Non-Attachment to the Outcome

If my creativity coaching clients had to choose their least-favorite task, it would be completing an application for a juried art show or submitting a grant proposal.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.30.03 PMThe application for a juried show includes the dreaded image-selection process, a choice that either will make judges smile and say “Yes!’ or push an application into the rejection stack. Artists rarely know exactly what the jury is looking for. Often the jury’s background isn’t released in the application, so some of the jurors may not understand the descriptions carefully crafted by the submitting artist.

It feels a lot like running across a rope bridge, blindfolded. In the rain.

Writers have the same struggle with grant applications. If the application has stringent rules, the writer has to second-guess what the review committee means  when the instructions are unclear or use jargon. Recently, I helped an applicant figure out that “disruptive practices” is now the buzzword for creativity.

The language is just one hurdle. The instructions for submitting the application is often confusing and complicated with no additional, simplifying help.

It becomes really easy for an applicant to second-guess choices, to put out work that is safe and popular instead of innovative.

All that is just the beginning. The part that comes next is the most difficult part: waiting for the reply.

If you are a normal human being, you will begin to worry, then doubt yourself, then think you surely submitted the best work, then be absolutely certain that you are not worthy of any consideration. All in one coaching call.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.31.43 PM

Crown used at coronation for the monarch of Denmark.

Worse still is believing that the choice of the jury or review team is a reflection of your artistic talent. A rejection does not mean you are a talentless slug who should be banished to a life of assembling watercolor brushes by hand, bristle by bristle. An acceptance does not mean you are the shining star of your field, and get to wear the crown of fabulousness.

A rejection is just that—a turndown by a group of people you don’t know. An acceptance is approval, also by people you don’t know. This is not a judgment of your character, your future, or even a universal statement about your art. It’s an opinion.

A writer’s job is to submit an application that is clear, well-written, free of grammatical mistakes, logical and representative of the best thinking, writing, and creative work.

Your best approach is to write book or class descriptions while you are working on it and have your audience and outcome clearly in mind. It’s impossible to remember the important elements of your book when an application is due tomorrow.

Once the application is sent, the hard work of non-attachment starts. You are not in control of the judging. You have done your best. Take pride in your growth and ideas. Take pride in submitting your well thought-out work.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.35.11 PMInstead of celebrating only if you get accepted, plan a celebration for the day you submit an application. Submitting your best work is the focus of the celebration, not the approval of others.

When the reply comes back, take a deep breath and remind yourself this is not about you. Non-attachment doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you know you did your best, presented work that you believe in, and are not defining yourself by the decision not in your control.

Non-attachment to outcome may be the hardest work you have ever done, but it will build your confidence in the deep part of you that makes meaning as an artist.

Quinn McDonald is waiting to hear about a grant application.

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15 thoughts on “Non-Attachment to the Outcome

  1. Oh the judgement of others . . . such a minefield for anyone let alone the (recovering) perfectionist. And to be reliant on it! My daughter-in-law is in the same position: with her shiny A average MFA she is sending off proposals and is relying on her writing and photographic skills to support her work.

    You have a picture in your head, they have one in theirs . . . I hope there is a big overlap.

  2. I was always so hard on myself in school and would be upset if I didn’t think I did well on a test. My Mom would ask me, “Did you do your best?” I always answered, “Yes” so fortunately, it was ingrained in me that all I could do was my best. If I did my best, then I had reason to be proud of myself.

    Good luck on the grant proposal! I look forward to hearing all about it.

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