It's Not Luck (& Other Reasons Why Creatives Need to be More Vocal About Their Accomplishments)
You’ve been accepted to a juried show, received a prestigious award, had an incredible review written about your work, or made a major sale. Congrats! It’s one of the best feelings in the world to know that others are supporting what you do. So why are we often hesitant to share the joy that we’re experiencing? Perhaps you’re shy and don’t want a lot of extra attention or think that going on about your accomplishments is boastful. While there is certainly a line between updating your community with exciting things that are happening and oversharing, there are a few key reasons why creatives, and especially women artists, need to be more vocal about their achievements.
I’m sure many of us have fallen into the trap of brushing away compliments. Rather than thanking someone for congratulating us on selling a painting or landing a gallery to represent our work, we’ll come up with an excuse to make the accomplishment sound like less than it is. “Oh, I got lucky” or “It’s not really a big deal” you might say, but that’s not true! Too many of us operate under the strange, outdated notion that it is more polite to negate a compliment than accept it. Even if the circumstances surrounding a particular moment of success seem serendipitous, you likely played an active role in making it happen for yourself. You made great work that was recognized by the juror (or curator, gallery, collector, etc) and you put yourself out there by applying to the opportunity or perhaps through networking and being active online. So stop giving anyone or anything else the credit. It’s not luck, it’s you.
Always remember that it is important for your peers to know about your achievements. Why? Because you never know who can introduce you to your next, big opportunity and it may only take one new connection to catapult your career to the next level. Success in the arts often occurs like a domino effect, where one person will find your work and from that perhaps another will share it, and then another, and it keeps going from there. It’s almost as if the tastemakers in the industry have ‘FOMO’ and if one magazine or curator is featuring a certain artist, then others feel they should be too. Yes, they want to try and find the ‘next big name’ first, but once one influencer has identified a great new talent, others often follow soon after. You can help this process along for yourself by making sure that your community knows when you’ve been featured in a magazine or exhibition so that they can help share it too and potentially build buzz and momentum.
Making others aware of recent accomplishments also helps with name recognition. I’ll share a story here to help illustrate about a friend who recently went to an awards ceremony in the advertising industry. When his team was honored with their first trophy of the evening, he opted not to join the group onstage and when his colleagues asked why, he cited the same feelings of not needing the attention or wanting to look too proud. But then he realized, it’s not just an opportunity to celebrate with his team, it’s a chance for everyone else in the room to see that they produce high quality work for their clients. If you see the same person going up to accept multiple awards, then you’ll start to remember them and likely associate that person with being great at what they do (and maybe want to work with them in the future!). Therefore, try not to be shy about sharing that you’ve won awards or been given other important recognition. You should want your personal and especially your professional contacts to remember you for all of the great things you’ve done!
Most importantly, however, you need to be vocalizing your successes because if you don’t then nobody will know about them. It sounds obvious that you need to be your biggest cheerleader, but we often don’t fully realize the consequences of not sharing good news. I once had a boss who started giving me fewer shifts than my two other peers. Confused, I confronted her about what I might be doing wrong or what I could be doing better. She didn’t have anything negative to say. Instead, she simply told me that the other two girls spoke up more often about the projects they were completing on a daily basis or the sales they had made and I didn’t. I was so surprised to hear that I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. Even though I was selling just as much (or more!), keeping up with all of my work, and often staying late to do a little extra cleaning or to take on additional tasks, this one thing was holding me back.
I also read an article around that time which stated that believing you’ll get recognized just from keeping your head down and working hard unfortunately isn’t true and it’s women who tend to suffer the most from this misconception. With that in mind, it made more sense. As my employer usually worked from home rather than in the office, how was she supposed to differentiate my sales and projects from what the other girls were doing if I didn’t tell her specifically? So now, even if I still sometimes feel a bit reserved about ‘tooting my own horn’, I try to think of it as an integral part of promoting myself and push myself to do it in order to keep my career moving forward instead of stuck in the same place.
Finally, even though it might feel a bit awkward at first, it’s very likely that your artist community really wants to celebrate your successes with you. There will always be negative people and those who struggle with jealousy, but your core support group will stand by your side. Just like they will be there for you when you’ve been rejected or are having a slow period, they also want to be a part of your high moments, especially if you’re going to pop that champagne ;) Cheers!
Of course, none of this is to say that there aren’t instances where a bit of good fortune plays a part in our lives. Some people have parents or other role models who supported their careers while some don’t and certain cities or countries provide more opportunities for working artists than others. Instead of focusing on things that can’t be changed, however, remember that there are so many examples of people who have overcome difficult circumstances and achieved success anyway, despite their obstacles or limited resources. This is about cherishing exactly those people and those moments. I’ll bet you can think of several examples of when you had to ‘make it work’ too. Be proud of those efforts, show how grateful you are for what you have, and perhaps even try to pay it forward to other artists you know who may need help or guidance.
We all go through highs and lows and it’s a powerful thing that more artists and people in general are being authentic about when they’re not having their best day. We don’t always need to see perfect lattes and curated travel photos. But part of being real is sharing when good things happen too, even when they are little victories. If you’re starting out, having a small show at a local cafe or selling your first work are totally worthy and incredible accomplishments. Share them! Not because it’s bragging or trying to make others think that you’re this great, successful artist (you already are one and don’t need anyone else’s opinion to prove it). Rather, it’s the chance for you to share something that you’re genuinely proud of and that excites you, which your followers and those who support your work will truly appreciate and celebrate too!