As artists we are our own worst critics. We see other artists in the same field who are more talented than us and we wonder if we have what it takes. We read amazing books like “Good to Great” and we seriously consider where we could be the best in our field. A fellow creative, and good friend of mine, stated that he didn’t “feel professional”. He felt that his career was a hobby. I reminded them he had a successful career of over a decade in the creative field. If you get paid for what you do, then by definition, you are a professional.
The fact is most of us feel that way to one degree or another. We are so used to seeing the high level accomplishments of other incredibly talented artists. As a pastor said recently, “We compare our behind the scenes footage with other people’s highlight reel!” Of course we’ll feel inadequate whenever that is the case.
Comparison kills contentment and when we begin to compare ourselves to other artists, we lose every time. We lose interest. we lose our passion. We lose our creative edge. We lose our drive. We lose our vision. We all want to be the best, and we should strive for excellence, but I think a more productive focus is to ask this question: “What do I have the best chance to be successful at within my creative field?” For 99.9% of us, there will always be someone better. That should not be the measure of your success. The measure of success is defined by what you do with the gifts you are given.
We all have strengths we need to further develop but that’s part of the creative journey. Let that drive and inspire you,…not squelch your passion or destroy your confidence. Our focus determines our outlook. If you focus on your recent successes you clearly see your marketability. Based on what you know right now, where is the intersection of your skill set, passion, and marketability? Pursue that, and never stop growing as an artist. Celebrate every step forward and shut down the chatter in your brain that makes you want to give up.
Skills are honed over time and with great effort. Yes, some artists are child prodigies with an insane amount of natural talent, but most are average Joe’s and Jane’s that have to put in the work. I have one of Stephen Silver’s books called “The Art of Silver”. In it he included a page of his mediocre drawings from high school. He purposely put them in the book to show that with interest and hard work, you can become a great artist. Even the great animator Chuck Jones famously said, “Every artist has 10,000 bad drawings in them that they have to get out.”
I’m behind on some creative goals and began to question my ability recently, so I did something to shift my focus. This may sound like bragging but that is not my intent at all. I needed to remind myself that I have what it takes to be a thought leader in the creative field because, much like my friend, I wasn’t feeling very professional or qualified. So, I sat down and made this list for myself and my perspective changed almost immediately.
In the past 6 months:
1. One of the largest LA animation production studios has hired you as an illustrator and hired your company to produce animation.
2. The worlds largest Bible App Developer hired your company to produce animation and interactivity for their kids app.
3. One of LA’s most successful boutique branding agencies hired your company to produce a 3 minute animated spot for a national brand.
4. The largest housing rental agency in the southeast just hired you to audit and update their brand and lay the groundwork for their national push.
That’s my recent highlight reel. People hire me to do what I love. Well, the truth is, for every one of those highlights, there also exists behind the scenes footage with a list of projects we lost.
For example, we did some very promising animation tests for the popular pre-school show “Lalaloopsy” last summer. We thought we had it in the bag, but guess what. The studio changed directions and kept production in-house (or possibly sent it to another studio…gasp!). I also had a great pitch meeting in LA with top executives from “The Hub”. It was our second time meeting in person with them, followed by requests for additional development, storyboards, and some animation tests for our show concept called “The Beefy Adventures of Jerky and Jim” (seen above). But things change fast with Networks and the timing wasn’t right, so they moved on to other initiatives.
Both lists are important. One keeps us motivated and excited while the other keeps us humble and pushes us to get better.
Make your own highlights reel list today. Depending on where you are in your career as a student or professional, you’re list will look different. Keep in mind what stage of your career you are currently in. Celebrate your wins!
So, don’t ask, what you are the best at doing. Ask what you can do that intersects your passion, skills, marketability, and positive impact. The best thing you can do as an artist is just be you. Don’t complicate things. Don’t worry about being the best. Work hard for sure…figure out your best strengths, yes…but focus on being the best you. That’s what the world needs.