Toggling between visualizing and detaching from success.
Recently I poured my heart into a major art application. But when I received the rejection letter, I was already moving on to the next thing. Here’s what happened.
My art business goals are to apply.
Of course I want my applications to be successful. But I don’t write goals based on external validation. I can only control what I do. I write my goals so that my job is to keep throwing my hat into the ring.
I have also tried to be more ambitious about what I apply to. Ambition is not natural to me. I’ve also avoided applying to grants, because they seem like more work with lower chances of returns. But I needed to get over this hang-up.
I’d heard of the Queens Museum Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship (EAF) before. It offers funding of $20,000 to develop new work, support from staff for one year, and a solo exhibition at the Queens Museum. This was my first time applying to it. In the past, I didn’t consider it—I just assumed that I don’t or can’t work at a scale that would justify $20,000. I had a self-perception problem.
Setting ‘stretch goals’ gave me a push I needed. I started the process thinking: My chances are very low. The odds are against me. My project seems dissimilar to past projects they’ve funded. I had a protective, pessimistic mindset.
I started the process to fulfill a goal, then awkwardly tried to bridge the interests of the program with my own. After working through half-baked ideas, I arrived at a project that clicked. It made sense for me as a next step as an artist. I got more excited and invested. My self-belief grew.
It became easier for me to visualize success because my project was authentic.
By the time I finished the application, I thought: This is a strong proposal. It’s a great fit. It stands out in a good way. I saw myself doing this project. By writing a proposal I believed in, I saw that I could do projects at this scale, and that I am worthy of this amount of support and recognition.
Detachment from the Outcome through Attachment to the Project
The project took on a life of its own. There’s a noticeable energy in the flood of new ideas in my sketchbook.
I knew I could strengthen my proposal by confirming interest from community partners. I emailed strangers and colleagues, and got anxious waiting for their responses. When a few responded with enthusiasm, I felt high with gratitude. It validated the strength of the project. Something happened inside me, and I committed to doing this project with or without the EAF.
I started brainstorming other ways to make this project happen. Since I scaled it up for the grant application, I started thinking about how to scale it down or adapt it to other open calls. I plugged dates in my calendar, comparing application deadlines and notifications. The EAF become my Plan A. I started forming Plan B, C, and D. It gave me a sense of agency.
The Emotional Cost of Attachment
After I submit an application, I put a note in my calendar on the notification date, and I try not to think about it until then.
But I really poured my heart into the application, and so I was nervous and excited when the EAF notification date finally arrived. I checked my email… Nothing. Then over the next few days, I kept checking my email… And the web page to see if the notification date changed…. And my spam folder…. Nothing. This took me on an emotional journey of anxiety, a little bit of frustration and resentment, dread, resignation. I couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty. Stopping the pain of uncertainty became more urgent than the desire to secure the EAF. This is not a mature, emotionally intelligent response. But the deadline for the call in Plan B started creeping up, so I pivoted.
When I finally received the rejection, I was bummed out momentarily. I sort of shrugged, thinking: Well, good thing I had already started Plan B. I wasn’t entirely non-attached, but I moved on relatively quickly.
Of course I would have loved to receive the EAF. It was Plan A because it was the most well-funded, most advantageously-timed option.
I’m grateful for the process—it helped me identify a project I feel passionate about, connect with partners excited to work with me, and find creative momentum that will carry me forward.
I like thinking about how sports and art competitions are alike. For example, if you sign up for a competition—say, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament—your goals might be to intensify training, gain competition experience, and test yourself. But if you also want to win the gold medal, you have to visualize yourself doing so. You can’t aim for less. Same with an art competition. You should write the best possible proposal you can.
However, you can only control your own effort and mindset. You can’t control the outcomes, because of the role of other competitors and judges. You may win a gold—in which case you shouldn’t get too cocky and back off your training. You may not win—then you have to be resilient enough to cope with your disappointment; be a good sport; avoid jealousy and excuses; and resolve to learn, train hard, and do better next time. Regardless of the outcome of a competition, remember the long game.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
—variously attributed or mis-attributed to Winston Churchill and John Wooden