Finally, Something I Know How to Do.
This chapter is all about stubbornness. While I still have trouble knowing when to be stubborn, I do know at least that I've got it in me.
Yesterday's post forced me to confront a scary truth about myself. I started off this book thinking sure, I know who I am and I'm secure in my art and vision and message and all that. But yesterday, I realized that I'm really still thinking like the girl I was in college – firmly convinced that I'm not worth anyone's time, just plugging away trying to learn more, without hope of “getting discovered” or whatever. My teachers all said there was way too much competition in the arts and hardly anybody made a living at it, after all. I was there to learn to draw and to please my teachers, and when those motivations got stripped away, I quit.
I walked away from a full scholarship and deliberately failed a class because the final exam was to show up and sign in and leave – the teacher wouldn't even be there.
In retrospect, it wasn't a great decision. But I was a teenager used to being treated as an adult at home, and I was insulted. All semester, I had driven an hour to get to the campus, had a morning class, and then waited around for two hours before that class started. I did all my homework with excellence and left bored every day. I'd tried to talk to the teacher (also my advisor) after class about some kind of extra credit or project or anything I could do, and when another student started just talking over me, I was the one told to “calm down.” All semester, I'd fought the feeling that the class – maybe all my classes – were a waste of my time, and that “exam” proved it.
I left that college believing that I wasn't worth the time to teach properly, and now that I'd blown my scholarship on this place, I couldn't afford to go to a college that was even equipped to teach what I wanted to learn anyway. The only thing I felt confident in anymore was English class, so, after a couple years of failing everything else I tried, I went to a different college and enrolled as an English major.
I slayed being an English major. Any time I wanted to quit, I remembered what it was like to wait tables and be screamed at by my manager. I remembered what it was like when my great-aunt – who I was a live-in caretaker for briefly before we realized she had dementia – grabbed the car keys and ran away from home for an entire day. I remembered what it was like to fail at caring for her and come back home with everything I'd worked so hard for as a teenager gone, with no way to get it back. And I graduated with honors.
In my last post, I tried to describe the push that makes decent work into art. Now, this chapter is talking about that weirdly competitive zone you get into when you aren't going to let it beat you – whatever “it” may be. Other people, your circumstances, your own doubts or whatever it may be, you won't allow them to stay in your way. Jeff Goins says, “When you harness your strategic stubbornness, you give the world a reason to believe in your work.”
It's funny, because I don't think of myself as competitive and I'd just as soon opt out of a “game” entirely as soon as it seems like I'm getting dragged into something pointless (social status games come to mind). But when I'm up against something that I want to beat, I'm all in. Also, if I lose in one arena, I simply shift to the next arena I can win... and I may not be terribly concerned with any rules that don't actually disqualify me from winning. (When you grow up with brothers, you learn to be suspicious of extra “rules” that give other people advantages.)
I think everyone has this in them. It just needs to be tapped into and applied in the right way – not to trample people, but to build up your own life above whatever rut you may have fallen into.
What triggers your competitive streak, and how can you harness that to drive you on to where you want to be?
At the end of this series, I'll be giving away a copy of Jeff Goins' bestselling book, Real Artists Don't Starve. To enter, just leave me a comment on any post in the series about the book. If I draw your name, I'll email you and get your address so I can mail it directly to you.
Or you could just buy the book. It's worth buying, and if you bought through my link you'd be supporting my site since I'm an Amazon Affiliate now. Out of all the things I could be reviewing right now, this book has enough material to prompt a 14-part series from me, so imagine what kind of insights you'd be getting.
Artist, writer, creator of stuff. I just want to build worlds for you to escape to.