Wherever you turn, another salesperson with a perfect white smile has a surefire set of steps to certify your creative success. Yet you can buy a hundred guides, or attend dozens of expensive seminars on craft, money-making, or building the perfect online shop for your art with no guarantee of success.
The only common element all successful creatives can point to is persistence. It’s what famed doctor and social activist Patch Adams calls “hanging in there, joyfully.”
But how does one become persistent in the face of rejection, criticism, and the day-to-day realities of making a living?
You have to care about what you’re doing on a deep level, in some way that drives you out of bed every morning. In other words, it is very much as Joseph Campbell said, that you must “follow your bliss”—or rather, your joy. That passion sets alight the coal that powers your creative engine, and stokes it when discouragement throws cold water on your efforts.
You generate passion by asking what matters to you, not anyone else. Not the gatekeepers or opinion makers. Before you can ever appeal to an audience, you first have to turn your own muse on. Also, make lists of things that excite you and stimulate your senses and intellect. What sets your creative energy on fire?
You must, as writer Natalie Goldberg suggests, “Love the world”—which means use your natural sensitivity and creativity to find meaning in the world around you—and then bring it into your creative practice. This may be an affinity for certain patterns you find in nature, social justice causes you want to write about, or a different media you’ve been dying to try.
If you’ve ever seen a toddler pitch a fit over not wanting to do what a parent asks, you’ve got a glimpse into the inner working of your own ego when faced with work or art you don’t enjoy. While following one’s bliss may not be look the same for every creative person, if you don’t find a way to infuse passion or enthusiasm into your creative life, you may find your inner toddler digging in with intense resistance, which leads to despair and discouragement.
You stay persistent by tuning out negative voices, consistently carving out time for your art and work, and practicing self-care to keep yourself a healthy, open channel for your muses.
Being persistent is also important beyond material success. Persistence creates flexibility and the ability to change. When you’re in it for the long haul, you don’t see every failure or setback as a reason to give up, but as an experiment, and part of a process that simply isn’t finished yet. This leads to healthier self esteem and a greater likelihood of success because you keep coming back to the table.
Time and time again successful authors, actors, filmmakers, designers say the same things about their success: I stayed true, I didn’t give up, I hung in there, I listened to my instincts, I persisted.
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