I made no sacrifices as melodramatic or as biblical as say… slicing open a goat on an alter and rolling in its blood… but several common aspects of life were given up, occasionally in extremes when I graduated from college, and a few I still largely keep out. While if you’re one of the special lotus blossoms who attended my NHIA lecture, you already are on top of this, when I left school, I was essentially asked what I was willing to give up to succeed as an artist.
Not what I would DO to succeed, but what I would GIVE UP.
I answered: everything. I would give up everything.
This vague “everything” ranged from sweeping changes to my social and personal life down to substances and content consumed to entire aspects of my personality. These things removed aren’t all HORRIBLE, EVIL, things, but especially for my first year trying to improve, they were some of the most distracting constants in my life that I knew I needed to ditch or change to try to make it.
ALCOHOL: I drank and partied a ton in college, less than some, but I was regularly pushed to the limits of my own stupidity. I removed that from my life entirely for about a year, and since then I keep such things very moderate — and only unleashing college-level stupidity on very special occasions.
LADY FRIENDS: My longest stretch without a girlfriend in college was about 4 weeks, I was in love with the idea of serial monogamy, I was a total sap. I still had and have relationships since I left, but they are either very distant and not something that eats into my time working, or very surface level and thus devoid of any of the emotional displacement of energy that makes most people go insane and want to velociraptor their faces off just thinking about their significant other. Easy, breezy, brief.
NON-LADY FRIENDS: In college, though they were ever-changing, I was constantly swept up in friend circles of 20-30-40 people who did EVERYTHING together. This is a fantastic, beautiful, crazy, dramatic, and worthwhile experience, but not one that a) allows you to get much done, or b) offers stability or independence. When I left, I cut it down to a core few, and since then, like most people do far younger than I did, It clicked that the quality few always trump quantity.
CASH MONEY: For much of my life, when I made money, I spent it. I never listened to my parents about saving it little by little, so when I left school, I decided they may be on to something, and spent my first year stingy as can be. Pinching the hell out of every penny. It sucked. It felt embarrassing, especially since when working at Gizmodo that first year, I was only making 20 bucks an illustration. But it paid off, I moved to New York with every cent I’d saved, I invested back into myself and my business, it’s gone quite well, and now I just don’t ever have to think about it. If I hadn’t been so extreme in my thriftiness initially, there are MANY opportunities, huge ones, that I would have missed later on that really built my career.
WASTING MY LIFE AWAY ON THE WEB: I was glued to the Internet long before tumblr existed, I wasted away my days on forums, blogs, writing fan fiction (seriously), and frequenting gaming websites, never getting anything done or learning anything new, just consuming content that never helped me at much of anything. So that first year out of school, I spent all of that time learning how social media worked and the pathways that information flowed through Internet instead of digesting cat picture after cat picture. I’ve eased up substantially since then, but I still keep things at a minimum, and the time spent is mostly to learn or share, not endlessly scroll through nothingness — I don’t do boredom.
DIAL DOWN THE DOUCHE JUST A NOTCH: I had always been told that I was very stubborn and set in my ways, thinking I have the answers and that the answers were set in stone. Stubborn makes it sound endearing so I long agreed with it. It’s a word many like to use, but if I’m being honest, being stubborn mostly just feels like being narrow-mindedness and egotistical. Though perhaps the least tangible, the biggest thing I’ve (attempted) to give up and continue to attempt to, is an ego. I was really riding high when I left college. Despite all of the distractions mentioned, compared to highschool me, I had turned my life around and thought I was on top of the world, ready to tackle its obstacles.
I think ego is very perceptual. Depending on who you ask, it varies in size, ex: A super nice girl at my last lecture made it sound like it’s non-existent, but I’ve encountered many who view it as a giant triceratops of one, and I think either is valid, though that girl definitely gets my favoritism for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t post my artwork and my thoughts if I didn’t at least have some confidence in them, (the crippling fear and self-loathing is less seen by people), but what changed a couple years ago was simply checking myself (before the wrecking of said self). What I mean by that is, I believe in being true to who you are — if you’re confident, be confident — don’t fake your way through being humble just because you’ll get less shit for it. It’s easy to be something that’s never disagreeable. But at the same time, your confidence must always come with rules, fine print, and a very unflattering mirror. Know who you are, what you’re good at, and what you’ve done, but never make it more than it is. Never put yourself above anything or outside the crossfire of criticism. For me, I needed very badly to just let go and understand that my knowledge is rewritten and expanded on a daily basis, my work has a million miles to grow, my viewpoints on the world will only extend as far as I’ve dared to look, and that a balance does exist out there where I can care passionately about what I do, feel empowered by sharing it, and not do so while being a ginormous twat waffle in the process. It’s not the search for false humility, but rather just understanding my place, my REAL place, knowing that it’s not that high, and communicating at least a vague awareness of it while I try to grow. Even writing this out makes me feel like a breakfast food/insult combo — this is very much so a work in progress for me.
Sacrificing/giving up the things in life that are often viewed as just common place things or everyday indulgences, can actually give you a little momentum — it can bring clarity to what you’re doing. You don’t need to become a saint, it’s not some religiously-induced choice, it’s a personal one solely made to eliminate distractions when you have a goal in mind that demands your full attention. Since I was asked this question by a professor when I graduated, it’s now the same question I throw back at everyone who ever asks me what they need to do to succeed as an artist. The things you need to do to succeed are obvious: time, effort, passion, practice, knowledge. End of list.
But what are you willing to give up?