As artists, we often think that our talent is all that counts when it comes to success. But there is something that is much more important to your success: mindset. A productive and good mindset will allow you to attempt more things, take on new challenges and sell more art, while a toxic mindset will prevent you from making crucial decision, starting new ventures or promoting yourself.
Today, I want to talk about five of the most toxic mindsets that will not only prevent you from succeeding, but also might force you to quit your career altogether.
The “I’m Too Old” Mindset
Do you sometimes feel like you are too old to be a success? That the train has left the station already, and that it’s too late for you to catch up? This is a common mindset that happens to many artists. Feeling like you are too old to “make it” is a paralysing thought that can drive you to stop making efforts.
Feeling too old is a toxic mindset stemming from unhealthy comparisons and not feeling “enough”. We see a lot of young people succeeding, and there’s a jealousy that comes from feeling like we have missed the boat. It’s even amplified after a failure (or what we perceived as a failure) because we feel like we wasted our time on something that didn’t work.
The truth is, in most creative industries, it is rarely “too late”. Yes, perhaps if you are a performer who needs to be in a specific physical condition to accomplish your art, you might have restrictions. But for the vast majority of artists, it doesn’t matter how old you are. There are tons of creative people who became famous later in life. Think about Toni Morrison who published her first book at 40, Vincent Van Gogh who only went to art school at 27, or Morgan Freeman who got his first major role at 52!
If you think that you are too old to succeed, I invite you to research proofs that this mindset is wrong. Who, in your particular field, succeeded when they were older than you? Who is the living proof that you can make it later in life?
The “I Should Have Succeeded By Now” Mindset
Another similarly destructive mindset is the “should have” mindset. It’s a mindset telling you about all the things that you should have accomplished at this stage of your life. It’s all the thoughts starting with “I should have…” And ending with “…by now”.
We all have ideas and blueprints of how our artistic career is supposed to go. You might have been thinking about it since you were a teenager, and you might have placed some benchmarks on your own life, indicating if you were succeeding or not. This is not limited to art, by the way. This is the same process of thought when you decide that by a certain age, you ought to get married, buy a house or start a family.
The problem with this mindset is that if you don’t meet your deadlines, you will feel like a failure. Whether you feel like you have wasted the year, the decade or your whole life, it will make you feel like you haven’t done enough, that you are not enough. This is a very destructive chain of thoughts that might lead you to the path of quitting your art.
If this is your mindset, the best advice I can give you is to put things in perspective. Yes, you might not have accomplished everything you wanted yet, but you probably have accomplished a lot of other things that you would never have anticipated. Perhaps you built a career so you could ensure you financial stability. Perhaps you spent years on a project that never came out to the public but taught you a lot about your craft. Or perhaps you just hadn’t discovered your “thing” yet and needed the time to know yourself better.
Whatever happened in the past, try to replace the “should have” thoughts with more productive ones, such as “I did this instead”, or “yes, but I needed time to learn this”. This is a way to stop piling on guilt and regret, and move forward.
The “I’m Not Good With Sales” Mindset
When you started creating your art, you probably did it because you enjoyed the craft, because you were inspired and perhaps also had a vision of how successful you could become. And creating something out of thin air is one of the most joyful activities that I can imagine.
However, down the line, came a big hurdle: it’s not enough to make your art. You’ve got to sell it. Or at least get others to discover it. And here comes the problem: as an artist, you might be struggling with things like marketing, sales, promotions and being an entrepreneur. You might hate talking about your art to potential customers. You might feel awkward self-promoting your new pieces. Or you might even feel like you’re not tech-savvy enough to create a website or use social media.
All these problems create a mindset that makes you believe that you are just not good with sales. That it’s not your thing, and therefore you should not even try. That you’re “just” an artist, and that it’s enough. The problem? Being “just” an artist is not enough if you want to go full-time one day or at least progress in your career. At some point, this mindset will hurt your growth and rob you of many opportunities.
How to get rid of this mindset? Take one task at the time. The problem with activities like sales, marketing or social media is that you can easily waste a lot of time trying to do everything at once, and feeling completely lost in the process. Start with one promotion channel, the easiest one. Document yourself, research, watch videos on how to do it or read books. Ask for help! A lot of other artists have gone through the same problems, they are a goldmine of information.
But most importantly, you have to train yourself to believe that you can figure it out. You are smart, you are dedicated to your art, and you are resourceful. Yes, you might need help, but if you take things one by one, you can accomplish a lot. It doesn’t matter if your natural temperament is more “artistic” than “sales”. You still can learn and apply new knowledge like anyone else.
The “I Don’t Know The Right People” Mindset
Being an artist can be a solitary activity during the whole creation process. However, when it comes to exhibiting your work, you will need to make contact with the right people. Agents, gallery owners or casting directors, knowing the right people can propel your career further.
But not everyone has the right contacts from the get-go. Often, we start in a vacuum and we need to work hard to network and meet useful contacts. This work can become disheartening quickly. It is difficult to meet important (and often busy) people. It is also demoralising if you see other artists getting opportunities that you don’t have because they run in the same circles as these important people.
I have seen countless of artists who begrudge their whole industry because they believe it’s just a “friends help friends” world. They think that they’ll never get a chance to show their work because they don’t know the right person. They think that others have an unfair advantage, and that they’ll never catch up.
I don’t agree with this limiting belief. Networking is a skill that you can learn. Similarly as sales and marketing, you can become very good at finding the right event, meeting the right people and getting what you want from them. It takes time and work, but it is possible to achieve. And yes, it is unfair that other artists don’t have to put the same amount of work because they already have the network they need. But you can’t change that. The only thing you can change is yourself.
So if this is your mindset, I advise you to brush up your socialising skills, learn to network efficiently, research who would be susceptible to help your career and attend events where they would be. Prove to yourself that you can establish your own connections, and get your work out there!
The “I Need To Suffer To Be Good” Mindset
If you have ever read my books, you know that I have a big pet peeve: the tortured artist. Otherwise called “poet audit”, this stereotype dictates that anyone who is creative is also tortured with mental illness, various addictions or destructive behaviours. Worse: it is seen as a “good” thing to be tortured, as it somehow makes our art better.
This particular mindset is extremely dangerous because it implies that unless you have demons, you can’t be a successful artist. And that you shouldn’t try to solve your mental health problems unless you want to lose your inspiration. This has led to centuries of miserable artists and far too many deaths as a result. And yet, a lot of us still believe that we need to revel in darkness to produce our best work.
To this, I say: NO! You don’t need to suffer to be a good artist. Your muse does not simply go away when you work on your issues, whether they are linked to mental health or other problems. Yes, your work might change, but it doesn’t mean that it will be less good. It just means than when you feel better, your inspiration might come from different things.
If this is your mindset, I invite you to examine why you think this way. Are you punishing yourself for any reason? Do you genuinely think that your work would be worse if you worked on yourself, if you were happier?
The way you think about your art and your artistic career in general will influence greatly the level of success you’ll have. Watch out for toxic and limiting beliefs, as they will hinder you more than any other obstacle.
And don’t forget that you are not alone in this game. Plenty of other artists are facing the same challenges and problems, so don’t hesitate to share your struggles!
Céline is an author and podcaster passionate about helping fellow artists reach their potential and live a happy, balanced life.