This is what The Venturous Life is all about. “Wanderers”. What a beautiful short film to get you ready for the weekend. Enjoy.
If you follow this list I can’t guarantee that you’ll be a millionaire or have a legacy like Picasso. You may not have incredible talent or mastery of your craft. But if you combine the following list of skills with talent there’s almost nothing you can’t achieve.
Now, perhaps a few people will complain and say that some of the choices I’ve made below aren’t exactly skills per se’ but are more like character traits. I would argue that a skill is anything you learn. Its something you practice and repeat over and over. By seeing health, or mental toughness, or protecting the downside as a skill to be learned, it gives you the freedom to not be perfect and learn as you go.
CHARACTER VS. COMPETENCE(SKILLS)
Too often, after some business or personal failure, people will beat themselves up for thinking they have ‘bad character’ when what they really have are underdeveloped skills. Character traits like loyalty, honesty, integrity etc will help you stay grounded and healthy as you move toward developing your competence and skills. You need both but I’m assuming and hoping you have good character. What you need are some skills to help you get to that next level as a creative person.
Here is my list of ten skills that you need to succeed in todays world as an artist.
1) Mental Toughness
Mental toughness is about handling pressure and not being impacted by what people think. As an artist there is already a lot of vulnerability as we expose our emotions, but in todays world, with social media, we open ourselves up to massive criticism from complete strangers. I’ve had friends who thought they were being funny with a silly comment to something I’ve shared online but actually it came out really hurtful. Just imagine how it feels when a complete stranger unloads their venom in a vicious attack? You have to be tough mentally and know how to keep going and ignore that criticism and comments. Even more so when its your own inner critic. Mental toughness helps you face the uphill climb and not give up when you want to quit.
You’d think this is pretty obvious, and it is, but its amazing how important follow through and work ethic are to success. Not so much the 4:30am workout routines or working 19 hours a day, although the evidence for early rising is pretty strong, I’m referring more to the discipline to see things through. Finish what you start. Even if it takes a year to finish something you should have been able to do in a couple days, the rewards of eventually completing is the greatest feeling in the world. Keep going.
3) Protect the Downside (make sure there’s a way out so you can walk away and try again).
This is super important and where most of my entrepreneurial mistakes have usually come from. Be sure to create an exit plan when you’re hatching up an idea or business. Before you make a huge investment ask yourself what the worst case scenario is and then protect yourself from those outcomes. In the early 80’s, when Richard Branson was running a successful record label, he decided to start an airline. Instead of putting his entire empire in jeopardy by buying an expensive plane and hoping he made money he negotiated with Boeing to let him lease one and if after a year he decided to shut the airline down he could return the plane no questions asked. Simple but very smart.
4) Willing to Experiment (and fail)
If you are afraid to try new things and possibly make a mistake here or there you’ll miss out on incredible opportunities. Maybe you are afraid of ruining your brand. Unless you try you’ll never know. Maybe you’re afraid people won’t like it. Its also possible you might find a new audience you didn’t know was there. There’s always a trade off. A willingness to experiment is fundamental to being an artist. Don’t be afraid of making crap. Everyone feels this way. Its healthy and important to do it anyway.
5) Have An Open Mind
Visit new places, try a new type of food, try a new experience, be willing to learn new things. You have to be open to the world around you. Its how you increase your archive of ideas in order to create. If you only listen to one kind of music then you’ll only copy that sound. Listen to a lot of different styles and you’ll combine them into something original.
What makes an artist relatable? Empathy. Why? Because it allows you to connect with your characters, your audience, your collaborators, in a way that is human and real. If you are portraying Hitler standing in the hot sun before a large crowd ready to give a speech, empathy allows you to understand that he got hot and sweaty too, and you wipe your brow. Now, an audience can relate to him as a human. A flawed, psycho, very real human. When we lack empathy we often create art that is flat and one dimensional. If we can be empathetic with our medium or expression the painting or music etc has more soul and life in it. Now we are connecting not just creating.
7) Discernment Of People
You need to know how to ‘read the air’ around people. Beyond what someone says, knowing what they are thinking or feeling is super important. This skill set will give you Jedi like abilities of knowing how to negotiate contracts, how to build trust and love among friends, and how to communicate with an audience.
8) Basic Money Management
If you can’t manage your money find someone who can. Make sure you know enough to be sure you aren’t getting ripped off. Your art is more important than your money but your money is important so you can keep making more art.
9) Ability to Network
This isn’t as big a deal as you might think but being able to find mentors, teachers, new friends and contacts is incredibly important. Learn to be interested in others. Ask questions. You’ll avoid countless mistakes by being curious about other people’s stories and learning from them. You’ll also find more work, build more relationships and expand your worldview.
