3 Lies I Have Been Told About Being A Successful Artist.

By Stuart Miles. From http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, peeps.

So I’ve been on this radical rest trip. Of the many things I wanted to do (see a LOT of movies. Eat ice-cream. Take long walks), one of them was write, with no chance of success.

No chance of success. What does that mean to me?

That means that no one will see my work and tell me it’s wonderful. No one will ever release it in any way to the public – it will be never be published, painted, sculpted or filmed. It may even never be seen by eyes other than mine. If so, perhaps by uncomprehending eyes.

This is a highly emotionally fraught belief I have about my work. The message my work communicates must be understood. If not, I have ‘failed’. 

But I continued to write anyway, focusing on the outcome, this time not of success, but of failure. It seemed important to me to get used to failure. All the great creative minds in the world suffered thousands of failures before finally getting it right. I wanted to lessen the pain of failure, train myself to get the right perspective, to learn the lessons, rather than whinge, whine, mope and despair.

So I wrote a poem, a far-too-personal, far-too-esoteric, far-too-emotional poem about my husband. I knew that if I read it to him, there wasn’t much chance that he’d understand. But I wrote it anyway.

I continued to read an incredible book on characterization and did some of the creative exercises.

In adulthood, study is considered a waste of time unless there are monetary rewards. In childhood, it is considered a waste of time unless there are system-generated rewards such as grades and certificates.

But the true reward of study is putting what you learn into practice – when the surgeon saves a life, when the graphic designer designs a book, when the journalist publishes a controversial world-changing new story.

But the system trains us to look for short-term gains – grades, certificates or monthly salaries.

This makes studying in adulthood really arduous.  Without those regular accolades, it is much harder for me to maintain momentum though learning the ropes is essential for my craft.

I feel my chest constricting with the desire to do more. To achieve more. To be everything to everyone. To get that pat on the back, that glowing review. To bake that banana flan, visit all my aunts and uncles, take care of my in-laws and my husband and in the meantime, write an award-winning screenplay. And of course, look stunning when I go to my relative’s wedding.

My body fills with pain again and my head becomes cloudy. But now thankfully, I’ve learned to recognize the signs and stop myself before my head gets too big.

Oddly enough, just after I wrote this, I went looking for TED talks on success and motivation. I found this fascinating one by Mr. Dan Pink. Carrots and sticks just don’t work for 21st-century lateral-thinking problems. But intrinsic factors, my freedom, my degree of skill, my level of service to others; that’s what keeps us coming back to work.  That throws all of the jobs I’ve ever had into sharp relief.

This leads to the biggest and worst lie I’ve ever been told: That I am talented. True, my friends, my teachers, they probably all meant well, but the fact of the matter is the word ‘talented’ contains a connotation. A connotation that I am somehow above the rest. That perhaps that I do not need to work as hard. That a little of what I do goes the long way.

At least this is the belief that my arrogant talentless backside has had for a long while now.

I have had a false sense of entitlement. I am talented. They must hire me. I am talented. They must be excited by my short screenplay. I am talented. Of course I can write a feature.


I am a novice and I need to study. Talent might be inherent but skill needs to be learned. Talent is the sword but skill is the sharpening stone. Talent might be the beer, but skill is the funnel (I know that’s a haraam metaphor). My point is, talent is nothing without skill. And I don’t got no skills yet, son.

Writing this blog post was a mistake because it is definitely a short-term gain. When I hit publish, it’s ‘published’. But I am going to force myself to wait till it’s the right time to publish it.

I did however read the poem to my husband. He was very touched. And he understood every word.

That’s the best success I’ve ever had.

May Allah (subhaana wa ta’aala) bless you for your time.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah.

3 thoughts on “3 Lies I Have Been Told About Being A Successful Artist.

    1. Thank you Yiyi 🙂 It’s not the lack or presence of talent that I am concerned about – it’s the hype that’s built around it. Talented people are privileged and are somehow a cut above the rest. When that’s simply not true. They have to work hard, spend ten years to get that overnight success just like the rest of us

  1. I love this Sabina – I love the passion you put behind every word you type. Agree – talent, in my mind, is not measured by successes or privilege. Your voice shines in this as does your heart – a warrior for words and passion and you always inspire me to keep going. We’re on the same hill and not letting go of your hand as we climb sister!

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