How to cultivate patience, proactivity and perseverance
Be it through necessity or by habit, much of our careers in the arts are spent being reactive – seizing opportunities, putting out fires, multi-tasking priorities, juggling multiple projects.
For some, the day-to-day scramble might be a great source of energy and motivation, or at least get the job done, but it can be difficult to sustain over an entire career trajectory. Being reactive can make it difficult to create boundaries, make time for reflection or re-evaluate what you are doing and where you want to be.
The antidote could be proactivity – setting aside time for preparation and really honing your preferences for your career. But proactivity alone won’t guarantee career longevity or internal success – rather it is a complement to a trio of traits that anyone working in the arts can develop.
A recent article in the Australian Journal of Career Development by Dr Kim Goodwin of Melbourne University looked at the importance of self-efficacy and career optimism within the Australian creative industries.
‘Both of these skills or beliefs are important contributors to career success. They impact our sense of resilience; our ability to bounce back from rejection. They also contribute to our career management strategies. Keeping us motivated and focused on task,’ says Goodwin.
So what exactly are these traits and how do we cultivate them?
Simply, self-efficacy is the confidence that we can make it happen. ‘Self-efficacy is the belief we have in our own ability to execute the action needed to succeed in our goals,’ says Goodwin. ‘Those without confidence struggle to have faith in their own ability to execute the action needed to make their career happen.’
Cultivating confidence requires the ability to persevere through setbacks and learn not to take rejection personally.
Career optimism, on the other hand, is ‘the tendency to expect a positive outcome, or whether we look at our career and see the positive aspects,’ adds Goodwin.
This trait requires a level of patience – there will be periods in anyone’s career where it feels like progress is at a standstill, or it’s difficult to know what to do next. But continuing to see the positive aspects helps us to be patience with the ebb and flow of our career.
Photo by Inbal Marilli on Unsplash.
From Goodwin’s research findings on the role of support networks, to limiting self-blame, and embracing failure, creatives, writers, arts workers and more share their advice on cultivating proactivity, patience and perseverance.
1. Practice the art of failing
Failure is an important part of the creative process for Annette Wagner, a multi-disciplinary creative and founder of the creative community Wudner Gym. "Being agile is a skill I’ve started to rely on. Every failure builds my resilience by recognising I have a choice to respond less emotionally and remain outcome orientated."
Reframing failure has enabled Wagner to rebound quicker and experiment. "My failures often inform the next project. I try to celebrate the learning curve as much as the success."
This also helps foster a positive and realistic perspective, adds Goodwin. ‘Talk to others about your failure. As individuals it can be difficult not to internalise failure, but knowing we are not alone and understanding the structural and institutional factors that impact our success can make us more realistic if not positive.’
As a self-confessed perfectionist, Annie Louey says that stand-up comedy has helped shed her fear of failure.
"You have to be okay with sucking. One night I'll perform to 200 people and be delivering straight-fire jokes. The next day I'll be doing the same material to ten people who don't want a bar of it."
Failing or getting rejected is testament to how far she’s come. "You have to be okay with sucking. One night I'll perform to 200 people and be delivering straight-fire jokes. The next day I'll be doing the same material to ten people who don't want a bar of it. For me, I'm willing to suffer through some of those hard gigs because it makes me a better performer. Then the great gigs feel even better," says Louey.
For self-taught baker and Communications Manager Charlotte Ree, her passion for baking has taught her how embracing small failures in our everyday lives can help us be more resilient with our professional setbacks or criticism.
"There have been many mistakes and baking failures, but through those experiences you grow and learn. I think when applying that to my working life it has made me take things slower, think them through and not be so reactive. Without all of the ingredients working together the recipe will fail."
2. Focus on what you can control
Cultivating patience can be challenging, and it was the development and launch of Wunder Gym that taught Wagner about its merits as building something from scratch takes time.
‘I’ve grown to appreciate that you can’t rush variables out of your control. Accepting this as fact and focusing on what I can control has helped me improve my impatient ways,’ she says.
Focusing on what you can control can also help dealing with criticism or a setback. "When I’ve experienced either of these, I see it as either a variable outside my control or a learning opportunity. Either way, I shamelessly seek feedback so that I can establish what went wrong, if it was in my control or not and how I can improve," says Wagner.
3. Create a support system
A lack of support system can be contributing factor in low self-efficacy and low optimism, Goodwin has found.
