hard for it.
Another way to determine your own success is to examine how you create your art. Look at your days and evaluate whether you have time to work on your craft. If you do, perhaps this in and of itself is success. Are you reinvesting in your creativity? Are you seeing shows, going to galleries, reading books or listening to podcasts for inspiration? If you have the ability to keep plugging away at growing as an artist, you're successful. The ability to self-educate and constantly grow means there are no limits to what you can do.
Finally, are you growing as a human being? Working as a creative is a deeply fulfilling way to live your life. Are you letting the lessons you learn from your work filter into different areas of your life as well? Allowing yourself to develop as an artist inevitably impacts your ability to become a more well-rounded and curious human being. The feeling that you're growing as a person can be extremely satisfying. In this way, contentment and happiness are markers of success.
Success is yours to define. Try not to compare your own path to someone else’s. Their definition of success might not align with your standards and values. There are infinite possibilities of who you can be as an artist. Likewise, there are just as many possibilities, if not more, of what kind of success you can achieve. Stay true to your instincts and your intuition. Be relentless in tapping into that deeply rooted self-knowledge only you can know. Let yourself enjoy the moment you’re in, and be grateful for every day you get to work and live creatively. Success doesn’t look much more different than that.