I’m sure you’ve been there. The handshake, the compliment, then the friendly advice. “You should do…”
Every writer, photographer, designer, dancer, musician and artist gets unsolicited advice almost daily from family and friends who mean well but who are, well, clueless about what it takes to make great art or to make a living from it.
Here’s one piece of advice you can take to the bank: Smile and nod, but don’t take it to heart.
“Get a real job/keep your real job”
This was the number one response. There is a common misperception in our society that creating something from nothing isn’t legitimate work. Look — you invest time, money and effort to hone your craft to the point that people connect and are excited about it. You have to learn marketing, management, accounting, finance and probably a dozen other skills. Art is entrepreneurship and it will almost definitely use more of your potential — and be more rewarding — than any desk job ever could.
“You should be more like (famous person)/everyone else”
This was the second most common response. The problem is, famous artists have “done” themselves already. They became popular by being unique and memorable, not by being copies of someone who came before. By the same token, following the crowd isn’t a good formula for standing out either. Each of us starts somewhere different and we all have to make our own way, not just blindly follow the mainstream.
“You don’t have what it takes”
This one’s harsh and painful. People as successful as Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Fred Astaire, Beethoven, Bill Gates, and Stephen King have had ideas rejected and mocked, or been told that they were stupid or lacked talent. Fortunately, we can always improve our skills through hard work and one person’s judgment isn’t shared by everyone on the planet.
“Just do it — you don’t need training or preparation, you don’t need a team — learn by doing”
You will learn by doing. The problem is that this approach takes a long time, there are no guarantees of success, and you will learn bad habits as well as good ones. Experience is definitely a teacher, but it is not your only teacher or necessarily even the best one. You do have to do it, there’s no doubt. But do yourself a favor: lessen your learning curve with good mentors and partners.
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