"Having a strong support system, particularly supportive people in the same situation or who understand the challenges will boost optimism and self-efficacy. This directly leads to self-confidence," says Goodwin.
Sometimes it can be difficult to provide your own pep talk, which is when being around others in a similar field or finding mentors can be invaluable.
Sometimes it can be difficult to provide your own pep talk, which is when being around others in a similar field or finding mentors can be invaluable.
Knowing how difficult it can be to find a mentor in an industry of time-poor leaders, Wagner incorporated monthly mentor meetings for Wunder Gym members to benefit from.
"Members meet with the mentors who have one-on-one conversations to discuss their work, or whatever they want to discuss. This process sometimes raises more questions than solutions, however it’s having the support available that encourages each member to explore creative possibilities."
Mentorship should be two-ways. Andy Dinan, Director of MARS Gallery, views her relationships with artists as a partnership. "We need each other – we also debate, commiserate, celebrate and support each other on the journey."
This is vital to the creative process. "The cycle artists go through preparing, delivering and opening an exhibition is a personal and emotional process and I see my role in that as one of support, installing confidence where there is little or none."
4. Focus on ‘making way’ rather than ‘making it’
Success is subjective and relative, but that doesn’t necessarily eradicate feelings of comparison or worrying whether we’ll ever make it.
Career optimism can be cultivated by focusing on making way for your goals and career rather than focusing on “making it”.
For comedian Annie Louey, it’s about favouring consistency over fame. "When I first started going to open mics about five years ago, I was frustrated about not getting where I wanted fast enough. Turns out I was doing one gig every few months, so course I wasn't going to get noticed or 'become famous' any time soon! These days I do three gigs a week on average," says Louey.
Not being famous is pretty fantastic, adds Louey. "You can make the art you want and not worry about advertisers, sponsors, your agent and so on."
Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash.
5. Ask for what you want
Self-efficacy and optimism can impact our ability to cope with other issues related to working in the arts, including financial renumeration and creating work boundaries.
"Financial stress and internalising failure are linked – we often blame ourselves for financial troubles, when as any artist will tell you, it's a ridiculously tough industry to earn money in. If we have self-belief and an optimistic view of our career we are less likely to blame ourselves when financial woes hit," says Goodwin.
For Wagner, there has been a shift in her thinking around what she deserves. "I’ve officially been working for myself for three years and I’ve learned so much, including that I need to be more financially ambitious and confident, charging what I’m worth," she says.
Louey agrees, urging that the best advice would be to ask for what you want. As the saying goes, "If you don't ask, you won't receive."
6. Set a time limit
When we have a big picture goal in mind or an entire career path to pave, it can be daunting to know where to begin.
To avoid getting overwhelmed, it can be helpful to think of projects or components of your career as three-year terms, says Wagner.
"A three-year term is a reasonable amount of time to apply to any aspect of life, including demonstrating patience for yourself and others, and persevering with the morons in politics you might encounter along the way."
It can help to see something as a ten-year project so that you can cultivate patience and remember not everything has to be accomplished in a year.
Alternatively, remember there is no deadline. "I'm your typical overachiever so sometimes I have to step back and remind myself that I am still young and there's no deadline to achieve anything," says Louey. "My goal a few years ago was to perform a solo show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival once in my life. Just once. I've done it twice now and will do it a third time next year. Everything I'm doing is a bonus because I didn't think it was possible a few years ago."
"Everything I'm doing is a bonus because I didn't think it was possible a few years ago."
7. Be gentle with yourself
When music artist Sui Zhen was doing a residency in Sapporo, Japan to record an album, her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After her return to Australia and her mother’s passing, she took pause from the record and eventually completed it in late 2018, releasing 'Perfect Place' and 'Matsudo City Life'.
"As a baseline I push myself really hard, I am a stubborn and obsessive completist and have high expectations for my own output and what I can achieve in a day. I’m also one of those people who plans and organises far into the future. I had to let go of a lot of those plans and learn to be more flexible."
The major life transition taught her about learning to be gentler on herself and exercise the kind of care she would to a friend. "Finding simple pleasure in routine, self-care and connection to others is important for mental well being. Without which I don’t think an artistic practice would be sustainable in a healthy way," says Zhen.
We can be gentle in how we talk to ourselves, adds Zhen. "I noticed that I’ve started to talk myself when I start to feel stressed – maybe some subconscious voicing of what I think my Mum might say. I am proud of myself for taking things slowly to allow myself to be present in the rest of my life, and to allow myself to heal."
