Don’t try. Happiness is a problem. You are not special. These are the key phrases or ideas you don’t normally see as advice inside self-help books but today’s book and advice for artists is not your regular cup of tea.
Hi my name is Carrie and here on Artist Strong I help artists like you build your skill and develop your unique artist voice.
Today we are going to talk about why you should stop trying, why you are not special, and why you are wrong about everything by digging into the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a (let’s say Duck) by Mark Manson.
All of the advice I’ve already mentioned to you in the video are chapter headings inside Manson’s refreshing book. While it all sounds a bit negative, I see and feel much freedom from reading this book and I think all artists can use a bit of a reframe too. It’s tough love, but it’s also honest and pure in intention.
One of the biggest takeaways for me personally was his very first chapter: “Don’t Try.” Personally, I’m an a-type, a go-getter, and my number one trait in the StrengthsFinder test is Achiever. I set a goal or receive a goal from someone and I do it. Let me tell you: it’s exhausting.
Manson gives you permission to be yourself. He shares stories of creatives who succeed in many ways because they were (I quote) “unflinchingly honest” with themselves. He says what most people don’t admit, that today we live in a society obsessed with everyone being happier, healthier, richer, sexier… I could go on and on.
While this initially sounds positive, it isn’t. Because as Manson points out: all of this focuses on what we believe is missing from our lives.
What if, instead, we stopped trying and enjoyed being ourselves? What if we actually prioritized and focused on the things we truly care about most?
I have an action step for you right here: what are one or two things you are striving for right now in your artist life because it’s one of those above shoulds? I’m here to share Manson’s message: stop trying. Learn to be comfortable with who you ARE.
You are not special
I still remember being a teacher in Dubai and a colleague entering my room somewhat sheepishly to tell me she thought she might get in trouble. When I asked why she told me, “I couldn’t help it today. I told all my kids, “YOU are NOT special!”
For some reason it made me laugh out loud. And this chapter explains the truth my colleague was trying to speak to her students. (And don’t worry, she didn’t get in any trouble).
Our culture and world of entitlement today has everyone thinking they are special and that being average is ultimately a failure. The great irony that Manson points out is the following:
First, if everyone was exceptional and amazing no one would be. Secondly, I quote: “The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement.”
My entire purpose of creating the Artist Strong community and its many resources is because I want to help artists like you build your skill and develop your unique voice. This community is about being passionate about growing, learning and improving. We are based on this entire idea of not being special! We just choose to give a duck about art.
I was never the best artist in any school I went to, but I’ve always loved art and I’ve always worked to improve my skill and learn about art whenever and wherever I can. I’m entirely confident that my obsession with improving my skill and finding good ideas to express through my art is why I’m here recording this video with you today.
Please take comfort in the fact that none of us are special, and that very truth will help us grow to be greater artists as we focus on improving our skills and refining our ideas.
You’re Wrong About Everything
Related to our previous header and discussion, you are wrong about everything. When we assume we know nothing, we are more open to learning and growing. When we assume we know everything about a topic, we stagnate and become resistant to new information.
Outside of the art realm, we see this most clearly in the world of American politics. It doesn’t matter which party you speak of, when people assume they know everything, they are most resistant to new ideas and information.
So how can this apply to our art?
I see this all the time in people’s immediate rejection and insults about modern and contemporary art. There is so much to learn from art across all of history and yet, many refuse to even learn about artforms where I’ve heard phrases like, “A child could draw that.”
Today many people admire the work of Monet and Van Gogh, which during their lifetimes was completely rejected and insulted in much the same way I hear people insult modern and contemporary art.
My work is primarily based in realism. And yet, I know my work is informed by modern artists like Mark Rothko. I know my art is stronger because I’m willing to assume I know nothing about art and continue to read, learn and listen to others who share ideas, even those that feel threatening or different to me.
The same goes for skill development. Building skill is a lifelong task and we can observe a long line of successful artists across history who treated it this way. When we decide we know it all, we actively limit what we can learn and how much our art can grow.
And Then You Die
While there are many more topics inside the book this last one really helps offer perspective to your life in a way nothing else can.
I know this intimately. I have faced two life-threatening health problems in my 20s that made me grow up a lot faster than my peers, and gave me a sense of urgency to live my life that still drives me today.
Manson shares a personal story about the loss of a friend and how it gave him the perspective and direction in his life to truly grow. He reminds us that life is short, unpredictable, and that we can live our lives in fear or act on the ideas and hopes we really care about. I quote:
“You are great. Already. Whether you realize it or not…
You are already great because in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a duck about and what not to….
You too are going to die, and that’s because you too were fortunate enough to have lived.”
You watch Artist Strong because you are invested in the arts. Remember: You too are going to die. Honor that passion and love for the arts because you give a duck. Make a lot of art.
I want to end with my favorite quotes from the book:
“Who you are is what you’re willing to struggle for.”
May you find the struggle worth having.
If you enjoyed today’s conversation consider picking up a copy Mark Manson’s easy to read but norms challenging book today. Use my affiliate link below to support Artist Strong’s continued free content.
In the comments below I’d love to know one lesson or aha you’ve had from today’s conversation.
Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next week!
I haven’t read the book, but had already begun incorporating the general message a while back. I no longer care so much about earning my spot on the planet, which drove me to always feel I wasn’t doing enough volunteer work. Never enough to feel worthy. I no longer choose to be bound in such damning chains. It’s incredibly freeing to acknowledge that yes, I’m just one more person out of billions. I’m not going to achieve greatness, nor should I. I make small ripples in the pond for good, and that’s enough.
As for art, I no longer strive to be in art shows or to sell. I don’t need to. I’d rather just play!
Rock on JT, that’s what I hope for everyone. Embrace what they truly want to do with their art. <3