Deep Thought Thursday: Is it lonely at the top?

Today's Deep Thought was inspired by a comment left by Lisa Call on last week's DTT. 

As I have built into a profitable and growing business, I have noticed that it is harder and harder to find mentors or even other businesspeople I can grow with and learn with. I am certain it's much the same with artists.

"They" say that you are the average of all of the people you hang out with. If you're constantly doing the nurturing, you remain at the nurturee's level. I have found this to be true. There comes a time in one's career when you have to quit nurturing (quit joining organizations, quit saying Yes to no-pay workshops, etc.) and start taking care of yourself. As Lisa wrote in her comment:

Having the deep commitment to
really believe enough in one's self to become the best artist one can
(ie a great artist) requires a huge amount of self-love and
self-acceptance and mostly self-confidence. I think this can scare
those that aren't on a similar path. It can also lead to jealousies
that separate you from the larger pack of artists that don't share a
similar vision.

So, is it lonely at the top? For those of you who have attained a certain level of success, how hard is it for you to find like-minded artists for your continuing journey?

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13 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Is it lonely at the top?”

  1. I am a believer in mentoring as a partnership. When done right, both parties benefit immensely from the process of growing together. Just because you have a wealth of experience and have enjoyed oodles of success, does not mean that you have “arrived”, have nothing more to learn or improve upon, or cannot always benefit from a fresh, new perspective. I coordinate a mentoring program at the university at which I am employed (my “day” job). Our mentors who are often successful professionals in their respective fields always comment that they have learned so much from their college-age mentees. A mentor does himself a disservice by having an attitude that when they nurture, they have nothing to gain personally.

  2. I am a very successful “commercial” artist with a fine art background and yes it can be lonely. Most successful commercial artists work in agencies in team situations while I work alone or with my part time helpers. Many of my old friends are either struggling fine artists or artists that have left art all together in pursuit of a paycheck. Awhile back I was networking with a group of creative business women and the subject of mentors came up. I realized I did not have a mentor at that time. Since then I have come to realize and accept that while in many ways I am at the top of my game, I do have so many creative equals in my life. When I am paying attention I learn so much from everyone around me. No, this does not take the place of having a true mentor.

  3. Michael Lynn Adams

    First, I strongly disagree with Lisa’s statement that to be a great artist it requires “a huge amount of self-love and self-acceptance and mostly self-confidence.” For some people that might be true. But for many truly great artists the opposite is true. Art is the calling that feeds their souls in regardless of worldly success. One very successful artist (I believer actors are artists, too) was Sir Lawrence Olivier, arguably the greatest Shakespearian actor of the 20th century. He had great doubts about his acting abilities and absolutely hated what his acting looked like on film. He simply thought he was dreadful. Those doubts drove him to explore and experiment and look at new ideas in order to perfect his craft. Jealousy is not the reaction to people with overwhelming self-confidence. It is repulsion. Very few people can tolerate being around a person so centered with self-love, self-acceptance and self-confidence, that there is no room for anyone else’s ideas or opinions. It simply closes off any possibility for meaningful conversation. My suggestion is to get beyond your self. Open your heart and mind to a world of new possibilities that others can offer. Which leads me to mentoring. MENTORING When you think you have outgrown your mentors, become a mentor yourself. I have worked in higher education for nearly 30 years. There is nothing that benefits ones professional life more that being a teacher or mentor. It forces you to see aspects of your profession that you have taken for granted. It can be a humbling and very enriching experience.

  4. I completely agree with Lisa. For me the hardest thing is finding like-minded artists within driving distance. People with whom I can network and grow both artistically and business-wise. Ideally, it would be a sort of mutual mentoring. So many artists I meet are either on a completely different level or have wildly different goals. And some are anti-social! So, yes, it can be a bit lonely.

  5. I have the opposite experience… the more successful I become, the more access I have to other successful and interesting people. It’s the most fulfilling part of my gig. It’s not so much that you need self-love an self-confidence to be an artist… I think you need love and confidence that extends to others as well as yourself. If you respect what you have accomplished and respect what the other person has accomplished, there’s a good chance for getting along well and having some interesting conversations. I’ve always insisted that all my relationships operate on a peer level, that is, I want to feel equal in importance to the other person and vice versa. And I find that it helps to “assume” this level of relationship… If I meet someone who is a movie star, CEO, king of an island nation or whatever, as far as I’m concerned, we start out on equal footing. Most famous people actually appreciate being treated like a person rather than some kind of god. Now, if it’s *really important* to them that they have an acknowledged upper status, I’m probably not going to be interested in hanging out with them, but that rarely seems to happen. I do not look exclusively to other artists for friendship, inspiration, etc. I have friends who are artists, friends in the software industry, friends who do business, marketing, science, and so on. I feel like this adds more depth actually to my learning and process than if I restricted my interests just to people working in the arts. A lot of my best friends are also former (or ongoing) clients who appreciate the work I do but have something else going on that we can talk about too. I find that geography has little to do with my social life anymore. I do have friends who live nearby, but I interact far more with people over the phone and the web than I do at the local watering hole. This gives me access to a huge pool of truly brilliant people that is much larger than would be readily available even in a city like New York. So, if you’re having a hard time finding peers, here’s my advice: 1. Treat everyone like peers until proven otherwise. 2. Don’t focus on “like-minded” so much as capable of critical discourse. 3. Don’t limit yourself to local contacts. 4. Travel and spend time with the people you know in other places. 5. Don’t limit yourself to artists, or a specific media, or the art business. 6. Learn from other industries and interests. 7. “like-minded” leads to stagnation. There’s nothing wrong with healthy disagreement. If you know that you are doing the right thing in your context, don’t get hung up on whether other people agree. Who cares? But respect their right to believe or think differently also. And see what you can learn from discussing those differences.

