The reason many of us never self-actualize is because it’s easier to play a role in life than it is to become our true selves. It’s easier to conform to what people expect than it is to stand out. But this is not the way great art is made, nor is it the way real artists are made.
Eventually, you have to decide who you are. You have to choose your role and own that identity. We don’t fake it till we make it. We believe it till we become it. – Jeff Goins
It’s time we self-actualized the real artist within us. It’s also time we turned pro as we usher into what Jeff Goins calls “The New Renaissance” – the dawning era where artists (that’s you and me) are not starving but thriving.
In fact, it’s not really something new. There’s no groundbreaking here as he reveals in the book that long before, Michelangelo was already paving the way for the coming Creative Age (Hello Golden Age!). It’s just that we knew nothing about it and we bought into the myths instead.
Now, Jeff debunks all of them and lays down real accounts (and I mean Michelangelo’s bank account to cite one) of famous artists that show us how they’re made. It’s those stories that I found more revealing, awe-inspiring! And embedded in them are timeless strategies we can apply so we, too, can thrive.
There are 12 principles that Jeff says a thriving artist should live by. They fall under 3 main categories:
- The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one.
- The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
- The Starving Artist believes he has enough talent. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.
- The Starving Artist is stubborn about everything. The Thriving Artist is stubborn about the right things.
- The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
- The Starving Artist believes he can be creative anywhere. The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening.
- The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.
- The Starving Artist does his work in private. The Thriving Artist practices in public.
- The Starving Artist works for free. The Thriving Artist always works for something.
- The Starving Artist sells out too soon. The Thriving Artist owns his work.
- The Starving Artist masters one craft. The Thriving Artist masters many.
- The Starving Artist despises the need for money. The Thriving Artist makes money to make art.
Let’s delve deeper into some of them, shall we?
Before you can create great art, you first have to create yourself.
Re-creating yourself means letting go of who you were before and accepting a new identity. It means walking away from what people said you should be in exchange for something better. Inevitably, this means we have to break some rules.
We assume where we are in life is where we must remain, but the creative life is a process of possibility, of reimagining what could be. And so we find ourselves on the cusp of transformation. The question to ask ourselves is, are we willing to become our true selves?
“The Rule of Re-creation” says no one is born an artist, you become one. Another way to put it: everyone is born with a potential to be an artist, but we must actualize it.
That actualization begins with a question: Who am I?
Most of the time, the answer that comes to it is who I am not. And it’s actually a good thing. Because in order to know who you really are, you need to know first who you are not.
I was educated and trained to be an engineer. I had no qualms about such upbringing since I thought it was the best career path that would get me to my dreams. Long story short, it wasn’t. Life happened differently from what I planned. I reached an impasse and arrived at a point where I had to ask myself: If being an engineer is not what I was meant to be, then what?
From that space of self-inquiry, discovering who I am, and knowing what’s true for me, what my values are and aligning with them, I re-created myself. Turns out that I’m fascinated by words more than numbers do. I can articulate poems better than I can analyze data networks. And not only do I feel fulfilled when I write, especially when my writing has a positive impact on others, but I also have a greater chance of fulfilling my dreams.
I may not be born a writer, but definitely, I choose to become one. I make that choice again and again.
The Giant Leap is a Small Step
Sometimes, it’s not the big bets that pay off but the small ones that get you the big win. If you don’t have to go all in, don’t. Why not start with a smaller risk? Most significant change begins with a simple step, not a giant leap. You don’t need to see the whole path to know what your next move is; you just need to take the next, right risk. Small changes over time can lead to massive transformation.
You have a day job? Nice. You want to be a writer? Nicer. And you don’t need to quit your job right away to become one.
That’s exactly what John Grisham did. With mouths to feed, not only him but his whole family would go on starving had he left his job at the law office. He just started writing. Three years later he had a book: A Time to Kill, which launched his legal-thriller series (credits to his job) that he became known for. But it wasn’t until he had two bestsellers before he quit law and went writing full time.
The risk we’re invited to take need not be a matter of life and death. It’s not about stopping one thing in order to start something. It’s simply starting something. And you can Start Right Where You Are. As Sam Bennett illustrates in her book, a 1-degree shift in the trajectory of a rocket ship changes its course by 1.6 million miles from its original destination point. Tiny shift, BIG difference.
Do the least you can that you cannot not do it. If one page a day seems hard, do it one paragraph a week. Start with one sentence a day. Writing a sentence won’t require anybody to quit a job. But you need to start writing.
Then, step up gradually. That’s how BIG change happens, through a series of small, incremental changes.
What’s the smallest step you can take now?
