WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?

Time and resources will always be limiting factors, but success is not a measure of how much of those you have.

Time and resources will always be limiting factors, but success is not a measure of how much of those you have.

If you've decided to spend your life doing something traditionally considered to be creative there's a common saying.

"Don't quit your day job."

That never stopped the artists we all love, of course. Creative work defines their day jobs. If that's true, it therefore seems as if the entirety of a successful creative existence can be reduced to quantitative measurements of one thing above all else: money.

And if THAT'S the case, the resulting question loudly shouts itself: is there any real, meaningful kind of success that doesn't ultimately get measured by money? A companion, corollary question must also obtain: do greater financial rewards automatically bestow the imprimatur of success?

Like the eponymous Red Wheelbarrow in Williams's great poem, so much depends on how you orient yourself to the answer.

Most artists I know intimately wish they had greater financial freedom to pursue their craft. Most artists I know have some means beyond their art for keeping the lights lit and food in their fridges. It's rare to find an artist who can make a good living simply playing music or casting clay pots on a wheel. Yet the artists who get the most cultural chatter are usually those who make money. Celebrity often attends the ability to make bank, and making bank usually means opportunities to continue making art. Take filmmaking. Filmmaking is an expensive enterprise, even at the indie-est levels, and the only films you and your friends ever talk about are the ones that had enough money to get made, QED.

The filmmakers, singers, multimedia installation artists, photographers, and others who make their livings doing creative things often try mightily to spend more of their time immersed in those enterprises rather than doing other things. Reality can be a harsher companion, however. Many artists struggling to free their inventive souls are hampered by limited time and resources to do so. But here's an ironic reality: often it's those painful limitations on artistic freedom that become the raw materials fueling insights and epiphanies. Life's limitations and challenges often provoke the need to create in the first place, which in turn puts pressure on time and resources.

Thus we return to the beginning. What does success look like?

It's a bit of a koan, a question without a rational answer. Perhaps success is best described as an ability to pursue an idea to a reasonable approximation of its potential. Success may be the ability to engage in a process, with one idea provoking germination of another. To be successful means that the forces of entropy and decay are forestalled to some degree, with order and intention imposed on a small neighborhood of the universe. Ideas and matter coalesce under the force of someone's consciousness, where before there had been naught but time and random, unrelated particles.

What does success look like? Success is the willingness to stand fast against the many forces inhibiting creativity, and the motivation to try and remake the world again, and again, and again. It is the willingness to stay engaged even after a singular project is completed, because it is only by repetition and reinvention that an idea can evolve enough to nudge the trajectory of the day. Success in the courage to declare by force of action that there's more to life than merely enduring it. At it's most vital, success means a willingness to experiment with life, and then like all great experimenters, to do it again rather than simply accept what has already been declared.

--Michael Starobin

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