I’m learning to accept myself. I’m still in the process of learning to love who I am. And it’s been refreshing and nice to be able to do that and to be okay. I think my fans have brought that out in me.— Dua Lipa
To be clear, I’m not a mental health professional. My qualifications start with seven decades of experience being okay, pretty darn good sometimes, and funked up in gloom occasionally. I’m also an astute observer of human conditions whose special power is watching and understanding what motivates people to do what they do even when they don’t know themselves.
Since 1988, I have been actively helping artists succeed in the art business. Between six art business books and my weekly Art Marketing News blog, I’ve penned millions of words of advice and encouragement for artists because I want them to enjoy the best of their lives as artists.
When You Are a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail.
When I began my art marketing advisor career, I made the common mistake of looking at the artists’ world through my lens. It’s understandable. That’s because by wisely applying marketing, advertising, and sales tools, I single-handedly managed a territory of eleven Western states and all Western Canadian provinces that produced $1.5 million in annual trade advertising and tradeshow exhibit sales from a database of 2,000 contacts, including clients for Decor magazine and the Decor Expo shows.
What I thought I could do was teach visual artists to be like me. Hah! So much for being an astute observer of myself.
Nothing Stays the Same.
When the trade magazine business model dried up due to the internet’s disruptive powers, I began sharing my accumulated knowledge and insider insights with artists via my books, blog, workshops, courses, and consulting. But there was always something missing in the equation. Essentially, artists were eager to learn but found the practical application of the knowledge wanting.
Artists knew what to do but weren’t doing it, which was a problem more for me than for them. That’s because most were okay with cherry-picking my advice and using it in ways that suited their business model instead of the vision I had for them.
As We Progress in Our Lives, Tradeoffs Are Harder.
Eventually, I discovered that artists, and most people, for that matter, find a point of contentment in their lives, excluding the outliers who never reach that level. And at that comfort level, they mostly don’t want to or can’t pay the price to achieve more. So, for example, I spent 90 days on average on the road with literally weeks of annual accumulative time in airplanes alone, which is a professional and lifestyle choice many wouldn’t take, even for the big bucks I was making.
Like every other art marketing guru, I used the accomplishments of high-achieving outliers as examples to encourage artists to learn about art marketing tools and techniques. Unfortunately, that concept leaves out most artists who might have an interest in such topics but very little desire to run with them as I hoped they would. They weren’t into it like I was, and sadly, they never would be.
You Can Often Be Too Close to See.
All along, the information to see what was happening was right there. Among my art business advertisers, I saw and was confounded by the vast disparity in the myriad of ways my clients got their work to market without using all the free and paid options I had for them. Some are advertised monthly and exhibited at every show. Others only used advertising with no trade shows in the mix and vice versa. Only a few tapped free resources available to them.
They were doing it their way, and by and large, they were okay; even when it meant they were average or below average in sales and other metrics, they were fine with their results. Back then, I thought it was odd. Now I realize they were okay, and I wasn’t because I wasn’t in touch to accept they were getting what they needed without doing everything I suggested. So essentially, I had various marketing tools, and virtually none of my clients used them as I had hoped. That’s not okay.
It’s Not a Dream If You’re Living It.
I talk a lot about artists’ art life and dream-work balance and encourage them to find theirs. But I hadn’t gotten mine together yet and didn’t even know it. I couldn’t help truly help artists until I could be okay with them not climbing the highest walls of success as defined by sales and recognition.
There’s so much more to being an artist. If you’re frustrated by your results because you’re measuring them by standards imposed by others, maybe the real source of those feelings is you’re living their idea of a dream instead of yours.
Self-awareness is such a rich gift to yourself — more on it below.
We’re More Alike Than You Might Think.
It finally dawned on me that I was more like the artists I advised than I realized. That’s because when I honestly assessed my marketing advice and art business publishing model, I found I was always doing things my way. Once I got out from under the pressure of my lucrative mag rep day job, I stopped doing the things I was not particularly eager to do. And I didn’t care much if that meant I wouldn’t live up to my full potential income and reputation as a leading art marketing guru.
I characterize such an attitude as beyond laissez-faire and more toward “ambitious to a degree.”There is so much freedom in knowing and accepting that just being okay is best for me even though it doesn’t align with the higher expectations of others whose opinions some think should matter — but not me.
Finding One’s Contentment Quotient.
I had reached that point of contentment where I was no longer willing to sacrifice being comfortable to improve my art business and marketing results. But, like many artists, I found satisfaction was not in making money.
