Declare Little Victories

A valuable technique for navigating a creative career

At various points in my life I aspired to be authors Richard Wright and Ernest Hemingway, critic/historian Greil Marcus, filmmaker Frances Ford Coppola, and playwright August Wilson and a few other powerhouse creators whose work I admired. Then, at a certain point, you realize that emulation only gets you so far and you have figure out who you are.

Part of that process was defining success for myself. Okay a Nobel Prize or Academy Award is not likely at this point. But I did win a Grammy for liner notes, which was very cool, and I’ve been nominated for some literary awards. All good. But I don’t believe awards equal real personal success or satisfaction. Awards, and award shows, are arbitrary annual events of good work that are given out every year. Someone’s gonna win it. Maybe you do. Mostly likely you don’t. Either way its ultimately irrelevant to your internal artistic journey. Creating to get an award (Oscar, Grammy, Tony, Pulitzer) is like surfing to get a suntan. Yeah, it could happen, but it would only happen as a by-product of hard work and focus. The work is the work and the ocean is the ocean. Diving into either is the only satisfaction guaranteed.

Instead of distant rewards I believe an enduring career (and life) must be defined via internal goals. It can be finishing a project early. It can be writing two songs in the time you expected to do compose one. It’s creating a list of obtainable goals can give you a sense of progress and momentum. I always felt people I met who had grandiose goals lived in a state of perpetual frustration. They were waiting on their Grammy, yet haven’t finished an album. Basing your success solely on public acclaim is putting your happiness in the hands of others. Not a sustainable lifestyle and certainly not a happy one. It’s so important to be, as your yoga teacher would preach, “present.” Letting a sense of dissatisfaction creep into your creative life will eventually poison your personality and strain your relationships.

I’ve had far too many conversations with working actors who whine about their managers or agents, as if they were the biggest roadblocks to the actor’s stardom. Yes, everybody wants the hot shot manager or agent who can push them to glory. That’s the dream. The reality is that you have a manager or agent, which puts you about 100% ahead of the thousands who want one, but don’t have one. If that relationship isn’t working the way you want either have a meeting to air out your beef or just fire them. Making them the subject of your ire gives them too much agency in your life. You’ve got to take responsibility for what does and does not happen in your career because, ultimately, all you really control is yourself. Don’t be bitter. Get better.

Maybe cause I’m a bit of a workaholic whenever I’ve been pissed off at my representation for some roadblock, real or imagined, I sat my butt down and started writing. I make a goal. I reach it. I make another. I go for that. I call these little victories. On the darkest days when checks are slow and support absent accumulating little victories can be life savers. It sounds simple. Perhaps it’s too simple an answer to a complex life question. But everyone I’ve come in contact with whose had a long career keeps their head down, does the work, and their time comes around. In this marathon called life you should praise yourself for every quarter mile reached, knowing that’s the only way to go the distance.