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I'm a "failing artist"—and that's okay

Jul. 4, 2017
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Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a performer. And ever since I knew I wanted to be a performer, I knew it’d be difficult as hell.

I was constantly reminded by my parents, friends, teachers; even TV shows like Friends would perpetuate the idea that going for a life in acting or performing was not to be advised. (I always found it bitterly ironic watching a highly-acclaimed actor working professionally as a character who couldn’t quite make it into that industry. Just me? Maybe.)

Right now, I can officially say that I’m a professional--I’m an actor, filmmaker, artist and performer. I’ve been paid on several occasions to do these things, but the work is not all that regular--and that is where the feelings of doubt start to spread.

Nowadays I feel like a failure at least once a week, and it’s damn near impossible to pull me out of that slump when it hits. I used to work a couple of part-time jobs, but I’d convinced myself that they were taking away my time and sapping the energy I should be using to apply for acting work or developing my solo pieces. But now I’m very much bending the term ‘freelancer’ to mean ‘guy who sits at his laptop in his kitchen all day wishing that the acting fairy will come and work her magic’.

I left one of my part-time jobs as it was seriously beginning to affect my mental health. My manager wasn’t the most sympathetic of people and the work itself was pretty stressful, so I decided to leave to help myself improve. (Side note- please don’t be mean to retail workers, they’re trying their hardest to make your experience the best it can be.)

I don’t regret my decision to leave; it was what I needed at the time and it is always important to factor your mental health into life decisions. I do however feel like I’m not achieving my goals, and that I’m certainly not building traction quick enough.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” is something I have to constantly remind myself when scrolling through my social media and seeing how brilliantly everyone I know is currently doing. And I’m not naïve, I realize that a large chunk of social media presence is based around wanting to show your best self, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me. I tell myself it’s because they’re not choosing to follow a career in the arts and maybe it’s easier for them, since this is what I’ve been constantly reminded thus far. 

I often judge my opinion of my ‘worth’ as an artist based on how busy I am. A couple of months ago I was incredibly fortunate in getting 4 gigs in one month and I was constantly travelling and working. The next month I had next-to nothing, and suddenly the work I’d done in the previous month became redundant because, in my eyes, I was a failed artist again.

I think the most important thing to remember when working towards an arts-based industry is that waking up each day and making even one step towards your end goal is an achievement. Sending an application form in, editing a showreel, or even just reading a section of a play are all things to be proud of and are progress.

Working as an artist comes with peaks and troughs, but it’s important not to put your achievements on the back-burner. If you are a working artist, that doesn’t just get negated when you’re not quite as busy.

You are not a failure. You are worthy of your title. Celebrate the small successes and relish in the work you’re putting in. It’s not easy. But it’s damn rewarding when you land something special.

Cover Image by Richelle Chen