Just saying the word expectation produces a feeling of anxiety. This anxiety comes from knowing that expectations of success can end with failure. If you are an artist with an expectation of success - expectation being defined as “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future” - then you are a powerful force of nature. Expectation, however, has dark side. When we expect a successful outcome and it does not happen where we thought, when we thought or how we thought, this unmet expectation of success, this (dare I say) failure, has the potential to destroy our confidence in ourselves and our ability to accomplish our future goals. When we lose our confidence we get stuck in self-deafeating mental patterns. In this mental state, our creativity disappears. Scripts sit unedited, novels unpublished, albums unsung, poems unwritten, visions of work become memories of what we did not do - proof of our inadequacy. Soon our expectations of success turn into expectations of continued failure. This is the battle of artistic creation. This is the dark side of expectation.
I’ve been there and, if you haven’t, you will get there soon enough. Feeling and processing the pain of failure is important but, when you’re ready, you’ve got to get back to what gives you life. First, remember that the artist’s purpose is to create. Expectation is the nature of our work and, along with great expectation, comes great failure. To achieve success we must learn that embracing expectation also means accepting that failure is possible and likely. If you accept this truth then embracing expectation is essential. But, how do we do it? I believe that one of our goals as artists is to prepare ourselves to encounter failure so that we can stay motivated to achieve success.
You must accept that you failed. Acceptance seems like something that happens automatically, almost as if you have no choice but to do it. This is an inaccurate understanding of acceptance. True acceptance, while it may sound like a passive activity, requires your active involvement to be effective. In fact, if you do not accept your failure you have failed twice. You will most likely continue to fail and this will inevitably lead to the end of your career as an artist.
There are some specific alternatives to acceptance that I see many artists choose: namely avoidance and judgement. I ask you not to avoid acknowledging that something did not go as planned because it is something that we all experience. Judgement is detrimental to your self-perception and your success as an artist. Know that it takes courage and boldness of character to create let alone to set expectations for yourself. If you have expected something that has not yet materialized, realize that that act alone is worth celebrating. You took a risk and you hoped for something better in a world full of hopelessness. Acceptance can be difficult to do especially if you have a community that is watching you fail: family, friends, artist-colleagues. However, in order to persevere you are going to have to accept everything that happens as part of your purpose and part of your journey to success. This is what I do everyday. I accept everything that happens and I ignore the thoughts and opinions of anyone who does not see my work in this way. I call it radical acceptance.
The radical acceptance mindset
To grow, you need two things: humility and patience. Letting go of expectations means realizing that your purpose is a lifelong pursuit so you must be humble enough to be able to acknowlegde that you set expectations without fully understanding some aspect of that expectation. It then means that once you recognize where you need to grow you take the time to develop these areas.
Practical Steps to Grow
- If you accept that you manage money poorly then you know you need to take a course in personal finance.
- If you know that you need to enhance your technology skills then ask a colleague to teach you how to use a new software. You will produce your work with the quality it deserves.
Whatever it is, after you accept failure, embrace the reality that you need to grow. Keep a record of your skills and experience and determine where growth needs to happen when you fail. You’ll get to your destiny and you will begin to meet your expectations more consistently when you are equipping yourself to do so.