Artists are a community. Some artists are a community within a community. For example, the theater industry has communities of actors, painters, model makers, dancers, pit musicians, directors, set designers, sound techs, producers, costume designers, lighting techs, and many more. And in such communities, most artists often set themselves a part from those enterprising individuals outside of their community that see a career more as a means to make money, live well and climb a metaphorical ladder.
That’s not a judgment against anyone not a part of an artistic community, mind you, but merely a reflection of the mindset of people who claim pride in being a part of the artistic circle. They are a community. But like those outside that circle, artists don’t always act like one.
As a matter of fact, a lot of artists engage in much of the same community-destructive habits that those who work a 9-to-5 or multi-hustle career have. Sometimes it’s their special brand of “office” politics. Sometimes it’s the fruitless practice of comparing and competing. But personally, I find the worst habit to be motivation through shaming.
You know what I mean. You see it every week — if not every day — on social media, in bios on websites, and in testimonies of personal struggle. Sadly, you can even stock an entire bookshelf in your local bookstore with titles created to shame people under the guise of motivating them.
Not a week goes by where I don’t see quotes or messages created to invoke a sense of guilt in someone for not acting in just the right way at just the right time with just the right attitude. It seems at every turn, judgment lies in wait to tell you how you’re not achieving a goal, you’re not cut out for your industry or you’re not enough all because you’re not perfect. (And then those same people will tell you how perfectionism is evil! Isn’t that rich?)
Someday is code word for never. Stop planning and just go do it.
— the Life of Popeblo (@Popephoenix) August 10, 2017
Why do we feel compelled to engage in this toxic grandstanding in order to “support” each other? Instead of understanding someone else’s journey may not be exactly like yours, people resort to shaming others for not rushing headlong into action, needling them about plans they’re still researching, and harassing them about shifting priorities to meet more immediate needs. And the favorite word to use in this act is “excuse.” If you’re not doing what someone else has done exactly the way in which they executed it, apparently you’re making an excuse.
And somehow, such an accusation is meant to fill you with so much shame, you’ll immediately jump up and do exactly what the finger-wagger wants you do.
The sad part of this mindset is that for so many, it works. Not because millions are motivated to do what they said they’ll do, but because millions are made to feel like they’re worthless, untalented and undeserving of success because they dared to not follow the same path as the person running the shame train. It works in that it pushes so many into abandoning their goals because they now see themselves as failures for not following the paths of those deemed “successful.”
Here’s an idea. Instead of sharing toxic grandstanding that paints you as the quintessential achiever, why not share words of encouragement and understanding. Offer genuine support that’s meant to uplift, instead of harmful phrases that’s meant to tear down. Here are a few examples to illustrate:
For my creatives, hear this: your art is still art even if no one (aside from yourself) sees it.
— (Miss) Dimplez (@Dimplez) June 29, 2017
My current freelance mantra:
You ARE doing enough.
Everything is broken but it’s not your fault.
You can’t hustle your way out of it.
You can’t worry your way out of it.
Go easy on yourself.
— Bizzy Coy (@bizzycoy) July 14, 2020
See, you can deliver the same power of motivational cheerleading without the abusive act of shaming or preying on someone else’s fear of inadequacy. Because if we can’t urge others to act on what they want most without the pressure of negative feedback or public shaming, then perhaps we’re not the mentors, colleagues and creative game-changers that would like others to think we are.
This isn’t a call for everyone to hold hands and sing “Kumbayah,” but it is a call to remove this toxicity from our community … and, well … from every community. And if we can achieve the same results with encouraging words meant to inspire action, instead of with discouraging words meant to prey upon our fear of feeling less than, we will move one step closer to becoming that community that we’re all so proud to be a part of.