The buzzword of the last few years has been “Habits” and I think we can all agree that we have James Clear, author of the #1 Best selling book (of all genres!) of 2021, Atomic Habits to thank for that. He goes deep into the HOW of habits. How to form them, How to quit them, and How they shape us.
But when it comes to a group of talented and highly trained artists, do our particular daily habits determine whether we will be successful or not?
Surely, things like how much financial support we have, who we know, and the particular talent we were born with have more to do with our level of future success than whether we do situps every night before bed, right?
Having spent the first part of my life working to achieve artistic success as a professional cellist, and now working as a coach to high-performing musicians, dancers, filmmakers, actors, and visual and spoken word artists, I have seen time and time again, that a) all talent being equal, the better habits win out every time, b) those things like financial support, contacts, and even our talent all come down to our daily habits, rather than simply being bestowed upon us, and c) an average talent with good habits beats a super talent without them over and over again when it comes to the long game.
It’s all about who you know, right? And as smarmy as that sounds just stated like that, when was the last time you were in a position to choose a group of people to work with and you didn’t start with your immediate network? It’s just the way the world works. We want to know that we will enjoy the people we are working with, and we want to trust that they are the right person for the job, so we choose people we already know.
But it’s about WAY more than the number of FB friends you have.
A while ago, I had a call with someone who knows EVERYONE. Seriously. This guy is super connected to all of the bigwigs in his industry. But he was frustrated that no one was offering up any opportunities. “If it’s all about who you know, and I know everyone, why isn’t it working for me?” he asked.
I asked him how often he nurtured those relationships.
An essential habit that successful artists have built into their routine is to reach out to people in their network. Not because they need a favor, but because they have something to offer them. An article they thought they might enjoy. A text or a call on their birthday, rather than just the generic FB message, and these days in 2022, engaging with their social media posts–sharing them, commenting on them. It helps them, you end up being top of mind for them, and it opens the door to future conversations.
I know in certain arts fields–I’m looking at you, ballet–there is a lot of structure in place when it comes to doing one’s daily work even at the professional level. You still go to class with the rest of the company each morning, and if you don’t show up, it’s noticed.
But in other fields like music, art, or writing, only the individual really knows how much they are working each day. Take a day off from practicing? No one will even know, right? There’s also that romantic notion of “waiting for inspiration to strike.” The artist bums around all day, and then suddenly runs over to the piano to start practicing at midnight––sleeping housemates and family members be damned.
The artists I have spoken to and worked with who had the most success had a much better handle on their routine. Some woke up before the sun and did the same warm-up routine every single day no matter what. Others, who maybe have different life circumstances, with young kids or a fluctuating freelance schedule, still know when they do their best work and do what they can to ensure they can work when they need to.
Of course, I’ve also seen the importance of taking time off to rest, and making sure one is balancing their craft work with having a life outside of their craft. So I’m not saying that in order to be successful you need to be a slave to your art. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
By knowing your schedule, when you do your best work, and the available support and built-in parameters you’re dealing with, YOU are the one in control. You’re not a slave to the whims of your muse, You carve out time each day and work on your craft.
I think we can all agree that when it comes to starting out on a life in the Arts, there are a lot of costs associated with it.
As a student, we invest in Instruments, lessons, gear, ballet shoes, art materials, studio space, festivals, and pay-to-play concerts in Carnegie Hall. The list is almost endless. But we’re learning and growing, and it just comes with the territory.
The thing is, for many artists, the idea of investing in their growth ends the day they are handed a diploma.
“Alright! I’m a professional now. Guess I know what I need to know!” and off they go.
Successful Artists, however, continue to look for opportunities and ways to invest in themselves–a better instrument, a writing program, another degree, a coach, a professionally designed website, or taking some more lessons with a performing or teaching legend.
Unfortunately, these investments tend to be big-ticket items, and sometimes those are hard to fathom. It can feel far easier to spend $100 ten times, than to spend $1000 once.
I once spoke with an artist who desperately wanted to work with me. She “just knew” I was the right person to help her get her project off the ground and then she would be both artistically fulfilled and financially more stable. But she didn’t have the money to pay me at the moment. She needed to spend the summer working to save the money.
Totally fine. Her choice.
Fast forward to her Instagram account which shows her going out to (very) fancy restaurants every week, traveling on an extended summer trip to Europe with her college besties, and showing off her latest shopping hauls.
And again, that’s fine. Everyone has the right to spend their money how they wish. I literally spend money on dirt, so I don’t judge.
But when she booked a second call and tearfully BEGGED me to take her on at a reduced fee because she didn’t end up making any money over the summer?
That’s a hard no.
I won’t sit here and tell you where, when, or how you should spend your money. My point isn’t that some things are important to invest in and others are not. The point is that some people spend money according to their values, and others don’t. They spend money on whatever comes up at the time if they can “sort of” afford it.
Is it important to you to eat well, have interesting experiences with your friends, and live in the moment? Then, by all means, enjoy that trip, the shopping, and the gorgeous brunch at the fancy restaurant in town every weekend.
But if your values point elsewhere, make sure that is where you are putting your money. Even if it means that brunch is a hard-boiled egg and a black coffee made at home for a couple of months, it’ll be worth it to you in the long run to have the other things that really matter to you.
So there you have it–just 3 of the many habits that I have seen work time and again to bring the highest levels of success to artists.
1) Nurturing your network in a regular (and genuine) way.
2) Being more intentional and consistent about how (and how often) you work on your craft.
3) Knowing how and when to invest in yourself (according to your values and your long-term goals)
I hope you found this helpful. If you’re curious about what other habits you can put into place to set you up for success, click here for my full list of 10 Habits of Successful Artists. It’s something that I have been working on for a while now, and I’m excited to put it out there for you all as a thank you for being a Tales From The Lane reader.
Enjoy! And Cheers!
P.S. Summer is the perfect time to take a look at the direction your career is headed. If you’re not gushing with excitement about what you’re currently doing, let’s chat about what small or big tweaks you can make to get things going the right way. You can book a free 30-minute consult with me (absolutely no strings attached!) by clicking this link.