The Optics of Success

From the outside, I look pretty successful.

My theatre company is internationally recognized and growing.

I get to tour and perform my own work. (Buy them here now, it’s going to sell out).

I’ve just been offered my own radio show (on Roundhouse Radio, coming soon…)

There’s a book on the way.

Hell, in two weeks I’m headed to Hawaii to teach a woman’s retreat/lie around with my friends. (1 more spot left)

Optically, I’m doing very well.

And now I want to share the reality with you; because I believe that empowerment comes from telling the whole truth.

And all the skewed social media personalities out there are exhausting us with the reminder that we aren’t good enough yet.

It feels like shit, doesn’t it?

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I’m gonna lay bare so the next time you see someone who looks successful and it fills you with poison and self-contempt; you can take a minute and talk yourself down. Kay? Because you aren’t seeing the whole picture.

Here’s an example of some truth:

We took our show Through the Gaze of a Navel on tour this weekend. This takes a shit ton of organization, talking to the press, figuring out travel itineraries, renting sound equipment etc. We hired nannies for the weekend, packed up the van and presented the show at a yoga conference. During the performance folks were actually rolling in the aisles they were laughing so hard. A woman scream/cried “I want this to be my yoga class every day”. It was fucking rad.

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We slept for 6 hours and caught the ferry home to relieve our childcare. The next morning (today) we got up and went grocery shopping and at the checkout…we discovered we had insufficient funds.

We started walking home after paying for the groceries on another card…and I began to freak out.

“How can we keep doing this? We cannot work any harder! We have to chase down fees! We lay our souls bare and this is what we are met with? Age 37. 2 kids. A “successful” career and…insufficient funds?!”

I continued to lose it as I picked up the pace.

“Okay. No more lattes. No more muffins. No more treats” I mumbled as I jogged along with the kids in tow.

I was rambling now. I’d hit a brick wall.  I needed to quit. I couldn’t make art anymore. I had to get a “real job”.

My husband said “what job do you think you can get Em, waitressing? Sorry hon, but you don’t have the experience…”

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“I’ve got to stop writing the book” I continued… “we need reliable income. We can’t keep making art with the hopes that eventually we’ll have some security…”

I was speed walking now, agitated in my bones. Because when it comes down to it, it’s incredibly frustrating to not be valued in the way that society shows value- through money.  I get to do what I love. I have many satisfied subscribers. I get clapped for- for a living. But. We. Don’t. Have. Any. Money.

And again hubs reminds me “It’s ok. The money always comes… and you haven’t had a “real” job your entire life, I don’t think you should start looking now. You are writing a book because you need to write this book” hubs says, “and you will keep writing this book even if you never see a penny. Right?” He’s right.

And I see the trap I’ve fallen into- again.

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I’ve attached my self-worth to the metrics of a system I don’t believe in. And this metric is always the same: money = success.

But making art because I need to, because it fills me up and makes me a better mom and happier human- making art at all- that’s the goddamned gold medal. And as soon as I attach a paycheck to it, pain and resentment set in.

This doesn’t mean I don’t expect to be paid for my work. I do (and I look forward to the day that artists get the same cred as financial analysts) but I will not attach my self-worth to the dolla’ bills.

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And this is the key to making excellent art; one should not prescribe to the narrow belief system that money means something. It means something, sure, but it doesn’t mean the most, and if you think it does, you might not be an artist anymore. 

I write because it feeds my guts, not my bank account. And that’s exactly why my writing remains useful.

And don’t discount the HUGE power that comes with changing our metrics of success.

It fights a capitalistic, patriarchal, broke-ass, unsustainable system. It’s a rebellious act that puts creative thinking first.

It means that you are free.

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So, I just wanted to take this moment and share my personal optics of success with you:

I’m a working artist. I pay my rent. I have groceries in the fridge. My kids are dressed in the finest of hand-me-downs and we love what we do. We get time together as a family, we work our asses off, we are building the world we want our kids to live in and everything we do feels meaningful. Each month we piece it together on a dream and a prayer and those prayers are being heard.

And today, we had insufficient funds.

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Ways to dig for more truths around success:

 1. Ask your co-workers how much they make. We’ve been taught that this is rude but it’s not. It’s only fair. I’ll tell you. You tell me. Then we can make sure we are being valued equally. No secrets.

 2. Follow your guts. With the barrage of “truths” and “amazing successes” we see online we now all second-guess our instincts. If your belly twists, it’s not because you are a small-minded, low-vibration loser, it’s because you smell some shit. And from personal experience, I know that when I smell shit, there’s probably some shit nearby. Pretty simple really.  

3. Talk publically about feeling shitty. The more we share our own darkness, the cooler talking about the darkness will become. Be brave. Be honest. Don’t bullshit. Your friends will find you.

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