Real Artists are Thieves
Creativity is not about being original; it’s about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material. Innovation is really iteration. We learn from those who have come before us and borrow from their creations to make things the world calls “original.”
Here’s an iteration, a follow-up on an insight we gleaned from Bones:
Because we re-create ourselves, it only follows that we also re-create what we do.
Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be transformed, yes? Same law applies here. Creativity is transformation. We are only re-creating from one form to another.
But here’s an irony: Nobody’s an original. Yet, in the truest essence, we are all original. We all come from a single point of Origin – the Source (or God). We all share the same Consciousness, from which all thought-forms (ideas) come from.
We are not stealing from one another, we are sharing with one another. It’s not a criminal act, it’s communal. We build upon each other’s work.
What we really mean by “stealing” is tapping into that same Source of creativity, which resides in each one of us.
We, as artists, are simply the individual unique expressions of that Consciousness, expressing Itself differently.
Originality is really out of the question here. What we should ask ourselves is: What unique expression am I? How do I express the same thing differently?
An artist’s job is not to be perfect but to be creating.
Thriving Artists, however, are flexible on details but stubborn on vision. They do not take personally praises or criticism. They persevere so that they can keep doing their work. Realizing success is not up to them, their job is to continue creating.
Stubbornness gets in the way when it’s about you—your fame, your reputation, your success—but it becomes a tool when used to further your work.
Jeff cites F. Scott Fitzgerald (Great Gatsby author) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) to describe how stubbornness can make or break an artist. Both are stubborn. But the writer was stubborn about his success; the entrepreneur was stubborn about the work.
So when critics thought Gatsby was a flop, Fitzgerald took it personally. Not only did it took a toll on his writing, he wasn’t also able to stick around to see the eventual success of his work. (Hey Scotty, I want you to know, you have a stubborn fan over here.)
On the other hand, Bezos stubbornness on doing the work made him flexible with failures. He saw them as details, as part of the vision he was aiming for. That stubbornness on vision is what made Amazon that it is now.
It’s the same ethos Jeff encourages us to adopt. To become a thriving artist, we need to be stubborn on vision and flexible on details.
We need to see beyond ourselves to see the big picture.
Don’t make it about yourself – your fame, your reputation, your success. Make it about the work you do. And be stubborn about it.
You and Your Patron
Influencers want to help people. They want to invest in others. They just need to know that you’re worth their time, which means your abilities need to be obvious. Your job, then, is to get to work, because the best way to win over a patron is to show them your potential, and the best demonstration of your ability is the work itself. This doesn’t mean you must be suddenly amazing— most artists in need of a patron are not. But it does mean that you should be working and, more importantly, be willing to learn.
Before any artist reaches an audience of many, an artist must first reach an audience of one. That’s where the patron comes in.
You’ve heard how Justin Bieber rose to stardom? He was posting amateur videos of his performances (mostly done at home) on YouTube, not knowing he caught the eyes and ears of Scooter Braun, a former So So Def marketing executive, who later on became his manager, who later on introduced him to Usher. The rest is history. All because JB reached an audience of one.
Similar fate for Elvis Presley in reaching Sam Phillips. “One is the talent and the other the advocate,” says Jeff in wrapping up the story.
But what if there’s no luck in reaching that patron? Easy. Be your own advocate. You have to believe first in yourself, in the art that you make, in the work that you do. Then, act on that belief as if the whole world is patronizing you.
Join a Scene, Collaborate.
Success in any creative field is contingent on the scenes and networks you are a part of. You join the scene, showing up and sharing your work. But you build a network by giving more than you take. A network is not made by just connecting with the right people, but by connecting those people to each other. It’s not just who you know—it’s who you help. As you make these contributions, what you will create is a group of relationships—a network— that you can take with you wherever you go.
Because of one little side comment from C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien came up with an idea. From it, The Lord of the Rings was born. Can you imagine the magnitude of that comment from Lewis? For the success that soon followed Tolkien’s masterpiece, it was HUGE!
What if all masterpieces were made that way? Not from one mind, but a mastermind, not of some lone genius, but that of a collaborative one.
I just saw this YouTube clip of Jay Shetty (Yep, I discovered him. And I became his subscriber. Yep, that’s me.)
As I was saying, or as Jay was saying, no one is “self-made.”
As Natalie Goldberg emphasizes in Bones, it’s a communal act. Everything is.
Jeff cites Beyonce’s album, Lemonade, a collaborative project of seventy-two writers. Kanye West’s Life of Pablo had a hundred artists behind it. Rihanna’s Anti had more than thirty. (Just wait for my album, it’ll be self-titled.)
The line from the Holstee Manifesto sums it up: “Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating.”
