I want to talk about something close to my heart.
Something that isn’t easy to admit, but is so important to say.
Life has been incredibly kind to me. I’m disgustingly happy. I get to pursue my passion for a living. I’m surrounded by wonderful, inspiring people. And, as you might have guessed, I couldn’t have done this without the intervention of a certain successful artist. There, I said it. I was the damsel in distress, and my husband saved me.
But let me clarify, the emphasis is on the “I”. I couldn’t have done this.
Falling in love with my idol taught me so, so many lessons. Sure, living with one of the best teachers in the industry has its perks. I had a lot handed to me that many have to fight for. But this was only scratching the surface- the true lessons came in different, unexpected forms. And I found that, if I woke up tomorrow and discovered my life with Noah had been a dream, I’d know now exactly how to succeed.
Transparency in my journey is so important to me. I want everyone to know how lucky I’ve been, how much I struggled despite my luck, and how in the end the things that have really helped me to succeed were things I could have done all along.
Heed my painfully honest lessons so you don’t have to wait to be saved the way I did.
Lesson One: The Buck Stops With You
I used to believe the future would fix my problems. Aged 24, I worked a fairly decent but unfulfilling job in London, I had a few wonderful close friends that I got to see a few times a year, and I had a passion. Yet I lived every day afraid, alone and frustrated. I sucked. I consoled myself with “one day” and “if only” sentiments, and allowed myself to stagnate.
I could have carried on in the cycle… well, forever. I was firmly middling, neither failing nor excelling. Then, a fairytale happened. Someone gave me everything. He removed every “one day” and “if only” excuse I had. Every obstacle was gone. I was one of the few who got scooped out of the net and put into a nice, cushty pond. And you know what?
I still sucked. And I found the biggest obstacle I ever faced was me.
No matter what was given to me, it didn’t make up for my own shortcomings. That’s when I realised that circumstance was an excuse. Privilege makes starting easy, but it cannot outrank hard work. At the end of the day, if you aren’t putting in the work, you’ll never succeed. Do not wait for life to get better for you, or waste energy envying those who had it easier than you. Trust me: privilege doesn’t magically make you (or anyone else) a better person.
Lesson Two: Time is Your Ally
I spent my whole life battling a toxic mindset I didn’t even recognise. It’s one that is stupidly obvious when you say it out loud, but works its way into everything we do in the sneakiest, most insidious ways.
It is the notion that right now is all that matters. If I suck right now, I’m never going to do well. I’m just not cut out for it. I’m not good enough right now, so I’ll never be good enough. It’s the folly of looking at our progress through a microscopic lens and not seeing any difference.
This one struck me around the time I gained access to incredible resources like Art Camp. I was convinced everything would change… and then it didn’t. Or at least I didn’t think it did. I was letting results drive my motivation, which is backwards. I wasn’t immediately at a professional level, therefore it clearly wasn’t working.
Every improvement is a step forward, and every step is small. One step doesn’t make much difference and everything still looks the same. But ten steps? You’re seeing new things, looking at things from different angles. A thousand steps? Sweetie, you’re in a whole new country.
Go read The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen. It is hands down the greatest self-help book I have ever read. It completely changed my life. Work hard, have faith in the process, and widen your scope for personal comparison. Look back six months, a year. Trust the small improvements and nurture them. They are your babies.
Lesson Three: We’re All Human
People say not to meet your idols as they will only disappoint you. But they only disappoint you if you wanted them to be holier-than-thou, infallible, god-like creatures you could never measure up to. And who wants that?
Maybe it makes me a bad person that I was secretly relieved to find out that Noah, my favourite artist, sometimes does bad drawings, has days where he thinks he sucks, and actually sucked when he had my level of experience (sorry honey <3). For all the ways I looked up to Noah, he saw things in me he too looked up to. Me!
Don’t forget that we are all human. We all have flaws, a history of mistakes and bad days. Usually, the greatest thing that sets our idols apart from us is a long journey of hard work and failures that they overcame. We are every bit as capable as they are. Now, get to it!
Lesson Four: The Hedonic Treadmill is Real
The hedonic treadmill is, according to Wikipedia, “the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes”. It is a psychological theory that suggests we all have a baseline state of happiness that we return to. That, no matter how good or bad life gets, we have a “normal” level of happy we tend to operate at.
Having lived at the two extreme ends of the scale, I can confirm anecdotally that this phenomenon is pretty real. Through the hardest periods of my life, people have commented on my “strength” and “enduring positivity”. And in the happiest periods of my life, I have hated my sorry-arse for ever feeling anything less than ecstatic in my perfect life that past-Rachel would’ve killed to have.
But there is a lesson to be had here: do not glorify the extreme ends of the scale. Do not seek intense happiness as a constant way of life. You will come back down, and you will keep pursuing that ideal of happy. Life just isn’t always extremely happy. It can’t be. No one lives like that. It’s actually exhausting to maintain (and kinda creepy to witness).
I wasted a lot of time and beat myself up needlessly, assuming that spending most of my time at my baseline level of happy meant I was unappreciative, depressed and undeserving of my good fortune. Learning that you don’t have to be deliriously happy constantly was a liberating lesson.
What you can do is raise your baseline. The middle of that graph, between extreme happy and extreme sad, is sacred. It exists in the days where you have no unusual plans, nothing out of the ordinary. Where you sit down to work without anything huge or exciting happening. When you work on jobs that merely pay the bills. Find contentment in (and make peace with) your baseline and you’ll find your whole cycle shifting to a happier place.
Essentially, my lessons all boil down to one. There is one inescapable factor to success. It can be the key to success, or the obstacle to success. And that factor is you.
The sooner you internalise your journey and stop looking for external factors to help you (or blaming external factors for holding you back), the sooner you’ll become one of those people you look up to. Take it from someone who had no excuses left. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, and don’t wait for someone to save you. You have everything you need right now.