Being working artists provides us with the highest of highs and, at times, the lowest of lows. There are times when ‘the big break’ finally comes, only to find out it wasn’t quite so big after all, or the deal falls through and you’re back where you started, head in hands, unspending all the money you didn’t make. If you haven’t experienced the heights and frights of the working artist roller coaster ride, stand by, you will.
How do we deal with that? How can we embrace the moments of victory and not allow ourselves the emotional free-fall that occurs when we’re derailed? I’m no therapist, but I’ve been doing this long enough to have experienced on innumerable occasions these extremes. As discussed in the “Dealing With Rejection For Artists and Cartoonists” post, it’s all about your perspective.
Things really got rolling for me in 2009, and it seemed that the world was my oyster. The very first deals that came to me had the potential to be massive, and by massive, I mean MASSIVE! Big cabin cruiser, BMW 7 series, hob-knobbing with the big-shots, Christmas every day massive. Terms were agreed to, contracts were signed, overseas production lines were ramped up – we were ready to go. And then the market, specifically for these lines of products, imploded. Completely, unalterably imploded. It’s quite possible the timing was the worst ever in the recorded history of mankind. In future millennia, archaeologists will dig up the fossilized remnants of this deal and say to one another, “Hey Bob – we just found the quintessential example of the worst timing in the known universe. It was so bad, it may have laid the groundwork for the fall of civilization. Let’s leave it here in case there are reverberations of suckiness that transcend space and time.” I made enough money to buy a six-pack of crappy beer. Talk about deflating!
At that moment, I had a choice to make. I could either let that crushing experience redefine my goals, redefine the value I place in my work, and consider stepping away into a kinder, gentler arena such as wrestling man-eating angry alligators. Or, I could step back from the event, slow down and consider the opportunity I’d been given, regardless of the ultimate outcome. I had a major company take interest in my work and invest a great deal of money incorporating it into their products. How is that not a victory? I became grateful, and it made all the difference in the world. Has this happened to you? Validation can take many forms – it’s not relegated to financial terms. We can’t control market conditions. The economy tanked in a “Captain, that looks an awful lot like an iceberg right in front of us.” kind of way, and we were all just passengers in for the ride. Sometimes, factors that are entirely beyond our control determine portions of outcomes. That’s life. The raging success stories most often aren’t those who had nothing but good fortune on the bullet train to riches and adoration. Chances are, they were the ones who took their lumps but remembered why they were there in the first place. Ultimate outcome, in my experience, is determined by you and how you percieve events that impact you.
It’s my belief that as artists, we tend to be more perceptive of the details – more aware of the nuances that surround us. And perhaps that can sometimes be to our detriment – a forest for the trees scenario. If, in times when the roller coaster is cresting and the fall looks particularly precipitous, think for a moment how much energy and effort it took to get you there. How many others in or out of your field, likely of millions, have reached that point and can see what you see? Slow down, be aware of the distance we’ve just climbed and admire the view - there’s value in that. If we realize that ups and downs are inevitable – in fact, they’re a sign not just of life, but of forward progress – will we be better able to make the journey to the place we want to be? I’m confident that’s the case.
Since the events of 2009, the process has repeated itself plenty of times for me. The highs have been magnificent and the lows have been low enough for me to read the Devil’s shoe size. And that’s pretty low. Each time, I find myself understanding more fully that this is just a part of the process. Success really is a journey and the map ahead is filled with peaks and valleys. When you’re on a peak, enjoy it fully. My wife and I have a favorite restaurant we go to only when we’re standing on the peak. When we’re in the valleys we remind ourselves how amazing it is to be among those few who get to take this road – our fellow artists and cartoonists. Along the way I stop, look around, and feel gratitude for my even being on this ride. We are most certainly the lucky few.