Go! <<<- just a little side comment from me, you’re welcome.
Practice in Public
When you practice like that, sharing your work for the world to see, you develop more than just a reputation. You build a legitimate fan base around your work. And when you’ve done that, you’ve created a powerful asset.
When we sincerely offer our gifts to the world, not through hype but by practicing in public, the world often repays us by first taking notice and then responding with loyalty. We get better, earning an audience that will allow us to continue creating for years to come.
Jeff urges us to practice early in public. Why? Because no one knows you yet. Nobody starts out famous. And that’s great news! You can, and you will make many mistakes in the early stages of your practice and no one will make a fuss about it.
Better yet, people might actually appreciate you showing up in spite of the flaws in your work. They will appreciate you for sharing all that you are. Without knowing it, you are already building a fan base, your tribe.
As you hone your craft, your fan base also will likely grow. By the time you’re ready to present a product that showcases your body of work, you have these loyal fans more than willing to support it, buying it.
The world is waiting for what you have to offer.
Money is Important
Creative success is about getting to do your work without constraint. Money is not the point, but it is part of the road we all must walk to become professionals. Charging brings dignity to our work. It validates our offering to the world. And it allows us to keep working.
Money is part of the process of becoming an artist, if for no other reason than it affirms you are a professional, but the decision to be taken seriously is yours alone. You set the tone for how people will treat you, which means you must believe your work is worth charging for.
Your work matters. But the world won’t recognize this until you do.
You are turning pro. You are shifting your hobby to career. People get paid for their careers. It allows them to continue the work they do. It only makes sense that we treat artists the same way.
Yes, you don’t create art for the sake of money. But making money from your art allows you to create more. It becomes an essential tool.
If your artwork has a price tag, it goes to show that you value what you do. People are not just merely buying your work. They pay for the value you put in it.
Yes, our art remains more important. And if we want it to thrive, we must make money an important part of the equation, too.
Art comes first. Money comes second.
Master of All Trades
Your art is never beholden to a single form. You can always change and evolve, and the best artists do this regularly. They understand that in order to thrive, you have to master more than one skill. This is the Rule of the Portfolio: the Starving Artist believes she must master a single skill, whereas the Thriving Artist builds a diverse body of work.
This is how you build a body of work. You seek out new opportunities and skills, developing a leaky filter to take it all in, and then focus on the skills needed to do the work.
Cultivating a portfolio mind-set will keep you focused on what really matters: not on any single work but on the whole creative life itself.
While browsing, I’ve chanced upon this image with a quote that intrigued me: “Jack-of-all-trades? Master them all!”
I thought to myself, “Why not?” Not to be mistaken, I’m also a believer in the power of focusing on one thing. But if you can master more than one, why not?
Jeff also advocates the same idea and calls it “The Rule of Portfolio.” He insists that we use the natural “leaky filter” of our creative minds to our advantage.
To stretch the idea further, consider this: God, or the Universal Mind, did not just create the mountains; did not focus on creating just the oceans. If God did, then we could have not possibly come into existence.
As a co-creator, the God within us also does the same. It’s a Master Mind capable of mastering many. Or at the very least, creating many, a diversity.
T.K. Coleman writes a striking line in his Medium article: “Even if you marry a single interest, don’t stop flirting with other passions.”
Art & Money: Just Married
Creative work is a costly endeavor, both in time and resources, calling us to dedicate large amounts of our lives to it without any immediate reward. When we find ways to make money, it buys us time and gives us the opportunity to create more.
This is the Rule of the Gift, which says that if art is your duty, then you must create. The nature of a gift is that it is to be given away, so the first duty of an artist is to do your work. There is a spirit of generosity in every creative act, but to embody this generosity we cannot starve. We must be creating with full bellies and full souls.
I have a confession to make: I have a hidden desire to become a bestselling author. (Thanks, it’s no longer hidden.)
For all the reasons that I believe are right for me, that any other artist/creator/human being deserves: to be free enough to become the greatest expression of who we are and experience life to the fullest – full soul and full belly.
And financially speaking, to have more than enough.
Let’s marry art and money. Their relationship can and will work, so long as art is the master and money is the servant. While we work on our art, money can work for us.
Self-titled album? Go for it!
If Life proposes that you become its bestselling artist, please, please, with heart screaming out loud, say:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JEFF GOINS is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and popular blogger with a reputation for challenging the status quo. In three years, Goins built a million-dollar business, published four books, and became an online marketing expert, using his skills in writing and business to help others succeed. He lives with his family near Nashville, Tennessee. Visit him online at goinswriter.com
Other Books by Jeff Goins
The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to DoYou Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big ThingWrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life