How to keep it together when you’re not

On most days, most of us like to move into our day with confidence, with purpose and a very clear idea that we have what we need to function. That is how I like to think I show up in the world. Until I don’t.

What makes me wonder why we aren’t all crashing into each other like unravelling whorls of disaster is how very little it takes knock us off our game and leave us gasping. Me, anyway.

The other day was A Very Bad Day and left me without a wallet, unexpected demands and problems at work and mad at life.

It took a while to readjust my outlook on things and find my way back to center. Actually, it was in doing so that I realized how arrogant it was of me to think I ever was at the center. We are all finding our way to that elusive place where nobody holds a long term lease, all the time, all of our lives.

When life makes it hard, it’s good to remember we are still on the path, just a little dented, maybe, but moving.

Who is really in control?

Over 500 hundred artists applied for Queens Council on the Arts grants this year. Why? Because we were given more dollars from the city for our grants fund. We were able to tell everyone there was more money and more chances of getting a grant this year.

Next year, who knows? We may get the same amount or less, depending on the gods of the city budget.

More grants means more artists doing creative work in the borough for people to enjoy, something that makes communities vibrant and alive. Who doesn’t want that?

Less money means just as many artists will apply, fewer will get funded and there will be less presence of the arts in our neighborhoods. Who decides that is OK?

As artists, the only thing in your control is your commitment to show up every day and do your creative work. That is also a great gift to people whether or not it gets acknowledged with a grant. There are other ways to get your work out there, things you can do to bring people in to your world even if it is one person at a time.

It is a mistake to allow the money people decide what you can or cannot do as an artist. Their reasons have more to do with arcane inside politicking and favor swapping than with you. Create the work and invite a few people over. Start there and see what happens.

A Better Use of Your Talent

This morning I sat at my desk for 4 hours.

I would like to say that I wrote 1,000 words of perfect prose and took care of my corner of the universe with Godlike efficiency. This image comes closer to what actually happened.

It also gives you a better idea of what kinds of skills I value and that having a quirky sense of humor helps, or doesn’t, depending on what you are doing. I like to think that we have a wonderful ability to transfer and transform skills to help us get through life. For example, learning how to play all 32 Beethoven Sonatas at an early age has given me the superhuman ability to sit on hard surfaces for hours. Throw in focus and a dismal social life and voila! a budding pianist is born. This is now the secret to my ability to knock out all kinds of paperwork and projects quickly on a different kind of keyboard.

The jury is still out on how this particular skill translate into my life.

Reintention

I am overjoyed that it is not my job to be responsible for creating new stuff. If it was up to me to invent the radio, stretch velveteen or the piano, the world would be a dark and terrible place. All the good stories have already been written. There is nothing new under the sun. According to Mark Twain, Adam was the only man who could say something good knowing nobody had said it before.

Which leaves everyone who has a creative soul a very different purpose. Yes, you are the sum of every response, thought, idea and emotion of your life walking this earth and the art you make is an expression of all of that. But the more noble reintention of your creative work is that of connecting other people, the rest of the world, with those stories that have already been told. How you tell those stories is your creative work, how you arrange, select, restitch and reshape a story as old as time but as true for people today as it was for Adam is your art whether that is a book, a dance or a mural that covers the side of a skyscraper.

Be a maestro by holding up a mirror.

Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Four artists.

Four dreams.

Four proposals.

Sometimes you can just tell from the first few lines of what they have written, or what they say in the first few minutes, whether their project will succeed or not.

And when I say success, I mean that as something that defines an artist’s entire career, not just one grant proposal even though many of the same contributing factors can affect both.

One of the artists in a recent proposal writing workshop said,

“I really want to give people a hands on experience that can change their perspective by directly participating in my project.  This will help me grow as and artist and develop my creative process.  And the grant will help me create new projects and help me develop new experiences based on traditional art forms.”

Her proposal had been turned down by another foundation and she wanted to know how she could make it better.

My answer was really a question.

“Better for whom?”

Why this is important

No one likes rejection.

Or the feeling that you have invested so much time and energy for something that has been turned down.

You start to question your work, you start listening to that pesky demon whispering in your ear at 2:00 am, you wonder if you really have what it takes.

How do some people make it through?  What are they doing that makes that all important difference between getting a grant and getting a rejection letter?  Is their success unique or a sequence of strategies that you can learn?

And, what are reviewers really looking for?

What you can learn from your competition

You have a creative dream and a passion to share it.  It is something that will make a tremendous difference for the people who experience it.  You need moral and financial support to bring this to life and to build a life around your creative work.

I have been thinking a lot about how to create spaces and opportunities for artists to make life more beautiful and vibrant and all of the reasons we choose to create.

After spending a lot of time reviewing grants on the city, state and national level, I have seen patterns of success in the proposals of artists who get grants and go on to build great careers.

There is one thing that makes grant reviewers like me sit up and pay attention.

My dear friend and colleague, David Johnston, said it best, at the end of a long panel session:

“I just want to be delighted.”

 

How do you do this?

Create from a sense of joy.

It will fill you with energy, motivation and a sense of purpose and the work you produce will often be more successful in the market or with your audiences whether they are ticket buyers, fans or grant panels.  These 2 values – creating work you are passionate about that is successful – are not always closely linked but there is a way to find that sweet spot.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Think about framing joy as your intention.
  2. Then take yourself out of the equation.

That’s right.

Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.

My answer to the artist was an invitation to rethink why she was doing her project.
If the intent is to help her to grow as an artist, who really benefits besides herself?  If it is to change a person’s perspective, and perhaps in a joyful way, the world will benefit, one person at a time.
Never underestimate the power of delight.

Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.