A few weeks back, I was at a holiday party, celebrating with my parents and their friends. There were two young kids, a brother and a little sister, each around 10 years old. They were running around the house for hours playing games while the adults chatted over drinks and dinner.
Eventually the kids got tired around 9pm, and they disappeared.
On my way to use the bathroom, I noticed that the little girl was not napping as I suspected, but instead she was hiding, curled up in the corner of the room on her iPhone. The bright glow shining on her face, she didn't even see me. Curious, I glanced over her shoulder to see what she was doing.
Funny enough, she was on Instagram, and she was scrolling as if she was sprinting away from the top of the feed. It was like a slot machine rotating so fast you couldn't even make out the images. She would stop every 10 or 12 images for a split second to like a photo, and then just keep going at that rate. She couldn't possibly be appreciating each of those images at all, let alone the captions, right?!
I laughed, and thought to myself, "how many other people out there consume social media at this rate? What's the point of following people, brands and artists if you are just breezing right by their content? And what's the point of making content if this is how people consume it?"
Alright, I should give her a break. She was only 10 years old. Also, maybe she has super powers that help her scan things and form opinions in hyper speed.
I spoke to her later and asked her about her favorite artists. She said she liked a lot of artists but her favorite was Justin Bieber (surprise, surprise).
The reason I bring this story up is because I've notice that other artists seem to get hung up on creating based on the opinions of others, even if they don't know who those people truly are.
Creating and Being Vulnerable
In 2016 it's easier than ever to publish your art or your writing online. But it's also easier than ever to judge the work of others.
Think about it – we're all critics. For better or for worse, we are constantly judging and making quick decisions without really investigating the full intent. It only takes a split second for us to know whether or not we like something, and if we care to explore further.
As a creator, we open ourselves up to being judged. Judged by our friends. Judged by our family. Judged by potential clients and strangers. But there's good news...
You are not your work.
I've seen many artists confuse this simple fact, and I am no exception. Regardless of whatever type of portfolio or online persona you have, you need to learn to keep that separated from your identity.
You can't always find security in your job or your passion, but you can learn to be confident who you are.
You Can't Please Everyone
For the most part, I receive very positive feedback to the work that I share. (I'm not at the point where I have haters tweeting at me all the time.) Some of that feedback is actual constructive criticism, which I always appreciate.
I'm very grateful for the community around me, but I acknowledge that there are people out there who just flat out don't like what I have to say.
It used to bother me a lot more, but I realized last year that those people are not the ones I am trying to reach anyway.
Having an opinion is what will set your work apart.
Whether you are intentional about it or not, you have a specific audience that will enjoy the content that you're putting out, and then there are people who couldn't care less. The more conscious you are of this fact, the less you will care about getting validation. This all leads to better focus and finding your voice as an artist.
Creating For Yourself
I watched a fascinating video recently that told the story of Vincent Van Gogh over the years of his life. It turns out that it took quite a few years before his work was ever recognized as valuable.
Even though he had a joke of a career and barely any money, he continued to make thousands of drawings and paintings. He didn't show them in galleries, just sometimes sent them to his brother, who didn't seem to care much for his early work. That means that for many years he had an audience of one person.
He seemingly unlocked a state of creative flow that was "auto-telic" (literally translating to "self goal"). In other words, he didn't need the validation. The act of creating was enough for him to get by, and he did so for many years until he received any significant reward.
Focusing on Depth of Connection Instead of the Numbers
I'm not saying we should all lock ourselves in a cabin and draw pictures forever. I shared that story about Van Gogh to illustrate a point – We need to care less about what everyone thinks of our work if we want to do our best.
When it comes to sharing, aim to give to the world instead of take.
We all hope that at least one person out there will resonate with what we've made. But is one person really enough to make us feel like what we've made made the world a better place?
Imagine, because of your contribution, you inspired another person to create something beautiful and share it. Helping one other person means you've made a difference – anything else is a bonus.
In the past few months I've started focusing less on the numbers and more on teaching what I know, and connecting deeper with the members of my audience. It's been very rewarding to see others learn and grow on their own. It all starts by asking, "who can I help today?".
Your work is a gift that you give to the world. It's not something that you put out there, hoping to steal attention away from others to boost your own ego.
Next time you share something online, check your motives first. Don't let the desire to please everyone stop you from making and sharing your best work.