Photo by Matt Duncan on Unsplash
8. Connect with what you value to make better decisions
For those working in the arts or with a creative practice, the blurring between what is work and what is passion can be confusing, but also incredibly enriching.
"You have to know your own worth and dig deep into yourself to find what will motivate or inspire you to live your life day to day – knowing that through thick and thin so if your situation were to suddenly change you have enough strength to continue and forge a new paths," says Zhen.
Zhen advises regular reflection on what you value to help inform choices. "I have to check in with myself and ask; am I doing this for work? For pleasure? For healing? The transitions in my life have shed light on my own well of energy and given me more appreciation for the things I have been achieving. I can see so much more clearly now where my reserves are and make better decisions about how to spend them. For a long time I’ve known that I’ll always be making music as art first, business second. I think that takes a whole lot of pressure off,’ says Zhen.
9. Remember, no matter who you are you will have setbacks
Setting out in the creative industries means you will receive criticism and get rejected, says Dinan.
"Get used to it, learn from it and get better at what you do and how you handle that rejection. We all have that job we didn't get that we thought we were perfect for. Asking for feedback is how you get better. During moments of rejection put on that red lipstick, your comfy jumper, go for a walk or do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel better then sit down and plan how to move forward," says Dinan.
Sometimes criticism can be underserved, harsh or even inappropriate, but it's important to focus on the learning and create distance where need be.
"Haters are going to hate and they are usually not shy about it. Not everyone will understand or appreciate your vision and that's okay too. An important part to building resilience is learning when to take a criticism on board as constructive and recognising when that criticism is toxic – the kind of criticism that encourages you to stop trying. Never let that toxicity influence your vision, get a thick skin and move on," says Dinan.
10. Iterate and experiment with your ideas
An issue with goal setting or planning is that we can keep shifting the goal post, or feel deflated after we have achieved something.
Continuing to be open to new ideas, experimenting and cultivating the belief that the highlight can help cultivate proactivity.
"The best gig of my life could be just around the corner as long as I keep putting myself out there. You never know when one thing could lead to another. I would say being patient is good but be proactive too. Do what you can to empower yourself," says Louey.
But it can be hard to go it alone or maintain the positive attitude in a silo. In her research, Goodwin found that communities of practice and support systems help create safe spaces for idea generation and testing. "It's important not to suggest that these groups are narrow from a disciplinary perspective. They can be, but they need diversity of all types and regeneration. New people coming in as more established members move on. Co-working spaces or shared studios can facilitate this in interesting ways, as can online communities. Those within it need to make a conscious effort to participate, learn and help keep them alive and vibrant," says Goodwin.
Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash.
11. Remember, everything worthwhile takes time
For Charlotte Ree, a lot can be gleaned about patience and perseverance from the baking process.
"My nanny always said that the best things come to those who wait, and I think that is absolutely true in life and especially in baking. It has taken me 9 years to get to this point in my career, and 5 years to get to the point of publishing my own baking book. I think a bit of that is good luck, but a lot of it is hard work. I persevered to get to this point and I have absolutely no desire to stop here. I really cannot wait to keep learning, keep challenging myself and keep exploring new opportunities," she says.
For Ree, baking was a way to unwind, put her phone away and be present after a busy working day, and with the cultivation of patience has led to her first book, Just Desserts, to be published in October.
"I am a self-confessed workaholic and a publicist’s hours are never 9 to 5, but out of that came my passion for baking. It was a way of doing something for me, that calmed me, gave me a purpose that wasn’t only revolving around work and allowed me to utilise skills learnt in my day job," says Ree.
For Dinan, time and persistence is everything. "My career is not really about me or my gallery. It really comes down to wanting to advocate for the artists I work with. If you believe in your artists and their practice, then with time and persistence everything falls in place for their career and yours. I may represent an artist and we never sell a work in the first year or two. It's important not to become impatient because you never know. After eight years of representing Tricky Walsh, they will show work in a group exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris next month and I find myself fielding calls from around the world about their work," she says.
If academia has taught Goodwin one thing, it’s is that things take time and you never know when the fruits of your labour will pay off. "The crucial aspect is to keep adding skills to your toolkit and to build positive, respectful relationships wherever you go as at some point you will need to call on both your own capabilities and the people you've met along the way," she says.
"Building any career isn't easy and success can take time and come in many forms. But self-awareness along with community makes the journey more enjoyable," concludes Goodwin.
Written by Madeleine Dore. Originally published on Artshub.