What do you think of when you picture the typical young artist? Perhaps it’s a twentysomething painter, toiling in a small, windowless studio, wondering how she’s going to make her first sales (while dreading the student loan debts she hasn’t even begun to repay). Her day is full of stress, insecurity, and instability—a far cry from the creative bliss she had in mind when setting out to make a living from her art.
It doesn’t have to be this way. When I was younger, before launching my business, I prided myself on ‘going with the flow,’ which often meant reacting to life rather than making a concerted effort to change my own future. ‘Going with the flow’ can too easily become an excuse to remain stuck in a rut, to accept a status quo that isn’t helping you, or your career. I am a firm believer in creating your future in advance. This doesn’t just happen. It requires motivation, dedication, and a willingness to envision what makes you happy—and then put that vision to work.
Importantly, this doesn’t mean simply having an optimistic outlook, and hoping for the best. Actualizing your creative dreams requires focus, patience, and even a bit of homework.
Rather than idly imagining a better life—one in which your success is imminent, and your finances are secure—take the time to paint a truly elaborate picture of what happiness would mean to you. Think of yourself as an architect, giving specific, brick-by-brick instructions on how to build your dream home. What are the nuances of your happiness, down to the tiniest little detail? What would a day in your new life actually look like, from your morning coffee through the moment you lock your studio door after a hard day of fulfilling, creative work?
In my new book, I look at various case studies of creatives whose practices and businesses have something to teach us. One of them is the wunderkind choreographer Matthew Neenan, who founded Philadelphia’s BalletX company at the age of 31. Neenan didn’t simply wait for his career to unfold; he actively envisioned how it would evolve, according to his own needs and desires.
It’s important to take a proactive approach to your own journey toward artistic happiness. That means putting pencil to paper, and literally sketching out what your future contentment is like. One painter I have worked with recently undertook this exercise and was able to conjure an intensely detailed scenario in which she was truly in a flow state, at the top of her creative and commercial game. She pictured every detail of her dream studio, from the spacious flat file to the kitchenette where she can prepare her morning coffee—all the better to get energized for the commissions and offers rolling her way.
At the same time, creating your own future doesn’t mean disregarding the obstacles that may be placed in your way. No one said this hero’s journey was going to be easy. Think back to some particularly difficult moments in your career so far, and ask yourself how you made it through those dark times. Craft a personal mantra that reflects your own resilience. (In the past, mine has been “Growth, forward momentum and making a difference create my success every day.”) Write it down and hang it somewhere prominent, a visible reminder of the journey you’re on to make your dreams of creative fulfillment a reality.