  6. I think Lisa’s observation was very wise. Believing in yourself, yet striving for a balance between being the best artist you can be and a functioning human being in society, is a worthy goal. I’ll throw out a provocative statement, just for discussion sake: Mentoring is dead. I see a lot of so-called mentoring taking place in the form of me paying $1,000 (or whatever) to a master for a workshop that inevitably devolves to the level of the least-talented participant. E-mails are always exchanged at the end of these things and promises of follow-ups, but you can file that under “let’s get together for a drink sometime.” After doing a few art festivals for the first time this year, I think I can safely say that any lasting friendships I make will probably occur among artists in media other than my own. But that’s cool. I’m lucky to have one friend/mentor I can discuss the art biz with. It’s lonely in the middle, too. Best, Mike

  7. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Stacy: I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think that’s what Lisa is addressing. Perhaps I did her a disservice by adding to her original quote. I think she is saying that it’s hard to find people with the same goals–in the same place as you. You may have the other people in your life that you continue to benefit from, but you also need the addition of a new coterie of friends. Yes? Michael: I think you are confusing self-confidence with arrogance. And I’m certain Lisa doesn’t mean the latter. One can be full of self-confidence and still have plenty of love to give and life to share. I do understand what you are saying about doubts. You are correct. Many a great artist had doubts about the work itself. But most never doubted the path they were on. Barbara: Put it out there. Keep asking for it and it will appear. John: I get what you’re saying. And I am just picturing you hanging out with kings of island nations. But I go back to the core of the thought. You may have all of those other connections that you mentioned, but still be missing that one artist colleague that you need in your life. There’s obviously a hole there. Maybe not for everyone, but for some. Mike: Yes, you are lucky to have that one friend/mentor. And you are right that the artist doesn’t need to be in the same media. In fact, I would argue that they shouldn’t be. Growth!

  8. In listening to the news the past few days, I have been shocked by one of the rationales listed as to why they suspected that army scientist Bruce Ivins was the anthrax murderer. HE WORKED LATE HOURS ALONE IN THE LAB! If that is sufficient reason for suspicion probably 75% of all artists are suspect. I am often alone in my studio until the wee hours or dawn, even when I have to work the next day. Obviously there were many other shreds of evidence leading to the government conclusions, but it does speak to the fact that artists are often considered strange. Just a thought that I have been pondering since it hit the news.

  9. And here I am posting to a blog at 11:17 at night – definately suspicious!. I am reading the book you recommended, Alyson, Relax Into Wealth – and I agree with the author, we only know our own experiences. The more I’ve grown the more I’ve had to self-mentor. That isn’t to say there aren’t fabulously helpful people out there who could offer advice, only that I haven’t connected with them, perhaps by choice, if I’m totally honest. Yes, I would love to have that mythical mentor who opens doors for me, constantly strokes my ego and tells the world that every drop of paint I put on the canvas deserves to be…yeah, see, that’s why I have to self mentor. No one else will do that for me.

  10. I didn’t have a good response to this so I came over to see what everyone else is thinking. My “mentor” happens to be my blogging community because it is very diverse and I’m not looking for critiques I’m looking for a way to keep on keeping on. Sure I have art friends close to home but we all lead very busy lives. I sort of agree with Mike because “mentoring” seems to have turned to coaching in a lot of worlds and that isn’t free. I was just lamenting the dirth of networking among women – and I know tons of people from my former life as a community based organizer. Perhaps it’s everywhere and I just don’t know it. Everything seems to have a price tag associated with it.

  11. This post was a nice affirmation for me personally today. Although for very worthy organizations,like the Women’s Caucus for Art, my participation on various boards, building websites, marketing etc. has progressively required me to stand strong and say no to focus my energy on my career. I do keep a balance of mentoring and am mentored to, confering with Tammy, via many blogs, local and long distance relationships. I have some wonderful relationships with a few artists locally, most recently Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson, where we work as a team sharing our skills and making success. Occasionally there is isolation in my private studio, but all it takes is the wisdom to stay on task, make those lunch dates, attend events and mingle with people. I can see where location might be an issue for some but I live in Orlando and travel regularly. I’d been beating myself up for two weeks over a rejection. It’s funny how it cuts you to the core, if you let it. Then I judge an exhibit on a team of 5 reminding me how silly I’d been to let it get to me. Today I am thankful. Have a wonderful creative day everyone!

  12. This passage by Marianne Williamson captures well what I was trying to say in my quote Alyson has above: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” You can replace the word God with Universe or higher power or whatever you like. I think this is a way of living and a conviction to continue to move ahead, not in the absence of fear (arrogance), but in the face of it (strength and courage). The mentoring question is interesting. One of the goals of my blogging is exactly that and a few months back I announced I will be starting a formal mentoring program later this year (it will be free – truly mentoring – but also some what structured as I want to mentor people that are serious about their art). But as Alyson says that is not the same thing as having a peer to relate to.

  13. It’s powerful to see how many artists (myself included) use their blogs to mentor those following in our collective footsteps. This is one of the reasons why I return again and again to blogs where the authors are generous with their knowledge. Funny, too, that artists working at a similar level have read the same books, and many of the same blogs – gathering inspiration from the same well. When that information is then shared, challenged, and explored for deeper meaning, we are all “mentored”. That said, there are also times when the artist – like many a professional – realizes the need for paid expert help to accomplish a specific goal. I wouldn’t look for tax advice from a free blog – I would pay my accountant for his expertise. I respect my work — and myself — enough to recognize when I need help and I’m happy to pay for the service. I do wish, though, for a few good friends who would sit around the table with me, drinking a good wine, listening to good jazz, and arguing with the poets and the philosophers over the merits and challenges of our art forms until late into the night. Yes, I was born nearly a century too late.

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