We artists love to create. We get inspired and we go to work. Our latest project is always the most exciting and it’s easy to assume that everyone will agree that our latest album, show, song, or whatever, is just what the world’s been waiting for. That is, until the release date arrives, we share our new masterpiece with the world and other than a few likes on Facebook, nothing much happens, the world keeps turning and everyone moves on.
There are two secrets to avoiding constant disappointment in your career: the first is to create work that makes you happy, the second is to set realistic goals.
I once made an album that I thought would get lots of radio play, in fact, I made it specifically to get lots of radio play. I didn’t particularly like some of the songs but I recorded them because I thought the DJs would. They didn’t. So, I was left with something that no one liked, not even me. Since then I’ve made albums mainly for myself. They are more fun to make and if no one else likes them, I know I do. If you get joy from your work, it matters less what other people think, and that’s why making realistic goals matters.
When I buy a lottery ticket I know I’m in with a chance to hit the jackpot. But it’s such a small chance that I don’t hold my breath when the numbers are called, I assume they won’t be. I believe a similar dose of stoical realism is useful in our artistic careers.
We artists are passionate about creating. Our hearts go into our work. What we do matters and we can’t help but care (at least a little) what others think about it. We want our work to be seen and heard but if our measure of success is getting a number record or being exhibited in the National Gallery, the odds are, we’ll probably end up disappointed.
I would argue that it’s better to have realistic expectations, or even be a little pessimistic. For it is in unrealistic expectations that the seeds of disappointment and the bitterness are born.
When I look back at my work I see the albums that I thought might make my name, the mentions on the radio that I thought would lead to bigger things, the television appearances that I thought would land me a recording deal, and the podcasts that might have led to my own radio show. None of those things happened so you could say that everything I’ve done has actually been a failure, but that would be a mistake. Our careers are the sum of all of our little wins and achievements. Rarely does one thing automatically lead to the next. It’s not that linear. We have a great gig or release a great album and then we move on to the next thing. Over the years, we slowly build a reputation, collecting fans and admirers as we go – and it’s this sum of little wins that we should focus on, not short-term disappointments. Focus on doing what you love, enjoy the journey and the rewards will come.