Observations of an Independent Artist

Exactly a year ago, I contracted an illness that completely changed the trajectory of my life. When I got sick, I was working full time as a dance teacher, preparing for 2 competitions, and living in a thriving artistic community. When my doctor told me I had to spend at least a month in bed, surprisingly my overwhelming sentiment was that of relief. This feeling of relief was one I had encountered before in times of difficult transition, and it is what eventually convinced me to alter my path.

I spent much of the rest time my doctor prescribed staring out my bedroom window evaluating what was truly important to me, if I eliminated money and what people thought of me, what was left? I listened repeatedly to a podcast in which the interviewee continually stated the importance of following ones true passion and creativity and eliminating the monkey chatter and fear of loss related to making decisions to take one in the direction of their dreams. The prominent desires that remained when I finally accomplished this difficult task were 2 things: I wanted to be with my daughter and I wanted to dance. Period.

And so in early December, I wrote my resignation letter. It was kind and appreciative, even at times where it felt unnatural. It wasn’t easy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I let go of the career I had dedicated every fiber of myself to for the previous 2 years. I severed ties with my dance partner and my love. I lost contact with many of the students I had admittedly spent more time thinking about then my own daughter. My mom asked me afterward “are you sure you want to do this?”

Here is the thing about being forced to rest your body, it opens up your mind. When you have no need to think about where you left your keys, or at what time your next appointment is, or even what you will have for dinner, your mind takes advantage of all of the extra space. And the conclusion I came to, reluctantly at first and with unrelenting fervor after a while, is this; every decision has a positive and a negative, in every decision, something will be lost and something will be gained. And the thing that I know 1 year later is that when we cast out the fear of what we will lose and only focus on how much we stand to gain, everything is possible.

So, I have compiled a list. I am still a novice with many experiences left to learn from, but this is an account of what I have learned from my first year as an entrepreneur and artist.

  1. Find your soul desire. As corny and overused as this expression may be, it exists for a reason. Find the thing that sets you on fire. The thing that keeps you up at night. The thing that if you were forced to lay in bed for a month, you would miss doing more than anything. The thing that you wake up in the morning and send thanks into the Universe that you are fortunate enough to do. Find that thing and follow where it takes you.
  2. Build a network. Once you have established your soul desire, find other people that participate in and share that same desire. Talk to them, support them, ask them to support you. Don’t be offended if sometimes they don’t. The more generous you are, the better you will feel, and most likely, the more you will learn.
  3. Be creative. Being an artist for a living isn’t easy. It requires that we multitask, we must focus on our art while also thinking about how we can make a living. This requires creativity. Look for opportunities. Do something different. Even if 90 out of 100 ideas aren’t worth developing, the more we expand our pool of ideas, the more fruitful ones we will have.
  4. Hone your craft. The better you are at your art, the more demand there will be. Become a master. Draw inspiration from people that are better than you. Find the best, and learn from them. Don’t be jealous, use the aspects of the people you admire to improve. Practice. Everyday. Do not use excuses. Congratulate yourself on your small victories and keep searching for new ways to make yourself even better.
  5. Be generous. Give compliments where they are deserved. Give your time, energy, advice, to someone who needs it. Give back to your community. Always support other artists. Do things without thinking about what you stand to gain. In my experience, these are the things that feed the soul, and the more nourished your soul is, the more your art and career will thrive.
  6. Know your worth.  Only you know what your time, energy, art, is worth. Decide on a price that makes you feel valued, that allows you to feel proud of your work. Do not allow people to tell you that your price is incorrect. If they feel you are “expensive,” they don’t see your value and therefore do not deserve your time, energy, art. Don’t waste your energy trying to convince them, save it for the people who recognize your brilliance.
  7. Never. Give. Up. I will not lie, the first few months of transition were rough. I felt lost, and impotent, and useless. I felt that all my efforts, my years of training, my experiences, weren’t worth anything. I had several bouts of anger and sadness, feeling like I had lost my only opportunity at the life path I wanted. It is alright to feel this way. Every career experiences ebb and flow. It is in these moments that you lean on your network. You are not alone. In one particular moment of desperation, my sister, also an independent artist, sent me this quote by Confucius: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you don’t stop.” I keep that in my mind and my heart, every day. I have days where I feel like a supernova that can conquer the world and days where I feel like a loaf of bread, but because I know without a doubt that I was placed on this planet to dance and share dancing with others, I never give up.