10) Personal Health
If you aren’t healthy you have nothing. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is fundamental to the life of an artist. You’ll live longer, be happier, and inspire more people. Don’t sacrifice your health for your art. Its not worth it.
Over the past few years I’ve been spending an enormous amount of time working through a series of books and materials on emotionally healthy spirituality by Peter Scazzero. Pete is a pastor in Queens, NY who wrote these books and training resources out of his own journey of finding his christian faith an unhealthy mess of contradictions and dysfunction.
At one point his own wife approached him and said, “Pete, I’d be happier single than married to you. I’m getting off this roller coaster. I love you but I refuse to live this way anymore. I have waited… I have tried talking to you. You aren’t listening. I can’t change you. That is up to you. But I am getting on with my life.” She was resolute: “Oh, yes, by the way, the church you pastor? I quit. Your leadership isn’t worth following.”
He says at first, jokingly, besides wanting to murder his wife, he was embarrassed and ashamed because she had exposed his own nakedness. It was too much for his weak ego. Nonetheless, it was the most loving thing she could have done for him. She understood, but couldn’t articulate yet, that emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.
Pete continues with, “While I loved Jesus Christ and believed many truths about him, I was an emotional infant unwilling to look at my own immaturity. Geri’s leaving the church pushed me over the brink to look beneath the surface of my iceberg to depths that were, until this time, too frightening to consider. Pain has an amazing ability to open us to new truth and get us moving. I finally acknowledged the painful truth that huge areas of my life (or iceberg, if you prefer) remained untouched by Jesus Christ. My biblical knowledge, leadership position, seminary training, experience, and skills had not changed that embarrassing reality. I was engaged in what I now call emotionally unhealthy spirituality. I was the Senior Pastor of a church, but I longed to escape and join the ranks of church leavers.” (Excerpts taken from the book ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’)
Reading his own story I saw some incredible parallels in my own life and have been really working hard to process as I grow in maturity.
Here are Pete’s top ten symptoms indicating if someone is suffering from a bad case of emotionally unhealthy spirituality:
1. Using God to run from God
2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness and fear
3. Dying to the wrong things
4. Denying the past’s impact on the present
5. Dividing our lives into sacred and secular
6. Doing for God instead of being with God
7. Spiritualizing away conflict
8. Covering over brokenness, weakness and failure
9. Living without limits
10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey
And here is a list of things he says Emotional Health would be concerned about:
1. Naming, recognizing, and managing our own feelings
2. Identifying with and having active compassion for others
3. Initiating and maintaining close and meaningful relationships
4. Breaking free from self destructive patterns
5. Being aware of how our past impacts our present
6. Developing the capacity to express our thoughts and feelings clearly, both verbally and nonverbally
7. Respecting and loving others without having to change them
8. Asking for what we need, want, or prefer clearly, directly, and respectfully
9. Accurately self-assessing our strengths, limits, and weaknesses and freely sharing them with others
10. Learning the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider perspectives of others
11. Distinguishing and appropriately expressing our sexuality and sensuality
12. Grieving well
Maybe you are already operating in a place of deep emotionally healthy spirituality. For me, its been a process of uncovering a lot of false truths and lies I’ve told myself, or inherited from my past, and confronting them head on. I continue to work on these every day, but its been a journey of self discovery and also a deepening spiritual journey.
I realize now that much of what I thought being a Christian meant was simply unhealthy attitudes and lifestyles I had inherited from others, and from my own dysfunctions. Discovering these truths has been earth shattering to say the least and digging deep and getting healthy continues to be the single greatest journey I’ve been on since my conversion.
If you would like to check out the book series and more resources please go to http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org
I’m an introvert. Small talk and cocktail parties are not really my thing. In fact, for a long time just being in a crowd of people would be mentally and emotionally exhausting. I would usually want to finish up the conversation and then run into my office or a side room and hide out so I could recharge. I almost always felt guilty especially as someone who worked in ministry positions at churches or in politics because people have high expectations of leaders and how they spend their time with the crowds. I wanted to care about so and so’s story about the gout but I just couldn’t spend two hours listening to that over and over from so many people… you think I’m kidding, but this is church life.
The hardest part was when I was in a space where I was writing or thinking or working on something and someone would interrupt. When I’m in the flow of deep work there’s nothing more frustrating than being distracted. Coming out of that zen like meditative work flow is jarring to my system. Many times, unless you’re on fire, my interest level in your crisis is going to be minimal at best. If you’re on fire, don’t be surprised if I simply hand you a fire extinguisher and let you handle the problem yourself as I get back to my book.
