Alt. title: What’s Holding You Back?
A public pep-talk to myself and anyone that wants to listen.
Mostly? Fear of failure. During my school years I was the best artist in my year, from beginning to end that was everything that I was about. My report cards from all classes went something like, ‘If Trevor could apply himself as much to the academic side of (Insert non-art class here), as he does to drawing diagrams, posters, and book covers, then I am sure he could achieve a grade higher than a C.’ As it happens I achieved straight Bs, with the exception of Art and Graphic Design, obviously.
Cut to sixth form and there’s a kid in the year above me whose drawing and painting was the stuff I could only dream of producing. At the UCAS application process, I froze. ‘Actually, parents, I’m just gonna stick with Morrisons, the pub, and the snooker hall for a bit.’ Truth was, the fact that this kid had been (in my eyes, at least) so much better than me struck me with fear. At university, would everyone be this good?
Cut to one month later, ‘Actually, parents, I’ve left my job and dyed my hair green. I’m just going to stick with punk for a bit.’
Cut to me, aged 25, as the penny drops that I’m an artist and can no longer deny it. ‘Actually, wife, I’m just going to stick with this call centre for a bit…’
Cut to me, aged 32, finally doing something about it and enrolling in Art School.
Cut to me, aged 35, walking around my degree show with my new born son strapped to my chest. ‘Actually, art world, I’m just going to be raising this little feller and his little sister (arrived two years later) for a bit.’
Well, this year I turn forty. That little feller has started school and his little sister starts preschool in September, and with that goes my last remotely viable excuse for not getting on with it. Of course, I have been getting on with it – loads of exhibitions, writing, etc – but it can be hard to believe when almost all of your time is spend changing nappies, bathing small humans, cleaning up sick etc.
Thing is, a lot of artists have this thing called impostor syndrome – the fear that sooner or later we will be found out, unearthed as the frauds we feel ourselves to be, while simultaneously secretly believing we have one of the world’s greatest art minds – if only there weren’t so many things in the way of unlocking it.
Scrape all of that away and what you’re left with is fear of failure. There is nothing that can stop you from having a go at the life and career you want for yourself, be it artist in a garden studio painting watercolour sunsets of St. Ives, or community engagement officer of your local council, or anything in between, from lecturing to actually selling work through a gallery.
You see, more often than not, fear of failure isn’t fear of failure at all. It is fear of failing in front of people whose opinions we value, and whose trust we have, and who believe in us. The invisible bungee that pulls us back from achieving is the fear of letting down those people, but unless we cut that bungee, the only people we’ll be letting down is ourselves.