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How to Find the Right Metrics for Success

Before we can hope to measure anything, including success, we must have a clear, measurable rubric. We must have the right metrics in place so that we can know that the measuring stick we've chosen is actually doing the job. Success in manufacturing seems straightforward. Compare the costs of production and distribution with marketing and sales... and you can determine your profit. A successful company makes money, so that seems to be a reliable measure of success. There are obviously many, more, but that appears to be one important criterion.

Now apply the same metrics to a creative career and things start to fall apart. How do you measure success when you are an artist? Is it fame, autographs signed, movie roles coming through, money, recognition? Is it all of these things? Is it none of these things?

As you may suspect, success is going to look different for each of us. While the DOW can give a meaningful measure to investors on the success of a company, I'm not sure stock prices would be a good indicator of a good singer, or poet. So we're in a bit of a fix, because we must have reliable measures for success, but those measures may be different for each artist. Can you be a successful business if you don't make a profit? Well, no, you can't. Can you be a successful artist and not make a profit? Well, sure, there are loads of examples of penniless artists whom we revere. So what in the heck are we supposed to do?

Remember a couple of days ago we talked about making a list of our heroes? We wrote the names a of five people in our niche who we considered to be successful, and why. My list created five traits or qualities that I saw in the five painters I wrote down: Determination; fearlessness; skill; authenticity; and fame. Those five words have become part of my mission, and part of my artist statement. But can they serve as measures for success? I think they can.

Obviously your list will vary, but let's give this a chance. The first trait on my list is determination. This is the quality that will cover all of the business problems, and market issues we must navigate. That includes earning enough to put food on the table, paying for supplies, and any infrastructure. It's keeping records, paying taxes, and sending out newsletters. If I am truly determined, it seems like I will see success in this area. Remember that these qualities are not guarantees of success, but simply measures of success or failure. Just as a business can fail for lack of sales, I can fail for a lack of determination. You've got to want it.

My second measure is fearlessness. That may seem very similar to the first, but the distinction I make here is having the willingness to face any adversary. I can be doggedly persistent and determined, but afraid to try something new or to take risks. In my realm, that may mean approaching the gallery and academic art world, or perhaps finding novel ways to reach collectors, or try new mediums. In business, this may compare to sales. If I can add fearlessness to my quiver, I am much better armed for success.

The third quality I need is to hone and practice my skills so as to become a better painter. This is the quality control aspect of my business, and the professional development piece. Skill is what keeps me learning, evolving, and ultimately what will propel me to the next level. Skill, backed by determination and fearlessness is an indispensable tool for success.

The last two qualities to me are inseparable; authenticity and fame. A huge measure of success for any creative is fame. Do people know you and your work? Are you revered and respected? People love a success story, particularly when creativity is involved. The arts inspire, uplift, teach, and entertain. It's little wonder why creative folks have been held in such high esteem for centuries. But the one thing that can kill fame, is a lack of authenticity. As a creative, you must be real. If you're perceived to be fake, or a charlatan, success is impossible. Inauthentic people may make a news cycle, but how many great art forgers do we remember? Have we learned nothing from Milli Vanilli?

So how does a creative professional measure success? Please don't fool yourself into thinking that sales figures, likes and followers, or YouTube subscriptions are the measure, because they're not. I don't mean to suggest that these things are not important. They are data that inform larger rubrics. It would be foolish to spend all your time chasing Instagram followers and not improve your artistic skills and knowledge, but it would be equally foolish to sit in a studio painting and hope that someone will walk through the door and discover you.

Go back and check that list of heroes. Review and dissect your list of qualities, and turn them into your own personal measures of success. Then focus on those measures. Make sure everything you do supports the words on your list. Ignore the haters, the jealous, and those who want to tear you down to make themselves seem bigger. Defy any fears of failure or inadequacy. Realize that money is a tool, not a measure of success, and go out and do something amazing. I can't wait to see it.

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