What Stories Are You Telling Yourself in the Covid Era?

We All Have Stories… What Are Yours Telling You? 

Whether consciously or not, we all tell ourselves stories about ourselves. It’s a vital part of the human experience. What you tell yourself about yourself shapes and shades, virtually everything you do in your personal life, your social life, and your business.

Sometimes the stories you tell are not healthy or helpful. For example, you can use your stories to support why you aren’t taking actions that could benefit your art business. The story might come out as a plausible excuse. I’m failing because:

  • I live in a rural community with no one matching my ideal customer persona nearby.
  • I’m so busy with everything else in my life; I don’t have time to get out and market my work.
  • I can see the value in following the widely available recipes for success and have even paid for courses that teach them. Still, it’s too hard, too dull, and too complicated for me, so I quit before I implemented anything.
  • I‘ve tried using social media and online advertising, but I only proved it doesn’t work for artists like me.
  • That’s how things always go for me. I give it a shot and then fail, and I’m tired of trying.

Falling Victim to the Curse of Secondary Benefits

I could go on and on with more examples, but you get the point. The reality is with each of these stories that seem to absolve you, there are hidden secondary benefits. A gain buried so deep you may not have top of mind self-awareness it exists. Nevertheless, it is there. The secondary benefit is you get to avoid risk, failure, uncertainty, rejection, embarrassment, or being vulnerable. And that is a list far from complete.

I have no training or qualifications to make such a claim about the stories you tell yourself. That is, other than my acquired knowledge and life experiences. However, I’ll borrow from Thomas Jefferson to say I believe my theory is true and self-evident. If you step back and use your unvarnished self-awareness, you can see how your stories manifest in yourself and your life as a result. I can find many examples of how I used secondary gains in my life and always to my detriment.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

Although I’m talking about your relationship with your art business. This advice on self-talk and stories applies in all areas of your life.

Using the Four Human Endowments

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, the late Stephen Covey made an indelible impression on millions. He talked about the Four Human Endowments we have as humans. Here is an excerpt on self-awareness from a post he wrote about them:

As human beings, we have four unique endowments: self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination that not only separate us from the animal world, but also help us to distinguish between reality and illusion, to transform the clock into a compass, and to align our lives with the extrinsic realities that govern quality of life.

Self-awareness enables us to examine our paradigms, to look at our glasses as well as through them, to think about our thoughts, to become aware of the psychic programs that are in us, and to enlarge the separation between stimulus and response. Self-aware, we can take responsibility for reprogramming or rescripting ourselves out of the stimulus-response mode.

The last sentence above is so powerful. What Covey is telling us is we can change our story. And when we do, we can improve our lives, our relationships, and our business. It’s not always easy, but it can be done. People with circumstances worse than you can imagine have chosen to change their story and their lives in the process.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

Understanding How Little Victories Lead to Large Gains

I’m not suggesting deep mining your psyche and overhauling your beliefs and life. My goal is for you to understand the stories in your head can lead you to little victories and large ones too. I believe stacking little victories propels yourself forward. And as they accumulate, you find your life and your business more satisfying and gratifying. It’s time you start building up little victories in your life and career.  

Optimism Painting Image, Russ Riendeau, 2020

Here is a perfect example of how a story that artist Russ Riendeau told himself worked out. He experienced a little victory in the form of an unexpected sale. He sent me this in an email recently.

Hi Barney,

Here’s a fun art sale story you’ll appreciate. It proves how we just need to put it out there and be creative with how we get our art seen and sold.

A few months into the COVID-19 era, I did a simple 16×20 acrylic paint pour. I picked bright pinks, gold, and blues. It was a late-night experiment with old paint that turned out fantastic. It has excellent colors and balance.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

Later, I realized the painting had the same vibe and colors that a medical practice in my area used in their new offices. I knew the owners and emailed them with a picture of the canvas from my iPhone. The simple message was, “Susan, I thought of you because this new piece I created happens to have the color scheme of your offices. Let me know if you ever want a copy.”

A week later, a rep from an interior art and design consulting firm called. Their client—Susan—had sent them the image of my painting and wanted to make a large print of it for their lobby. So, I sent them the file and made nearly $400 as a one-time licensing fee. Also, I sent this same picture to a prominent psychology journal that features art on the cover. They are using the image for a winter issue.

The moral of the story is to put it out there and see what happens.

Thanks again for your ideas.

First of all, Congrats to Russ for the sale and the cover. Bravo! And thanks for taking the time to share your inspiring story.

Did You Catch What He Did Here?

Russ has contacted me several times and put in some time to cultivate a relationship with me. So much so that I reached out to him to ask if I could retell this story that he shared with me. That’s how you do it. Take your time and make it worthwhile. Nicely done, Russ. 🙂

With regard to getting sale and cover, I believe the story Russ told himself went something like this, “I think I have a chance to sell a specific print and I should give it a shot. And since that went well, why not send it to a magazine that uses art on the cover?” He let his thoughts lead to action. As he says, he put it out there. His is a perfect example of creating opportunities instead of waiting and hoping for them.

