Feeling Like You’ll Never Succeed?
You're probably judging your progress against an illusion
Let’s talk about how to prepare for the next year of your business in a calm, restorative way.
That is, without shame, shouting or kale. Unless you like kale, in which case knock yourself out.
Today we’re tackling the feeling that you’ll never succeed.
Here’s how Eryn, an Indie Retail reader, feels as she looks back over her last twelve months:
“I haven’t made enough progress this year. I did get my jewelry into three new stores, I’m taking better product photos and I’ve done more craft fairs than ever before, but it doesn’t seem to add up to much.
I’m still not earning the money from wholesale that I want to. I haven’t gotten into as many stores as I said I would. And now the new year is coming and I’m just not where I thought I’d be. I feel kind of blue about it all.”
Maybe this is how you feel too.
Disappointed. Frustrated. Horribly aware of the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
If all you want to do is curl up under a slanket, watch The Gruffalo and eat a chorizo ring right out of the packet, who could blame you?
But before you reach for the remote, you should know one thing.
You’ve been lied to.
Not just once or twice, but over and over again.
You’ve been lead to believe that you know what the path to success looks (and feels) like. But you don’t. Not really. Hardly any of us do.
Let me give you a quick illustration. Take yourself back, for a few moments, to your time in high school.
Remember what the maths corridor smelled like.
Remember how it felt when you had a passionate crush on that person, and then you saw them snogging someone else at the school disco.
Remember the sound in the exam hall as everyone turned over their papers.
Do a quick mental survey of that whole period in your life.
Now picture yourself on the very first day of high school. None of that stuff has happened to you yet. It’s all still to come. When you think back to that first day, did you have the faintest idea of what lay ahead?
Seriously, did you?
I’ll take your hollow laughter as a great big “no.” And when you think about it, were you in any way properly prepared?
Maybe you visited the school once or twice before you started there, or perhaps a well-meaning aunt gave you a book called “How To Survive And Thrive At High School.”
Maybe you had an older sibling or cousin who told you a little about the teachers.
Maybe you’d watched films or TV shows which were set in a high school, so when you got out of bed on that first morning, you thought you knew what it’d be like.
But did you really?
I didn’t think so.
From your current vantage point, it’s clear that you didn’t have the slightest inkling of the painful challenges, obstacles, humiliations, loneliness and unrequited longing you were about to experience – and that’s if you had a generally happy time.
In a way, that’s a good thing. If any of us had known what lay in store for us at high school, we’d have tossed our Judy Blume books into a knapsack and gone to live with the bears.
But the point is that, even if you thought you knew what to expect, you didn’t – or at least, not in any meaningful way. You were navigating without an accurate map.
The same thing is happening with your business.
One of the biggest sources of despair I see among artists is the feeling that things which should be easy, aren’t.
Creative people often have a picture in their heads about how the process should unfold – an idea shaped by feel-good movies, entrepreneurial success stories and their own optimism.
Then, when building a business turns to be much harder than they thought, they blame themselves. They think stuff like “I’m just not cut out for this.”
Or “I’m not talented or smart enough to make this work.” Or “I should be further along by now.”
After all, if you’re struggling at something that everyone else seems to find laughably easy, the fault must lie with you. Your struggle is surely a big flashing sign, warning you to turn back before it’s too late.
But that’s not true at all.
Starting and growing a successful creative business is eye-squinchingly difficult.
It’s like carving a cathedral out of a rock-face with your bare hands in the middle of a hurricane. What you’re doing is very, very hard indeed. You just don’t have an accurate sense of that, because it isn’t a story we like to tell (or hear.)
Plus, other peoples’ triumphs are everywhere. Books, blog posts, tweets showing mounds of neatly packaged orders waiting to be collected by the courier.
What you don’t see is that successful person crying in the car outside her parents’ house because she has to ask them for money.
Or that successful person missing her kid’s starring role as an onion in the school play because she’s at trade show.
Or all the times when she simply doesn’t know what to do, and thinks that maybe she made a big mistake in her life.
Why is this a comforting thought?
Well, perhaps it’s time to re-draw your map. Until now, you might have had a secret expectation that your journey towards a thriving business will be an enjoyable romp. Sure, there might be the odd glitch or setback, but on the whole it’ll be a pretty smooth ride, right?
If you want to feel better about your progress so far, sketch some fire-breathing dragons onto that map. And a lagoon filled with spiteful water nixies. And terrifying cliffs and endless moors. And fog that turns you inside out.
Then have another look at what you’ve achieved this year against that backdrop.
You got new stockists! You learned how to photograph your products! You’ve done a ton of craft fairs!
Now that you know what you’re really facing at the beginning of each day, those accomplishments might start to look a whole lot more impressive. Rather than evidence of failure, maybe they indicate remarkable courage, strength and resourcefulness.
Maybe you do have a knack for business after all.
Disappointment, frustration, rejection and mistakes are unavoidable, especially when you work in a creative industry. But knowing the true scale of what you’re up against can be oddly confidence-boosting.
When things go wrong, or when they simply don’t go quite as right, quite as quickly as you want them to, there’s no need to leap to painful conclusions.
It’s really just business as usual.
Hello, I'm Clare Holliday. I'm a shopkeeper who's helped thousands of creative people sell their work to stores, galleries and regular customers all over the world. Now it's your turn.