by David Carus
If someone is not an artist they might think success as an artist works like this: you’re born with talent and it secretly waits to pop its head one day when, quite through accident, you find yourself performing or creating art and there’s a talent scout watching who rushes to meet you backstage, whips out a million dollar contract and sweeps you away to Hollywood and you wake up to your picture on the front page of every major newspaper in the world. That’s pretty much the idea of overnight success, right? Wrong. It’s time to reveal the actual secret to overnight success by looking at a couple of artists that actually had the world’s attention, seemingly overnight.
Man can fly, but that wasn’t always the case. At the start of the 20th century there were plenty of ambitious minds tackling the problem of flight, but the general public thought man would be limited to traveling by land or sea and laughed at the funny looking contraptions they saw being tested on the tops of hills. The Wright Brothers came along and changed the whole game. What did they do differently than everybody else? They not only took the road less traveled, they ditched roads all together. Like Doc Brown said in “Back to the Future II,” “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” Their story is truly inspiring.
Wilbur and Orville Wright’s father gave them a toy helicopter when they were younger. It was made from paper, bamboo, cork and a rubber band and the boys played with it until it broke but they figured out how to build their own, sparking an early interest in aviation. Wilbur Wright was an athletic guy with plans to go to Yale University when a hockey stick knocked out his front teeth, causing him to withdraw from people. Instead of college, he stayed indoors caring for his terminally ill mother, and considered himself lacking in ambition. However, while at home caring for his mother, he began studying aviation. Orville Wright had dropped out of high school to open up a printing business, using a printing press designed and built with Wilbur’s help. When bicycles became a national craze, the brothers decided to open up a bicycle shop, designing and building their own bicycles.
Up until this time there had been many attempts to build a flying machine but no one in the world had solved all of the pieces to the puzzle. The Wright Brothers decided to tackle the problem and used money from their bicycle business to fund their experiments. They used some of what they’d learned building bicycles and applied it to flying. While everyone else was focused on stability, the Wright Brothers knew the real problem was steering. They understood an airplane in the sky wouldn’t handle like a boat in the water. Their grasp of bicycle design helped them find a steering solution. And another breakthrough came when they abandoned using the aeronautical data of one of their biggest inspirations, the German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal. Realizing his data was incorrect, the Wright brothers decided to start from scratch to discover the correct formulas behind wing design. After more than a decade of experiments, filled with failures, injuries and plenty of self-doubt, on December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers flew the world’s first, truly working airplane. Were there swarms of reporters watching the historical moment? No, there was only one other person there, a guy Wilbur found to take photographs of the flights and the film wasn’t even developed until the brothers returned home to Ohio. The world eventually found out but it was an overnight success that had taken well over a decade to create; longer if you count the toy helicopter.
The airplane was the result of years of study, experimentation, hard work and thinking outside the box. For a couple of guys without college degrees or even high school diplomas, all they needed was to keep pushing through the barriers, ignore the limitations and focus on their dream, so fragile that the whole world didn’t think it possible. The next time you’re watching a famous artist or creator on TV and thinking of yourself as a failure for not being there yet, remember the story of two brothers who spent years of getting it wrong until they finally got it right. Imagine them pushing their flying machine made of canvas and wood into the wind until it was conquered, seeing their masterpiece soaring above the world. Overnight success is great, but not as great as the everyday success of chasing your dreams. The pleasure is in the doing, not the having, so get out there and do whatever you gotta do because that’s the secret to flying.
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I recently decided to ask the following question to all of my artist friends: “What's the one thing that stops you the most from being a successful artist?” I got back more than a hundred responses and I was actually surprised to discover that one answer was overwhelmingly at the top: lack of confidence. It was so popular that it more than doubled the number two answer. I was surprised for two reasons, one, I consider myself confident when it comes to being an artist and two, I consider artists extremely talented and skilled individuals, which should make them automatically confident, right? Well I quickly realized having confidence is something lots of people struggle with and artists more than anybody, and here’s why:
Simply, artists have to communicate their ideas but other people not so much. Artists put themselves out there (with their heart and soul embodied in their work) and when you do that it’s like waving a big sign that says, “Hey everybody! Look at me! I’ve created something new!” We live in a world where too many people are comfortable and don’t want the boat rocked and here you come with your art, rocking it! Anytime they see an artist you’re reminding them of what they should be doing: creating! So what happens next? “Oh, that’s nice.” “I had a friend that tried doing that.” “Is that what you do for a living?” “What’s your real job?” “Well, that’s nice.” “Good luck with it.” There’s this inescapable tenseness that travels from them to you leaving the thought, “I should keep practicing because maybe I’m not good enough yet.” Let me tell you something. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH.
Why? Because no matter how bad you might think your art is, at least you’re making it. All of the people you’re worried about pleasing probably aren’t artists and if they are they’re probably not making much art. Here you come with your finished piece of art. There they are without one. Luckily, they don’t have to matter much because there are plenty of people that support artists. If that wasn’t true then you wouldn’t be able to watch a movie, listen to an album or read a book. There are millions if not billions of people on this planet right now that support artists and the art they make. You just have to weed out the ones that don’t by standing strong, flourishing and prospering in the face of opposition. You just have to keep lifting up, extending out and presenting your art to people. No matter what. Don’t let one hater prevent all that will love it later.
Finally, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to be Bob Dylan the moment you pick up a guitar. So you’re not Hemingway yet and they haven’t put a Nobel Prize around your neck, who cares? Know that you’re always going to make the best art you can, so why beat yourself up over it? The real reason any of those haters or critics can set you on fire is because you’ve got some small pile of firewood laid out somewhere inside you. Guess what? You don’t have to be society’s idea of what a successful artist is, you just have to be YOUR idea of what a successful artist is. As long as you can do that you won’t have any problem walking up to somebody and showing them what you made. Be confident knowing you’re doing something most people can’t and every time you do it you’re getting even better at it. Build confidence like you’d build a house, one brick at a time. And there’s no reason you can’t be a skyscraper.
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.