Thursday, August 1, 2013

Success requires failure, i.e. failing to succeed

"How 'bout grieving it all one at a time?"

Fair warning. This post contains introspection, self-deprecation, narcissism and, OK, whining. With a bit of woe-is-me thrown in for good measure. Nothing new really. If you're just not in the mood, I understand.

Whenever I'm deeply disappointed or hurt by something in life, I find it hard not to extrapolate the disappointment or loss or rejection or slight to my entire existence.

I'm crying big fat tears again right now because my beads did not jury into a publication. Because I didn't just fail at this one thing, no, that would be too simple, it's because suddenly my whole life, at least my whole life as a glass bead artist, feels like one gigantic failure.

I know this could/should/would be considered destructive thinking. Except it's not thinking, it's feeling.

It's suddenly overwhelming. My online bead sales are limping. My frit blend sales are on life support. I just did a trunk show where I had three small sales for an entire day. I post beads on Facebook and get precious few comments or "likes".

Worse than that, I'm not happy myself with the beads coming out of my kiln of late. They lack something, originality, imagination, technical quality, perfection, magic.

When I was starting out, quite frequently I'd make "the prettiest bead I've ever made". And that was because I was getting better all the time. Perhaps also, because I had a less discriminating eye.

Now I cut myself no slack. I measure myself against where I think I should be, not where I came from. I look at what other artists are doing that takes my breath away, and I find myself falling short.

Here are my bead submissions that received the dreaded red "X".

It's the photography, isn't it? Please tell me it's the photography.

Even through my tears, I know there may be reasons why my beads were not selected for the publication that have nothing to do with my artistry. Not only did I not have professional photos taken, I basically ignored the photo specifications for the entries. I convinced myself that size and "ppi" and "tif" requirements were irrelevant, and that if they chose my beads we could always re-photograph them. Now I see that I might have bought myself immediate disqualification.

Why would I sabotage myself like that? Was it just to have a valid excuse if my beads were not accepted?

I'm in good company too. So far, at least four artists whose work I respect and admire have reported that their beads also were not selected. But other artists have been checking in with the news that up to four of their beads (the maximum number we could submit) were chosen.

I've seen pictures of some of the chosen beads, and I'm taking mental notes. For example, instead of a photo of just one of my silver glass beads, I could have done a group shot. Instead of agonizing about which one to pick, I could have shown a variety.

I've seen photos of some of the unchosen beads too, and I have to say, there are no fleas on those dogs. Artists much better known in the glass world had beads turned down, while some dark horses had beads selected. This is good in the bigger sense that it's not just the "lampwork luminaries", the inner circle of the glass bead community, who will be represented. It doesn't make me feel a lot better though, as I'm a dark horse myself.

Here's what mega-talented lampworker Wesley Fleming had to say to one of the beadmakers whose very nice (and professionally photographed) work was declined.
I'm sorry to hear your bad news. BUT, please keep in mind that success requires lots of failures, and so without failures there can be no success. This doesn't sound very good in times of failure, but put two notches in your belt, keep your head up, and keep going!
I like the words, they are salve to a bruised ego. Yet, I wonder, is it true that success requires failure, that without failure there can be no success?

Obviously some may have to fail for others to succeed, such as in the case of this book that evidently drew many more submissions than it had spaces to award. But at a personal level, does my own success require my own failure? Does everyone's?

The wildly talented bead and assemblage artist Sara Sally LaGrand followed up Wesley's comment with these balmy words.
Sorry to hear that. I didn't apply to this one but I can tell you that I get rejected from all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. And I second what Wesley says. Just keep going! The next one will be it.
If only.

And in a misery-loves-company way, I found these words, offered by glass bead and jewelry maker Lucie Kovarova-Weir (who had a bead in the original book), heartening.
Three of mine got rejected, one got in. If this helps to anyone, every single application of mine, for last four or so years to Lark Books got rejected. Show me a book, show or a grant application, I can show you rejection letter. It is been close to ten years of 90% rejections for me. It is not very encouraging, all I can say, please do not take any of the stuff personally, just keep going and apply to the next one.
OK, got it.

I've submitted to juried competitions thrice in so many years and thrice I've scraped my self-esteem off the floor and vowed to try harder, do better next time, even if I have miles to go before I sleep.

As usual, I'm sitting on the sidelines, my ego too fragile to come out and say I'm in the "not-chosen" camp. Better to be silent and let my fellow beadmakers assume I didn't enter, assuming they do any assuming about me at all, which I wouldn't assume.

I'm being a little silly here, making a joke, but I'm really hurting. Not so much because of this particular rejection, although it would have been cool to be in a book that bead makers will buy and own and read for years to come. No, it's because it underscores my sense of lifelong under-achievement.

I am so desperate to excel at just one thing in my life. Not just to excel, to succeed, and success to me means validation of that excellence. Just one thing. Please.

I'm willing to do the work. I am doing the work. Every day in that hot garage, bead after bead, practicing, experimenting, stretching, again and again. Hot and sweaty, I keep going, one more bead, one more bead, until I've used all the dipped mandrels and the kiln is full.

By chance, I saw these words posted on Facebook today, by Megan Alcorn, friend of a (beadmaker) friend.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. Count your blessings.
The bottom line is, I know I'm very lucky. I practice gratitude every day. I have a good life, a happy marriage, healthy kids, adorable cats, a beautiful home. I have food to eat, clothes to wear, money in the bank. I have everything I need, everything that's important. If I'm never a renowned beadmaker, it's not the end of the world.

That doesn't mean I'm not gonna keep trying though. And that means there may be more rejection and disappointment ahead.

I'll just have to deal with it.

"how bout me not blaming you for everything
how bout me enjoying the moment for once
how bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
how bout grieving it all one at a time

thank you india
thank you terror
thank you disillusionment
thank you frailty
thank you consequence
thank you thank you silence

the moment I let go of it was the moment
I got more than I could handle
the moment I jumped off of it
was the moment I touched down

how bout no longer being masochistic
how bout remembering your divinity
how bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
how bout not equating death with stopping

thank you india
thank you providence
thank you disillusionment
thank you nothingness
thank you clarity
thank you thank you silence"

(Alanis Morissette, thank u)

1 comment:

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