When given this title to write about, it immediately raises the issue of ‘what is success?’
Success can mean a number of things for those of us who are artists and those who work in the media and arts. Public recognition, respect in our field, financial stability, personal ‘bests’, the completion of a project and many others.
I have been in the arts for 22 years and have never been out of work. By and large I have been very successful, but it is only this year I have received public recognition for my work. I have never been asked to write on the subject of ‘handling success’ before, so I guess it means I should tell you about how I have come to terms with the life changes I’ve undergone in the past twelve months.
Firstly, let me say, success never made anyone a better person. It also, by and large, does not give you character. It just shows up who has it and who doesn’t. You see God tells us way up front, before success arrives, what the score is.
Proverbs 27:21 says: ‘The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold.’ I have heard these verses preached so many times regarding how we are refined by God and normally these sermons have pointed out that our refinement comes about by a series of tests and trials. We think about the most awful thing we have ever faced/are currently facing/are afraid of facing, we imagine how God is using those situations to refine us and we go home feeling a little comforted. What never seems to be preached is the whole of verse 21, ‘The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man will be tested by the praise he receives.’ (NIV) or in other translations ‘by a little fame’. Yes, the crucible is for testing the silver; the furnace for testing the gold; and man’s testing is the praise he receives or the little ‘fame’ he gets. That’s what shows us how mature or immature we are. How do we respond to praise? It’s a good indicator of how you will handle public recognition or worldly success on a grand scale.
So how am I handling my success? Well there are a few points I’d like to make:
- I know for sure it didn’t come as a result of a ‘ten step prayer programme’, so there will be no mileage in my writing an ‘I became successful, so can you’ Christian motivational book. Like the good book says, ‘God rains on the righteous and the unrighteous’. For some reason known only by God he chose to rain on me this season.
- It isa season and I am totally prepared for a future of insignificance in the world’s eyes should God choose to take me in another direction.
- If this should happen, I will be no less successful in his eyes. My worldly status may change, but my worth in God is unchangeable. Descending the mountain does not have to be painful.
- I know what counts, God, husband, family, friends, love. These things are constant.
- Being recognised in Tesco’s is fantastic for five minutes but the novelty wears off. People think they know you when they don’t. Its nice to stop and chat but sometimes I’m in a rush.
- It allows you access to other ‘successful’ artists in a status-orientated world. This access is a wonderful thing for a Christian to have. As Proverbs 18:16 says, ‘The gift opens the way for the giver. It ushers him into the presence of the great.’ That’s a privilege I do not treat lightly.
- It means sacrificing time with my family and friends. This costs. Lack of fellowship is hard. If I do fellowship, many people find it hard to talk about anything other than my work.
- The God who carried me through the valleys is the same God who stands beside me on the mountaintops. If you bother to get to know Him in the valleys it’s a great help on the mountaintops.
- A Godly perspective gives you a chance to really enjoy blessing. I am neither enamoured nor blasé about the things I am currently experiencing. Having perspective means I understand that ‘OK’ magazine is just a magazine showing lush lifestyles that bear little resemblance to most people’s realities. Equally I love the chance to have great photos taken and appear in the mag. It’s exciting.
- I continually remind myself of what it is I am doing and what it is I need to be enjoying. If fame becomes more enjoyable than vocal coaching/TV presenting then my work will inevitably begin to suffer. I will cease to grow as a coach/artist. I must keep my main focus on giving rather than receiving.
- I’ve really had to deal with my tendency to be a people pleaser. I really cannot worry about what other people will think. In a field of work where I will be misjudged, misrepresented and misquoted, there isn’t the time to go round correcting everyone’s views.
- God allows me time to adapt. Success brings change and change can take time to adapt to. There is no pressure; I can go at my own pace.
Enjoy the process
Quincy Jones has a great quote. He says how life can be viewed like a park. Some people enter the park, look for the gate on the other side and head straight for it. Others take their time to smell the flowers and enjoy what’s going on around them.
Our work as artists or those who work in the arts should major on the process. Achievement is a wonderful thing but process is where we spend a great deal of our time. I have worked with many artists who have achieved all their life goals by the age of 22. They have fame and riches beyond measure. So what do they do with the next 50 years? You have to have something more than just a desire to achieve fame for fame’s sake. The love of music, drama, art, poetry, dance, etc. is a healthy driving force and the process of creating in these areas is both magnetic and satisfying.
Ruby Wax says, ’Dysfunction breeds the need for celebrity’, and that is so true. My advice is to deal with your dysfunction before you or as soon as you embark on a career in the arts. If God had given me even the success I currently have when I was 18, I would have imploded. The idea of a bunch of strangers loving you is inviting, as it seems you do not have to give anything in return. It’s an impersonal relationship at a safe distance. However, the scary payoff is that it is a love you cannot control. This is how applause junkies are born, people who are desperate for the next audience’s approval. After a while, like all addictions, it’s never enough and the artist begins to despise their audience. The artist ends up feeling the audience needs a bit more of them and that the audience’s need can never be satisfied.
My husband David Grant used to say, ‘Be careful what you pray for, because you might get it.’ With success comes a whole new bunch of stresses. The fear of failure can be overwhelming, sometimes more overwhelming than when you are at the bottom of the ladder. You have a lot further to fall! Everything seems to go into a grander scale, you may have to employ lots of people. I remember clearly David and I had no money living in our old flat. Those were tough but good times. Now I have children, nannies, managers, accountants, lawyers, producers, clients, cleaners, PA’s, gardeners, builders, people for my hair, people for my nails, etc. I sometimes wonder if I was richer back then.
I love to remind myself that God is so much bigger than all of this and the scripture ‘Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.’ (1 John 4:4) takes on an even greater significance for me. I move with a lot of powerful people and sometimes they scare me, but I remind myself that in perspective it’s all very small. Like watching lots of ants looking for something to do with their lives. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor event. I find this refreshingly humbling.
Success is great fun, exciting, scary and mostly temporary. So how do you handle it? My advice is to handle it lightly.
(This article appears in the ACG Mentoring Handbook.)