Why you can’t learn from success

mindsetWe all want to be succesful  in some way or another. But is success in comics a recipe you can follow? Secret ingredients? Or is it actually better to burn your fingers on the stove? At least you can learn from that experience!

My motto is: “You can’t learn from success”

This quote in a comment on my podcast episode The 3 biggest mistakes of my comics career, got me thinking about this topic.

Looking at people who succeed and copying their strategy would seem like a good idea. And there definitely is a a lot to be said for looking at peers and seeing what works for them. But can you really learn from the success of other artists or duplicate the success you had with a previous project?

Here’s why I think you can’t learn from success:

  • What works for another artist is not necessarily going to work for you. They have a different background, a different skill set, maybe a different home life or financial situation putting them in a better position than you.
  • Success is personal. You might perceive another creator as hugely successful while they see their career as less than perfect – most likely that’s how they feel!
  • You can’t measure success. We as artists have an embedded dissatisfaction with where we are. That’s what motivates us to get going! So the feeling of success we might have quickly fades and gives way to new dissatisfaction.
  • No one mulls over success. The more time you spend thinking about something, the bigger the chance of learning from that experience, right? But who lies awake thinking of their successes? Not comics artists, for sure! We’re much more prone to miring over what went wrong, how we’re not good enough. Let’s use that in a constructive way and at least learn something from those self-doubts.
  •  What worked for you once is not necessarily going to work again! The world is constantly changing and so are you. The circumstances that made a success could have shifted or the artistic side of you refuses to repeat the process.
  • The learning you could subtract from a previous success is usually hidden somewhere in the big picture. What you think made the success and what actually made it happen is probably not the same thing.
  • Success is 80% timing. Okay, I have no scientific evidence for this, but I do believe a lot of what makes a success is out of our control. It’s not just meeting the right peers or editors, being up for the task when opportunity arises. Any work of art needs to hit home with an audience and the market is constantly shifting. Serial killers or cute ponies might be in vogue this year, but next year we couldn’t be bothered.
  • To be really successful in art, you cannot just be replicating what you did last! You need to be constantly pushing yourself.
  • Success is outside of your comfort zone. If you are any good at what you do, you will constantly be introducing new methods, new tools and new influences on your work. See how the list of ingredients is constantly changing? You can’t repeat the recipe, it’s just impossible!
  • No one succeeds from day one! So if you want to learn from success you have to wait a loooong time. Failure happens all the time, especially in the beginning. Great learning possibilities!

So as you can see, learning from failure is a much better strategy than trying to copy your own success or the success of others. And luckily, failure is bound to happen on a regular basis. 

Agree with this perspective? Or think I missed an important point? Comment below!

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