As a professional artist, hearing “yes” is the highly rare exception, so I think many artists have to find a way to deal with the constant stream of rejection. In the past, I’ve always kept a pessimistic outlook, as means of trying to protect myself from professional disappointment. I guess the premise I had was that if I told myself from the beginning that something wasn’t going to work out, that somehow, it would hurt less if something failed and would be a pleasant surprise if it succeeded. Pessimism is not a pleasant mindset to have, but in the past it seemed like a better option than going in with blind optimism and then being caught off guard with disappointment. Somehow, I thought if I anticipated the failure that it wouldn’t be as painful when it happened.
However, I’ve now realized that defensive pessimism has no place, which is a first for me. I told a friend about how I was using pessimism as a protective mechanism, and she told me that once you’ve decided something isn’t going to work out, that you’ve basically killed it already. My friend was right, I can’t work on something if I tell myself it’s doomed to fail.
Even though I told myself that pessimism would protect me in the past, I don’t know that there are degrees of failure that hurt noticeably less than others. Failure is failure. I’ve been rejected enough times to know that every failure hurts in some way. I know now that there’s nothing I can do in advance to prevent that feeling when I fail. Pessimism is poisonous. For the first time that I can remember, I find myself envisioning success, and believing that things can happen. While failure is always there, this has lifted a huge burden from my shoulders and let me focus with great clarity. I don’t deny that if I fall, it’s going to hurt like hell, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
Setting small, manageable expectations also helps keep me going. I’ve found this approach very similar to parenting. Before I had kids, I had this ridiculous vision of my children only playing with wooden toys that were hand crafted from Switzerland, and how kind and perfectly patient I would be with my kids at the grocery store. Anyone who has kids would know what a bunch of hogwash that vision is, and how many times we have all been that stereotypical parent yelling at their kids in public. Today, my new perspective on parenting is “are my kids alive and in their beds at the end of the day?” If the answer is yes, then I’m okay. Same goes for this project, “is my work still alive today?”