(This essay first appeared as a medium.com post)
One of my biggest fears is waking up to realize that I am struggling artist/entrepreneur. I want to do work that matters. I want to launch ideas into the world but I also want to make a living from it. I’m terrified of ending up like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
My fears have pushed me to study what successful people consider to be important when launching ideas and into the world. Studying a wide range of artists and entrepreneurs led me to identify three themes that are essential to making “art.” They are taste, execution, and resilience.
The ability to determine quality and what is worthy of your time/focus.
Having taste means being able to identify good ideas from bad ideas, and great ideas from good ideas. It means being selective about what you are going to do, and more importantly what you are not going to do.
I’ve noticed that successful people move on from past work, pushing themselves to do the next project even better. As their work evolves so does their sense of taste. They learn to say no so that only the very best ideas survive.
Too often people and organizations stick with ideas for far to long. It’s hard to let go of past work because we put a lot of time and effort into them. It means admitting to ourselves that our world-changing idea was really mediocre at best. It means confronting our own perceptions of success, with the reality of what we accomplished.
The ability to bring your idea/vision to life and to understand all the steps involved.
Execution means being able to carry out a series of steps or actions that will result in the creation of your idea. It means matching the vision in your head with the reality of what you create and it relies heavily on previous experience.
When we start out, there is often a huge disconnect between what it takes to create something and what we think is involved. As time goes on we become more familiar with the process and we can close the gap. The challenge is it can take months, years or even decades to get a complete understanding of how something is made.
We often have grand visions about what we are going to create. The problem is that we may not have the skill set or know the right people to bring our idea to life. We bite off more than we can chew and end up working on overwhelmingly large projects that never get finished.
From what I can tell, successful people break things down into smaller pieces and understand that it is a team effort. They start small, focusing on what they are good at, and find people who are better than them to help with the other stuff. They are honest with themselves about their limits and how much of the process they know.
The ability to deal with internal uncertainties and external pressures.
Resilience means being able to handle swings that come from releasing your art into the world. Can you handle rejection? When no one reads what you wrote? When 3000 or 30,000 people read what you wrote? When your idea fails miserably? Criticism? When family or friends don’t understand or support what you do?
When we make art there can be external pressure to make money, and show progress. There are also internal feelings of inadequacy or uncertainty. Being able to manage these feelings is so important because they get in the way. We procrastinate, sabotage, and undermine our own work just to avoid those feelings.
The interesting thing is that we all have to deal with these feelings. If you read stories about the most accomplished people they all talk about fear, doubt, and uncertainty. The difference is they have learned how to handle these emotions and do their art despite how they feel. This requires bravery and acceptance, rather than avoidance of whatever you are feeling.
As I incorporate taste, execution, and resilience into my work, I’ve learned that you need all three to be successful. You can be fearless and understand all the steps, but if what you are making isn’t of quality people will ignore you. Like wise, you can have killer taste and be able to control your emotions, but if you don’t understand how to execute, your idea won’t get off the ground.
The most successful artists and entrepreneurs have mastered these principles, but only after years and years of practice. Each one takes time and a conscious effort to develop but the payoff can be enormous. Since discovering them I’ve seen a considerable upswing in the quality and impact of my work. I hope you find them useful, and they help you to do something amazing.