Once we have learned the building blocks of our art (singing, painting, photography, whatever) there is a period in the careers of most artists when we are struggling to break through and make a name for ourselves. We are lost in the woods, looking a way out. We want to go from a student to a star as quickly as possible but my advice is to relax and make the most of our time in obscurity.
I remember being in my early 20s. I knew how to sing, I’d recorded a couple of albums, and I was getting a bit of attention. I was desperate to “make it” and it had to be quick. I was very anxious that the clock was ticking and that if I didn’t make it within a year or so, I would miss my moment forever. If a career could be defined on a scale of 1 to 10, I was at 3 and wanted to skip straight to 8, a bit like an X Factor winner.
I didn’t realise the value of serving my time and putting in real legwork. In my 20s I was full of cocky confidence. I felt invincible and ready to take on the world – exactly as anyone that age should feel. But of course the more I learned the more I realised I didn’t know. In my 30s I was more hesitant, more respectful of the opportunities I had and more aware of how lucky I was. This was my time in the woods, figuring out my place, what I could do and where I wanted to go. You see, getting serious attention means serious expectations from your audience. You have to keep delivering, improving and giving people more than they expect. If you’re not ready for that, you’ll soon fail.
When Eddie Cantor said it takes 20 years to be an overnight success, this is what he was talking about. When we start, we want the big money gigs straightaway, but those gigs come with high expectations and a lot of pressure; if you’re not ready you won’t last long. Your time in the woods is your safe place to learn and to make mistakes. Use it wisely and when opportunity knocks you’ll be ready.