Encouragement for Failures like Me (Part 1)   2 comments

My sister Mardi is a visual artist in multiple media as well as a poet.  I love her work.  And she thinks deeply like I do.  This is the first part of a letter she sent to me while I was struggling with my own sense of failure in India.

What is success, really? And why do we value it? Does it have any actual value in itself? It can have many meanings for many different people, it could have to do with how much money a person or project earns, how much recognition it receives, how many people it influences.  In simpler terms, for those of us who have a vision, a dream, a goal we are trying to achieve, success could mean simply achieving that.  But in our economically driven society there is another aspect of it: that we would like our dream to support itself (at least) and also support us (if that’s possible).

We have the dream, we plan a strategy for reaching it and we begin investing our life in it’s accomplishment.  We give our time, our thought, our energy, our money.  And the dream grows and expands and becomes more complex and elaborate.  But how do we measure the success? By the first criteria – achieving the dream, or by the second – supporting itself and us?  What if we can be successful with the first and not the second?  What if, for all our efforts we can be successful with neither?

My life has been an experience in non-success.  I am intimately familiar with all the various ways to be unsuccessful in all its nuances.  So I have learned a number of ways of dealing with this without giving up the dream. And I have developed a philosophy about the nature and purpose of success itself.

When we are trying to achieve our dream one of the first things we can do is recognize when it seems that the original plan is not working. We try to re-evaluate the situation.  Adjust our goals. Modify our expectations to something that seems perhaps more achievable given our resources and limitations.

Mardi Woodblock Print: Seagull

In my life, after years of trying to sell my work, promote my work, create work that would be popular, I realized I was not going to get a large response to my work.  But there were people who loved it and always responded enthusiastically to anything I created.  They were few enough and poor enough that they couldn’t have supported me for a week if they all got together!  But the spiritual support and encouragement they gave me was invaluable.  So I began to create just for this limited audience, with hopes that eventually my work would achieve a wider success.  Since these people couldn’t afford to buy work, I give it away as Christmas gifts.  Occasionally some one who has contacts loves my work and I have a brief experience of selling.  But even in very good years I’ve never made $1000 and when you take out the expenses for materials I’ve always lost money. Some years, with great effort, I just lost less.  By any standard you’d like to use I am unsuccessful.

I began thinking in recent years about the whole nature of success.  Some people think that success is the result of hard work, skills in some area or a combination of the two.  But I knew many people who worked very hard and could never reach that place where they could be considered successful.  I also knew people with great talent, skill and ability, people with magnificent vision and insight.  Yet they were completely unsuccessful.  At the same time there were those who were neither hard working, skilled, nor wise who were achieving success in numerous ways: receiving recognition and honors, making money, achieving the goals they set for themselves, doing the things they loved, enjoying the things they did.

In my own life I was exhibiting in local and regional art exhibits with hundreds of other artists.  But because I was in the category of printmaking I was actually competing against only 2 or three other people usually.  The odds for me winning awards should have been very good.  Yet year after year I never won any awards, even when I created very complex, very large works. I felt my work was much better than many of the pieces that won – but then what artist doesn’t feel that!?

What struck me however was that it was repeated year after year with all sorts of different judges and different shows, and different other artists.  The sheer volume of the rejection was becoming compelling.  It seemed that the ones who won the awards were also people who seemed to be successful in many other areas of their life as well, financially, career achievements and all that.

So I began to think that perhaps success was not something that we achieved at all, either by effort or by skill or by insight.  What if success is simply something that has been given to us, one of the criteria of our life, like our family, our intelligence, our size, etc.  What if it is not an end or a goal at all but merely one of the many things through which we can learn those things that have Real value?

I began to think of life as a school in which each person who is born is given a unique curriculum especially designed just for them.  It includes many gifts that will give pleasure and gifts that will give pain.  There will be things to strengthen and things to challenge.  There will be things that seem to help and things that seem to block us.  But the purpose of everything is not to become or to achieve or to acquire any of the things we end up using our lives to become, achieve and acquire.  They are all given to us in order to teach us something more, greater, something of Real value.

Mardi Woodblock Print: Butterfly


Posted July 15, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests

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2 responses to “Encouragement for Failures like Me (Part 1)

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  1. A major contribution to my unsuccessfulness has been lack of, or bad choices, timing, lack of money, etc. Mostly it has been about making sacrifices for the right reasons over making an investment in career, money. Used to be in my 20’s, extremely fit, the world was my oyster, but I then chose the most difficult, but correct decision all for the sake of love and it cost me everything I have. Becoming extremely poor has shown me who I am and who my friends and family truly are. They have been very hard lessons to learn. Without money things have become extremely difficult. I have given up ability to try to move forward because my options are limited due to age, perspective, and lack of money. Bitterness, and sadness are the hurdles I have to overcome with God’s help now.

    These are the worldly attributes. Money is the biggest of all of the obstacles to one having success or not and affects every aspect of one’s life. It’s much more difficult to survive in this world without money. Yes, one can live without money, but not very well and without any will end up being homeless until someone takes them in. One has to have money to make money too. Those with money attract others who have money (as well as attracting those who have no money and for the wrong reasons). Being poor or without money leaves one in a more vulnerable position too. This affects what they eat, wear, where they live, who they associate with, their healthcare, etc. Poor people are forced to make decisions they wouldn’t make otherwise, and are taken advantage of many times just as a weaker, smaller animal in a pursued herd of Antelopes is eaten by a lioness. One with money has the ability to make more choices, have more opportunities, higher eschalon of friends (or so-called), and though God is ultimately in control, people who are poor are subjected to those with money and are even taken advantage of by the rich. A rich man needs cheap laborers…and who will do these jobs? They say, sorry this is all we can pay, but know good and well this job pays more with other like jobs. Getting that job that pays more is challenged with other competitors or everyone else who wants more money and it’s not always the best one that gets the job…it’s whoever the rich man decides will have it. Having money or lack thereof does destroy some relationships.

    Living through all the success of loving and other non-successes all make me want to get to heaven that much quicker, but who knows what God has in store for me now. Today I pray for His will not mine be done. I pray that I haven’t sacrificed my soul to gain the world, which, I haven’t even attained and that it’s His love I receive. Trusting that God is who He says He is and determining what his purposes are for me now are successful focuses no matter how much money I have. This does not seem like life will be an easy journey.

  2. Pingback: India (Part 2): Healing « Janathan Grace Reflections

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