The mindfulness of disappointment

The original working title of this post was “The mindfulness of failure.” But then I realized I was being a complete hypocrite. I wanted to discuss the attitude of not being hard on yourself and I was using a terrible word like failure!

So I stepped back for a bit in order to practice what I preach.

Let me give you the back story. Over the last two years I’ve been working on building a portfolio of my larger quilting and textile creations. I want to get more of my work into galleries and exhibitions and one day I’d like to have a solo show.

If you’ve ever entered a juried show, you probably know that it can be highly competitive. Often hundreds of people are competing for a finite number of spaces to have their work shown. Sometimes you are up against some pretty staggering odds.

It’s a tough situation. Artists pour a lot of energy – heart and soul! – into their work. The subject matter, the process… it can all be highly personal. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that every one of my quilts has a part of me in it.

Then there is the effort involved in entering your work into a show. The artist’s statement, your bio or CV, and a description of how your work fits the guidelines of the show. Even when you already have these parts written, you still end up tweaking and refining them for the specific show. (And if you don’t edit for each application, you’re making a mistake!)

Inevitably, you get your hopes up. You start thinking about the opening reception. You start practicing humble brags. You audition input for a discussion about your inspiration.

Then you get that email. The one that thanks you for your entry. And tells you how many other artists submitted work. And how difficult the decision was… and that you weren’t chosen.

Suddenly you’re back on the playground. Feeling like the kid who didn’t get picked to play with the popular kids.

My Submittable submissions… two declines in one day!

I’ve gotten a number of turndowns this year. To be fair, I’ve been successful a few times too. But I’ve gotten far more “thanks, but no thanks.” And I won’t lie, it feels terrible. Each time, I feel like a complete failure.

This is where mindfulness can do its work. Because I’m not a failure. As I mentioned earlier, failure is a terrible word. What I’m really feeling is disappointment.

Disappointment is tough too, but I think it’s a much better way to look at the situation. Disappointment is an emotion and isn’t connected to my self-worth.

Disappointment reflects the circumstances. I wanted X but instead I got Y. On the other hand, failure reflects back on me. I wanted X, but I wasn’t good enough to get it. See the difference?

Failure does have its place in the world. But only in very limited application. If I wanted to enter a juried show that required me submit three pieces and I only submitted two, then my failure was in following directions.

So this is where mindfulness comes in. When those turn-downs show up in my email, and I feel awful, I spend a little bit of time just feeling. Awful, that is. It’s important to acknowledge painful feelings in order to move past them.

Then I put time into reminding myself that what I’m feeling is disappointment and not getting what I want is no reflection on my self-worth. It’s easier said that done, of course. When we put all of ourselves into something and it isn’t accepted as enthusiastically as we hope, we have a tendency to take it personally.

It takes time and practice to make this shift. But it does get easier. Not that you can completely avoid the painful feelings. They still come. But when you know how to reframe the situation, you can spend less time feeling bad.

The final – and arguably the most important step – is to get back up and keep trying. You may need to make some adjustments. In my case, I have done some work on my artist’s statement. The point is, you can’t let disappointment keep you from pursuing something important.

On a more practical note, there are dozens of reasons why artists get turned down. I’ll explore those another time! (read that post HERE)

Until then, acknowledge your feelings, remember that lack of success is no reflection on your worthiness, and keep trying! Good news may be just around the corner.

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