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 Scripts sit unedited, novels unpublished, albums unsung, poems unwritten, visions of work become memories of what we did not do - proof of our inadequacy.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 ability to create a new tomorrow is inherently linked to your ability to accept things exactly as they are.
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
Radical acceptance means that you accept things as they are as if they were meant to be that way. Acceptance of this kind means that we do not hold ourselves hostage to missed deadlines, the perspectives of others about our work, social standards, or anything that compromises our ability to expect a future where we create powerful artistic work. To do this radically means that people, places or things that do not serve your need to live in expectation must go. This mindset does two things: it doesn’t allow you to avoid your current circumstances and it gives you the power to create a strategy from what you have learned by embracing the truth. It’s radical because you are telling yourself that if it is then it is supposed to be. That powerful thought immediately gives you power over anything that comes your way. To overcome failure you will need to practice radical acceptance. As artists our power to create a new tomorrow is inherently linked to our ability to accept things as they are. Accept where you are without apology or explanation and watch how quickly you find yourself around the right people, winning.
Once you account for the circumstances that led to failure then you are free to redefine your expectations and evolve as an artist.
Only after you accept failure, can you be empowered to change. The second step to overcoming failure requires taking a new perspective of what failure actually means. A failure is an unmet expectation. It can be seen as a failure. It can also be seen as an experience and experience is the best education. If you are living your purpose, each failure is an indicator of where you need to grow. Having a purpose does not mean that you were born fully prepared to pursue it. A part of your ability to succeed rests on how well you can latch on to the lessons in personal development that failure teaches. Failure means you need to grow in ways that will equip you to succeed. Failures are lessons. Nothing more, nothing less. Viewed this way, you haven’t failed you simply need to refine your expectations with the new information you have learned.
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
With this approach we can see that failure is an indication of where you need to work on personal development. Thus, when you fail to meet an expectation you must ask yourself what you can change about yourself to be better equipped to meet your own expectations the next time. This is directly related to acceptance.
- 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.
We artists do have a way of losing perspective. It’s because we often work in isolation. Because it can be easy to forget how much our work means to our community, finding opportunities to give are essential. Nothing gets us out of ourselves more than serving others. Service is an excellent way to share, connect and take a new view of the world. Service can be simple. My favorite way of serving others is sharing what I know with others. It benefits them to hear my experience and it helps me to reflect on what I’ve been through. Find a way to give and do it regularly. Here are some ideas to get you going in the right direction.
Practical Steps to Give
If you thought your music album would be completed by now but it isn’t take a Sunday afternoon and go play at your local homeless shelter and ask the audience: if you could make a song, what story would you tell? If you are an actor or performing artist and you didn’t get the role that you wanted in an upcoming show, go to your local youth center and perform a powerful monologue about powerlessness and share how performing has changed your life. Bring some monologues for them to perform. If you are a playwright, poet or writer, find some cause in your city that matters to you, write about it and send it to a local paper to be published. If you are a filmmaker or digital artist, take your skills to a local school and make a 1 minute film. When you give, when you offer yourself to others you will remember the importance of creation. Service will take you out of your unrealistic expectations and will help you to remember what truly matters.