Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Overcoming Discouragement: Stop it before it stops you!

This post is outside my normal content vein. But in my 5+ years working as a professional artist, knowing and interacting with myriad other artists, gaining insight into their various frustrations, seeing so many of them give up....and many times feeling that way myself. I wanted to share some of what I’ve gained from all of it. While this post is written by me (an artist) and much of it relates to the profession, I hope everyone can see the value in it and how it pertains to all aspects of life, regardless of your career.

One minute you’re at the height of your game, productive, inspired, happy. Then all of a sudden it’s like a downward spiral into the depths of pure unadulterated self-loathing. What the hell happened?

A lot of times, comparing ourselves to others is a useful tool. It helps us understand our current positions, where we are and where we want to go. It’s great to utilize the tools that have been left for us by those who have been there, done that. But what happens when it starts getting discouraging? When you feel like nothing but a small speck in the shadow of someone else’s magnificence? When did this healthy sense of self inventory become so crippling?

I came to this important realization several years ago: You never feel as successful as you are- nor as successful as you want to be. It’s just like money, or crack (though I wouldn’t know from personal experience) you can never have enough.

So the question becomes: How do I make what I already have, feel like enough? How can I be happy with me, in my current position, right now?

Every time we succeed, we’re propelled forward and the yardstick against which we measure our “success” changes. We set higher standards for ourselves which is what motivates us to strive for something better. It also keeps us from ever feeling successful or complete. When you need a quick fix, try measuring your current circumstances against last year’s expectations. How do your recent accomplishments measure up against the yardsticks from 5 years ago, 10 years ago? Instant ego boost!

“Get rich quick, count your blessings.” –Unknown.

So you’ve been wallowing, wondering how and why you can possibly suck so much at everything. (No? Just me?) How’s that going for you? We all have down days, and that’s perfectly ok! But don’t allow yourself lay anchor.

Another important realization I came to: No matter who you are or what you do, you too have cast an intimidating shadow at some point. In one way or another someone has felt dwarfed by your skills, your abilities, your successes.

We all get 15 minutes of fame, right?

I think one of the most wide spread misconceptions is the idea that everyone else has it easier than we do. Not true!

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” –Plato

It’s important to put on your happy face, to put your best foot forward as it were...but because we all put on such a good facade, it creates an illusion that gets impossible to live up to.

The trick? Realizing just that. When you ask someone how they’re doing and they say “great!”, is that the truth or is that their persona? If you break down the walls, the acts and the social conformities, we’re all the same fragile, insecure beings.

How can you make yourself feel better without outside validation?

First, know that it’s normal, know that feeling discouraged every now and then is just part of the human condition. Don’t let your self esteem center on the thoughts/reactions/feedback of others.

“Base not your joy on the deeds of others, for what is given can be taken away.” –Peter Steele.

When you do something it should either be for yourself or the greater good, not because you’re expecting some kind of recognition. I think we place too high a value on the thoughts of others. Of course we need to coexist in harmony with those around us, we’re all part of the consensus! Consensus (the collective “norm” or zeitgeist) is very important and keeps us in check, but we can’t let it render us incapacitated.

I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, just wanted to share what’s worked for me. All you can do in life is equip your arsenal with as many tools as possible, utilizing the lessons and advice passed down by those who came before us. I think it’s our duty to pay it forward.

What do you do to overcome discouragement? Do you have any tried and true methods? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments section below =)

For those it serves...