Opportunities are all around us if we look for them. It’s not 100%. You’re going to strike out, hit dry spells, and feel discouraged. If you don’t you’re not trying hard enough. But if you believe in yourself, learn to shake off the misses, and stay positive and persistent, it will pay off.

The Downside of Listening to the Wrong Stories

What if Russ had told himself don’t bother calling the doctor or contacting the magazine because he knew he would probably get rejected? They might not respond, or they might be offended because they thought he was pushy. Or, they already have all the art they need, or who is buying art in a pandemic? Or you fill in the blanks. Hockey Hall of Famer, Wayne Gretzky, famously once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

I haven’t related the following thoughts to Russ, but I’ll make sure he sees this post. Whenever possible, I try to think things through to the next steps. For instance, he now has a relationship with a local interior design art and design consulting firm. A next step little victory would be to follow up with the contact at the firm. Check in to make sure they are happy with the print. Then to offer to present other art or suggest ways he can create custom art for them. And to find out how they source art for other clients. How to advance the relationship by being helpful and proactive instead of needy. That’s the ticket.

The Value of Envisioning the Next Steps and Acting on Them

The point is to level up the value of the connection. Come at with the mindset of being in service to the other party. What can Russ do to help this design firm? Does he have some other connections he can bring to them? Are there other artists he knows that create work different from his that he can offer to make introductions? I can’t write the script for him or you, only make suggestions and encourage you to let your imagination fly. How far can I take this? Where can it go? How do I make it happen?

Back at the doctor’s office. What can he do with that situation? How can he put himself in service to those people and that business? By coming at things from a helpful and unselfish frame of mind, he will build trust and credibility. Is there something he can do with the print as a gift for them? For instance, he could offer to provide them with 500 postcards with their contact info on the backside and his art on the front side. For an investment of less than $30, he could delight his clients with a unique gift. And when they get distributed, he will have the halo effect of his art out in the world. It will give his art the implied third-party endorsement of the doctor’s office.

The potential of additional little victories from his first one with the doctor multiplies just by staying positive, thinking creatively, and acting directly. Who knows how far something like this can snowball? It doesn’t matter whether it does or not. That’s because if this one doesn’t take flight the next one or the next after that will.

What Little Victories Are Out There Waiting for You?

If your first reaction is none, then just know you’ve fallen victim to a secondary benefit. Use your human endowments to lift yourself. To overcome stories telling you, “Don’t try, you might fail” or “Don’t try; it’s a waste of time.” Or whatever is keeping you from breaking free of self-imposed limitations on your life and business.

Don’t get me wrong. Life is hard. Business is tough. Achievement is rarely easy. Most desirable outcomes take twice as long and cost twice as much. These things are all true. Every one of them is a great little story to tell yourself not to bother or try. But trying is the only way to follow your dreams, live your best life, and fulfill your purpose. And then to keep trying when things don’t go well.

Long-term Success Is a Process of Stringing Little Victories Together

Little victories create incremental change that builds into greatness over time. When you understand that and believe it and act with conviction, you make the start of proving the best is yet to come.

After handing out all the advice above, I would be remiss not to follow it myself. I suggest you join my Personal Storytelling for Artists & Creatives course. It’s about using stories (differently) than discussed here, but with the understanding, there is crossover.

Personal Stories Are the Little Hinges that Swing Big Doors

Your personal stories will open doors, sell your art, and improve your relationships with others. Your stories create word of mouth marketing for you. They start conversations about you and your art when you aren’t there. Nothing else works like that. And nothing is more powerful. You can learn to tell your stories in your own way, in your own words, and with methods that make you feel comfortable relating them.

Russ is a member of the Personal Storytelling for Artists & Creatives course. Here’s what he had to say about it.

Barney, I bought your Storytelling course, and wow! Fantastic. It is the best in show for artists, composers, etc. Great job, my friend.

Get in now. The price will revert to $97 sometime soon. That’s because there are many new features and lessons in the works. As a member now, you are grandfathered in with lifetime access.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.


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  • Hi Banrey,
    As you know, I’ve followed you, and read your books for years – and years. Always great advice, thanks.
    I love this story, it’s so inspiring for other artists.
    Here’s mine. I had an idea come to me during the first month of lockdown (here it was March). Although it took me another month to work out the details, by early May I had it.
    I’ve created a leasing program for my art and photography. I wanted to keep art accessible even though budgets were tight. This really took off when I placed an ad in a local magazine and they were so excited about it that they did a free Artist Profile segment on me for the issue!!!
    It really pays to not only keep going (no matter what) but to step out there with new ideas.

    • Hi Jeni, thanks for your comments and kind words. Mostly though, thanks for sharing your inspiring story. Times are hard for lots of reasons. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Rather as you have shown, it’s time to get going.

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