When Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off

It takes an endless amount of work, as most creatives know, to turn your passion into a successful business. Whether you’re trying to make some extra income on the side or turn it into a full time job, it requires a lot of hours and relentless dedication. I’ve talked a lot in recent months about getting started as a work from home artist. I’ve shared my tips for creating a schedule and studio, discussions on the supplies I prefer and how to prepare to sell at art festivals.

When I write these I try not to avoid the tough side. I don’t sugarcoat the difficulties I’ve faced or attempt to make it seem like success is achieved through a few simple steps. It scares me to be vulnerable at times, but I know how important it is for others to know they’re not alone when it comes to the tough moments.

Because when we truly decide to follow our dreams, the path is not easy.

Achieving success and attaining our goals, in all fields not just those that are creative, takes perseverance.

In this post, I’m going to share what happens when all that hard work you’ve put in starts to feel like it’s not paying off. And disclaimer, I almost didn’t write this post. Part of me didn’t want to share one of my harder times or open up about the insecurities I feel. I want this blog to be a place other creatives can find advice, and I told myself showing “weakness” would make others not want to listen to my advice.

But, hello Chelsea, no one is perfect. Appearing like I have it all together all the time, would not be sharing my truth and there is good insight to be given about what happens when things don’t go as planned.

Many of us we will reach a point when our efforts and detailed plans, don’t reap the rewards we expect. And you’ll encounter strong feelings of frustration and disappointment more than once along your journey. I’ve been on this path, of turning my passion into a business, for four years and it has been a journey of many highs and lows. This past year in particular I felt the struggle more than ever before. In this last week, I hit one of those very hard points.

The picture above is a shot of some of the things that I wasn’t able to sell at the fall festival I attended over the weekend. This was an event that I’d been prepping for over the last three weeks. I did my research on the type of crowd that would be attending and made sure I pulled out paintings that might interest them. I invested a good bit of money in getting prints made, created a whole new booth setup with my husband and felt great about what sort of results I could expect from all this work. I was following all the great advice I’d received from other artists over the years and my own experiences of trial and error. I was convinced I had put in all the work needed, and then some, to get great results.

But what happened is I sold absolutely nothing.

Yep, you read that write. Nothing.  After five hours in a booth talking to people (and even using my kids as bait to pull people in), I walked away without one sale. I brought back home with me every single painting, print and miniature painting that was prepped specifically for this event.

My heart felt absolutely broken.

I was frustrated, disappointed, and above all angry (kudos to my husband for dealing with me those first couple hours right after the festival). This was not the outcome I’d been expecting after weeks of dedicated work. I looked at everything I’d done and blamed myself, convinced that somehow I failed myself and my family. After months and months of slow to nonexistent sales, rejection letters and tough financial calls, this was supposed to be the beginning of a new break for me. My instant gut reaction was to begin to retreat and contemplate plans for quitting.

It was hard for me to bring back all those wooden crates into the house. Each time I carried one past the trashcan outside, I was tempted to just dump all the contents. What kept me from not doing any of this was opening up to close friends, family and my yoga community (The Journey Junkie).

I cannot stress enough the importance of a good support system when you hit these hard points.

Creative journeys can often feel lonely, because all the work is likely falling on just your shoulders, but you need to remember that doesn’t mean you’re alone in all things. When I opened up to my yoga community I was met with an overwhelming amount of love and advice. Although no one can make the path any easier, they can make it a little less empty. Many of the people who reached out to me have been on a similar journey of pursuing their goals, and they’ve all hit roadblocks.

What ultimately makes a good support system though, is one that makes you feel like you’re being seen, because at the end of the day, what I felt the strongest was invisible. It was as if all these years of work had accumulated into nothing and I was no more successful then before I started my business. But my amazing support systems were there to tell me to stop, back up and breathe. They saw all the work I was putting in, they knew these struggles themselves personally, and they had the advice and tough love that I needed to hear.

And the most common piece of advice from everyone? Walk away for a moment. But don’t quit. 

It is okay to be frustrated and angry. But that doesn’t mean you give up. I need to give myself some space from the things frustrating me (marketing, meeting sales goals and so on) for a little bit. What I don’t need is to move myself away from my dreams. It was the same advice I shared  in a post back in April, and ties right into my discussion on self doubt, but when this overwhelming sense of failure hit me, I failed to be able to follow my own advice (I’m human!).

One bad show doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It doesn’t mean that I’m not a talented artist or that my past successes are meaningless. All it means is that my current path needs some adjustments, which I can and will make.

Marie Curie said, “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

I believe in myself and the vision I have for my life. I believe that what I have to give to the world is valuable and that through hard work I will one day reach the place I want to be. I might still experience these tough moments, and I know that for awhile I will remain mildly disappointed, but that’s okay. What I’m not going to do is quit.

For anyone else who many be in one of these tough moments, I hope that you don’t quit either.


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