That recognition was an epiphany that changed my life for the better. And hopefully, I will help the artists who follow me to improve their lives as I have. I had finally learned that it was okay just to be okay. That insight led me to coin this phrase,
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.— Barney Davey
Powerful Marketing Persuasion Subtly Applied Is a Problem.
We use common sense to avoid jumping from a speeding car. But we get confused by outlier examples and exhortations of marketers who convince us with marketing gimmickry that pushes our buttons and makes us feel less than if we don’t buy their programs and succeed at business to the best of our ability.
I mastered digital marketing and slick persuasion techniques but abandoned using them because they make me feel icky to borrow a highly technical term. I chose to lose potential sales and profit and not do them despite their effectiveness.
I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.― Stephen R. Covey
Studious readers of this blog and my books know I’m a devoted fan of the late Stephen Covey. The guidance and philosophy of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book profoundly affect my life and thinking. It’s not a summer beach read, but I highly recommend it. And I’ll be honest to tell you it took me several attempts to finish reading it because it is full of challenging concepts.
You Have Four Human Endowments.
Covey’s Four Human Endowments are helpful and instructive. He tells us as human beings; we have these unique gifts:
- Free will
These attributes enable us to distinguish between reality and illusion, transform the clock into a compass, and align our lives with the extrinsic facts governing quality of life.
Living Well Benefits Beyond Creature Comforts.
The first three endowments are essential for living well. They provide the foundation for all other human capabilities. Without them, we can’t make decisions or act. Instead, we’re stuck in a state of inertia.
But there’s another critical aspect of these endowments. First, Covey says, “They are not just tools; they are also resources.” In other words, when we use these endowments wisely, they become assets. So he goes on to tell us, “The more fully developed your endowment, the greater your capacity to live effectively.”
So, let’s look at each of these endowments individually.
1. Self Awareness
Self-awareness is recognizing who you are and how you fit into the big picture. It’s about knowing yourself. It’s about having insight into your strengths and weaknesses, talents and limitations, desires and fears. It’s about recognizing where you want to go and why.
It’s about identifying your values and goals and understanding what makes you tick. It’s about knowing what you don’t know.
Your conscience understands right from wrong, good from evil, and truth from lies. It’s about making moral choices. It’s about doing the right thing even if no one else does. It’s about integrity. It’s about honesty. It’s about standing on principle.
3. Independent Will
Independent will is the ability for you to act without outside influence. It’s about taking responsibility for your behavior. It’s about working according to your standards and following through on commitments. It’s about setting goals and achieving them. It’s about being accountable.
4. Creative Imagination
Your imagination allows you to think and see things differently. It’s about creating new ideas. It’s about coming up with solutions others haven’t thought of before. It’s about innovation. It’s about creativity. It’s about conjuring ideas and concepts no one has ever dreamed of, and when we combine these four endowments, we create an internal compass that helps us navigate the complexities of life.
The Enormous Power of Choice.
We can choose to be happy and prosperous and to achieve greatness. Or we can choose to be happy, okay, and build on what we have at a set pace. I love to be great, but I’m okay with being good. And for most of us, that is good enough because we are naturally average. If you disagree, please ponder the witticism of comedian Steven Wright when he wisecracks half the people you know are below average.
Despite what gurus and marketers promote, it’s rare to excel beyond average. Here’s an example. There are 1,696 football players on the active rosters of National Football League teams. How many are stars with name-brand recognition? The rest, although among the world’s best athletes, are unknown. Even on that elevated level, most have chosen to be okay entities unknown to all but the most devoted football fans.
Why It’s Also Okay to Not Be Okay
The pressure to achieve and succeed is real and pervasive. While some are better equipped to deal with not being okay, no one can completely escape the devastating effect of feeling less than.
If you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, you probably have. But remember, rock bottoms come and go. There will always be someone worse off than you. You may never get out of this hole, but if your self-awareness lets you down, you can dig deeper, which is to be avoided at all costs.
Don’t Give Up in Despair When You Are Not Okay.
You can find ways to improve your situation. For example, you can change your circumstances. You can learn to cope and develop coping strategies. You can adjust. You can take control of your life. You choose to stop letting antagonism and doubt drive your feelings.
You can choose to be okay and happy, which is my fondest wish for artists and all people. I even include those who throw rocks and cast aspersions on me and my thinking. And it’s because I’m okay with just being as I am, and I hope you are too.