All that being said, one of the things I noticed years ago was that after I went through a deep personal financial crisis (one of many in my life) when I came out of that and was running one of our businesses I had developed incredible sympathy for folks who were struggling financially themselves. I knew firsthand how painful it was and how debilitating it could feel as a parent and provider for your family. Sympathy is a pretty normal response for most of us after we’ve gone through a season of pain. Empathy though, the ability to appreciate someone’s situation even though we don’t have first hand experience with it, is something else entirely.
After one of my own self evaluation periods that I occasionally go through I realized I needed to work on my own ability to be more empathetic. To appreciate the journey other people are on. To ‘walk in another man’s shoes’ so to speak. As someone who could sympathize with your financial hurt it made it much easier for me to sit with people as they told me their stories. I didn’t find myself as exhausted as before and seemed to actually have more energy because I had an opportunity not necessarily to help but to give them an emotional shoulder to vent their hurts on. It was life changing. I realized if I could become more empathetic, not just sympathetic, it didn’t matter if someone was telling me the story of their gout flareup, my own reaction to it would be more life giving instead of life draining.
In order to do this I came up with my own exercise which was to Imagine Everyone I Met Was A Member of My Family. This sounds silly but it was actually really life changing. Even if you aren’t particularly close to your family we all love the idea of family and what it means. Seeing the cashier at Starbucks as my cousin, or the old lady on the side of the road as my grandma, or the grumpy mechanic at the shop as my crazy uncle Larry (you get the idea), was like a mind meld. I found myself looking at strangers completely different. I don’t have a particularly high ‘feeling’ side (on the MBTI scale) but by looking at people this way I found myself wanting to give hugs, to encourage, to throw an arm around someone’s shoulder and sit and listen to their stories for as long as they wanted. I mean, this was my aunt working behind the counter and I know how hard she works trying to put food on the table for her family. She messed up my order and is wasting my time? That’s okay. She’s family. I haven’t seen her in years. She’s a little crazy but… she’s family.
You get the idea.
Like I said earlier, regardless of how you feel towards your own family I challenge you to try this. When you’re at the store or walking down the street start looking at people and tell yourself, ‘that’s my mom, that’s my aunt, there’s my grandpa’ I promise it’ll change the way you see the world. Are there bad people out there? Yeah. And those bad people are someone’s son, daughter, brother etc. When you see strangers as family members it’ll make you more empathetic to the journey each of takes and cause you to have a new appreciation for the struggle of life. Empathy among strangers is one of the greatest skill sets human beings can develop. See the world as your family and you’ll begin to realize that one of our biggest challenges as a society is that we simply need more love from one another.
I’m still an introvert. That hasn’t changed. But what developing empathy has taught me is how to be an even better listener and to genuinely take an interest in the people around me. I’m fascinated by stories and struggle and life. As someone who spends a lot of time reading and writing stories the best skill I can have is empathy for my characters (whether good or bad) and the people around me in my day to day. This is why so many artists tend to fight for causes that a lot of other people find disturbing. Empathy teaches you there is no such thing as black and white. Empathy lives in the gray. Picking sides and an ‘us vs. them’ mentality is not empathy its narrow-mindedness. Good art forces us to be more empathetic.
Being more empathetic is being a good human being.
I’m always amazed at the number of people who still make comments about authors who self publish as not being legit. Or perhaps its authors themselves who will put their own material out with a secret fantasy of landing a huge book deal. There are even highly successful authors that will still get mentioned as having self published their first book and then landed a deal, as though they were anointed or something.
To me, this is ridiculous. If for no other reason than simply look at YouTube. No one watching a YouTube video thinks, ‘Wow, this is a great daily vlog, hopefully one day this guy will get picked up by a TV network so he can have a real career.” The reason? We’ve become completely conditioned to the idea of online video being a legitimate form of artistic expression especially as its launched the careers of thousands. The artist or creator has total control over the outcome. If its not well done or there are things we don’t like about it we either stop watching or we ignore that part of it because we like the rest of the material.
Whether its fan fiction sites, blogging, or the rise of ebooks self-publishing is here to stay. Authors should stop feeling guilty for writing and putting out their own stuff. A poorly designed cover, or bad grammar, are no longer deterrents to finding readers. What people are interested in is an idea or point of view. Authors who write and put out their own material should view themselves like YouTubers.
Write as best you can, with the resources you have available, and your audience will come.
You have permission to fail. You are allowed to create art no one likes. You are allowed to build a business that goes bankrupt. You are allowed to fall in love and have your heart broken. If you spend your life running from potential failure you’ll never really be alive. Get out there and make a million mistakes. We’re all improvising and figuring this out as we go along so don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Stay away from people who have never tried and failed. They typically go by the name of ‘expert’. They are liars and frauds.