Have you ever heard of “arrival fallacy”? You know, the whole idea that you'll be happy if you could just finish this project on time, or I'll be happy just as soon as I lose ten pounds, or whatever, the list goes on and on for most of us, I'm sure.
In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin describes the arrival fallacy as the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you'll be happy. She explains that this is a delusion because we are never as happy when we arrive as we are while we are hoping to arrive. It's all an illusion. Not only have you already enjoyed yourself through expectations by the time you arrive, but also arrival comes with a new set of problems and responsibilities – just like a game of Mario, you beat one level and you're off to the next, and the next level has bigger mushrooms and a more evil bad guy.
As artists, I believe arrival fallacy is one of our biggest gimmicks. We'll be ready to sell our art once we perfect this one technique. But wait, we can't display our work in public until we've sold a few pieces privately first, otherwise no one will wish to see it. We'll submit that poem to a publication when we're more established and eloquent. But this is all horse manure! There's always going to be something else you need to do to prepare, to get better, to up your game – but that isn't the point! No one is ever 100% ready for everything life throws at them.
I'm going to stop right there and say that again.
No one is ever 100% ready for everything life throws at them.
In fact, some of the best gifts in life come unexpectedly. My best friend found herself unexpectedly pregnant and because of her strength and flexibility in reaction, it's been the biggest joy of her life, and it's changed her from the inside out.
Similarly, you may have the opportunity or even the smallest inkling of an idea to apply for a creative contest, submit your work to a publication or go public with your work on stage, at a show, or online. Just like my friend, you may be a little freaked out. Okay, you may be totally freaked out and overwhelmed with the idea of it. But guess what, that's normal! You're never going to feel 100% comfortable doing something new because why? You've never done it before! Everything new is scary at first. Remember preschool and your first cigarette? (Hopefully not simultaneously.)
The point is that everything is scary until you give it a try. You'll never be totally ready for that next step in your creative work and you'll never have a perfect piece of work. That's the beauty of art. Our syntax is off, the lines in a drawing aren't symmetrical or maybe your photographs still have some haziness to them in the background. That's okay, that's what makes it interesting! That's what makes you interesting as a creative individual! You're still growing and learning but hey – you're putting yourself out there and that's more than 90% of others do! Most people don't even go after their creative dreams, so you are already ahead!
But how do we get over that fear of perfection so we can move into that next level of Mario Kart – I mean, life?
It starts with letting go. You have to give yourself permission to be human. You are not a robot, you are not a machine and you are not a software program – thank goodness! Did you know creativity is going to be the number one desired quality in employees by 2020? Do you know why? Because as wonderful as computers and machines and automation are, they still can't think creatively. They still can't produce something out of nothing without first being programmed or instructed by a human.
Creativity is what sets us apart from the machines. We have an unsteady hand and a warmth in our voice. We write songs, we perform, we love, we laugh, we make wild patterns in our work. These are the things people love and crave because they are authentically human. Your art – whatever it may be – will be richly embraced by someone because it is the purest form of humanity.
Don't worry about the masses
Notice I didn't say EVERYONE will richly embrace your art, I said someone. Do you know that there are people out there who hate Beyonce? (I know, it's a hard pill to swallow.) I don't understand it because I, like many others, happen to honestly believe she is the Queen Bey of our time. She is the epitome of creativity, womanhood and success in an innovative industry, at least, in my opinion. However, I've met people that would disagree with my stance until they are blue in the face. They've told me she's trashy, in-genuine and too pompous. They prefer the Michelle Branch type.
See where I'm going with this? There isn't one person on the planet who doesn't have haters. Everyone has some sort of hater and yet everyone has some sort of fan. Maybe you haven't found one or the other or either of those yet, but the award goes to the woman who gets out there and tries!
Brene Brown captures this completely in her writings. She often quotes this famous line from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
As I mentioned earlier, you are a success merely for putting yourself out there. Most creatives never make it that far for fear of what their mockers might say. Yet the truth is, the mockers will mock them just as much should they never try, so what's the point?
Trust the process
Art in and of itself is an arrival fallacy. Paintings are never officially finished, they are finished with the artist feels like they are. How many times can you rewrite a poem? The answer is Buzz Lightyear's motto: to infinity and beyond! When will your song have all the perfect chords? Even John Lennon switched up his music at times when he performed live. Art, like us, is ever changing and ever growing. We can't assume our work will be ready when we reach a certain point. Our work is ready when we are ready to step into the arena and share it.
Besides, the happiness isn't at the arrival, it's in the process of getting to the arrival. Focus on how much joy and pleasure you feel while you are creating your work. That feeling is why you do it. The process is what keeps us in the game. The process is what keeps us growing and changing every day. The arrival is just extra sauce on the side. It isn't the highest point of our joy. Remember that you will always have a new level to master, so don't get in a rush to skip over the one you are on now. Each level builds on the next. Without level 1, you'll never make it in level 2. Wario will eat you alive!
I spent a lot of my college career trying to become a better painter in my spare time. I knew I wasn't supposed to do it full time because that was frowned upon, so I made the most of a tiny corner in my apartment bedroom and painted as often as I could. When I graduated and found myself back in my hometown, I somehow found myself mentioning my artwork to a local photographer. She was wildly creative and her work inspired me. She was showing me around her studio when I mentioned in passing my painting hobby. For whatever reason, she went goo-goo over this fact and insisted I tell her more and show her pictures of my craft. I pulled out a few photos on my phone. She was shocked that I hadn't mentioned this before. Then, she had the greatest of ideas, or so she thought.
“You should show your work tomorrow night during the Christmas parade!”
Before I could register the thought, she was explaining how I could use her studio to display my art. We'd publicize it on Facebook and have the city mention it on the radio in between parade floats. It would be wonderful and awesome!
I began to mildly panic. As outgoing and brave as I was, I had never shown my art in public, unless art class at junior college counts. Most people in town didn't know I painted, nor did I figure they cared. The thought of putting my stuff out there really made me feel terrified.
She talked me through my fears and said this would be a huge step for me in my creative journey. After hearing her out, I agreed she was right. With the biggest knot in my stomach, I agreed to go home that night and select my best paintings to display the next day.
Of course, nothing goes unnoticed in our community. Like Miranda Lambert says, “everybody dies famous in a small town.” Before 9 a.m. The following day I had an interview on the radio about my art and several people asked me what time I'd be displaying my work. Now the knot in my stomach was covered in butterflies but I went with it.
Needless to say, the show that night was incredibly uplifting. We served cookies and punch and lots of people from around the community came in to see my work. Most didn't understand my psychedelic-abstract vibe, but my stalk of wheat and my rusted VW bug were huge hits – probably because my audience was overwhelmingly into western, cowboy-type art. Still, I sold two pieces and I was thrilled. I'd sold my work before a time or two, but only on commission. Now the whole idea of selling at art shows was opened up to me. I could do it! I could make money selling my art and have fun doing it! It really wasn't so scary after all.
Within the year I travelled around 3 states to six different shows and sold several hundred dollars worth of my paintings. I learned a lot about myself, my art and the gamble of art shows. It was a blast and it is still something I do periodically today. But guess what, it all started with that insanely scary little push from my photographer friend. Had I said no, I'd still be a closet painter.
So what's the next step for you? What do you need to commit to doing today in order to release your perfectionism and arrival fallacy and embrace the now of your art? Is it signing up for open mic night? Submitting a piece of writing to a local newspaper? Perhaps you should attend an art show and sell your crafts. Whatever it is, comment below about why you think you should do it and what fear is holding you back.