When you've been doing something for a significant amount of time (say, a decade and a half), you'll inevitably encounter this question:

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

The first few times this question was posed to me, I gave some basic, common-sense answers and changed the subject. It was honestly baffling to me that someone would be asking ME for advice in the first place. Now, many years in, and with an artistic process I feel more confident in, I have developed a personal barometer for whether I am engaged in the kind of work I want/need to be doing. 

These "three rules" have become my own guideposts, and also serve as the advice I give to artists who are trying to find their way.  While I'm writing specifically from the perspective of a professional artist, I think these rules apply to a lot of industries and pursuits. Maybe they'll help you re-frame how you think about whatever your Big Work is.

1. Do Good Work

Ha, ha, very funny, right? But what I mean is, do the work. Invest in your work. Take the time to learn from those who came before you (and those coming after you). Learn as much as you can about your field so that you can have an honest critical perspective. Don't take shortcuts to chase fame or temporary success. Do the work that you think is good, and that you believe in. Keep learning even after you think you're good - you can always be better.

2. Be Generous

When someone is coming up, share your knowledge and experience freely. This industry can be very competitive and there is often a feeling that everyone is "out for themselves" - be the opposite of that. Treat other artists like your teammates. Within limits (i.e. respect your own personal boundaries), share what resources you can and lift each other up. Don't buy in to the scarcity model. There is enough for everyone. The relationships you build with other artists is what will keep you going when you want to quit.

3. Don't Quit

This is the most important rule and the most self-explanatory. If your work feels like a necessary part of your life, and, like me, you need to Make Things to feel sane, grounded, and happy, then don't ever stop doing it. You may change your approach over time, you may change your investment and your goals...all of that is fine. But if you're an artist, that's a lifelong thing. Don't give up because you aren't meeting some arbitrary goal someone else has set for you or some definition of "success" that doesn't ring true for you.

I think about this set of "rules" often, and I try to make sure it's leading the way when I make decisions about my artistic life. Since I've implemented this, I've felt much happier overall with the direction things are going. So, there you have it.

Do Good Work, Be Generous, Don't Quit.



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