Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
Otherwise titled: “When Saying “No” to a Perfectly Good Opportunity is the Right Thing to Do”.
In the past month I have turned down what might seem, to the outsider, to be two perfectly good opportunities.
The first was an invitation to taken on a volunteer leadership position for my alma mater in the Alumni Association’s New York Chapter.
It was an honor to be asked, and I really thought I wanted to do it.
But a misunderstanding on my part about what the role entailed and an ignorance of both how many hours were going to be required and how many hours I could physically donate made my short experience massively uncomfortable.
I tried to stick it out and tell myself that I could – and should – do it, but the truth is I knew I wasn’t the right fit for the position. Not only was the position not in alignment with my personal and professional goals, I simply don’t have the hours to donate to an outside cause at this time.
After seven weeks I decided to step down and let the Association find someone who had the time and passion to move the New York Chapter forward.
Having to rescind my commitment was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I can’t remember the last time I quit a project so soon after starting – certainly not my finest hour. It makes me heartsick that I potentially burned a few bridges in the process, but my ever-accurate gut tells me it was absolutely the right thing to do.
The second Perfectly Good Opportunity was an invitation to exhibit my work in a “solo” setting – a separate room in an ad-hoc exhibition space during an upcoming arts festival. It was a generous offer and I was so grateful that the organizer thought of me. But the offer didn’t excite me like you might think it would. It filled me with dread.
[insert epiphany here]
These two back-to-back experiences made me realize that I have a deeply-engrained pattern at work.
Here’s how the cycle goes:
- I declare a verbal or written commitment to my practice.
- An opportunity suddenly surfaces. (Note: the opportunity is not something I am looking for and often is not in alignment with my goals.)
- I say “yes”. (I very rarely say no, even though a tiny voice inside may be whispering that the opportunity is not a good fit. I may even think I really WANT to say “yes”.)
- Very soon I regret my decision and don’t enjoy fulfilling my obligations. (I let myself be distracted from my path – my solitary commitment to my art – and then I am stressed out and unhappy.)
Why do I continually push my practice to the backseat while I give time and focus to external commitments that are often not adding to, but subtracting from, my experience?
It comes down to a few simple facts: I have a lifelong history of being a people-pleaser, I don’t want to be a disappointment to those around me, and I’m not giving my art practice the same value as I give to other people’s projects.
I’ll say that last one again, I’m not giving my art practice the same value as I give to other people’s projects.
I sat down to explore why a wonderful opportunity like a spoon-fed solo show should incite such a strong emotional response from me.
I realized that if I committed to showing a roomful of mostly older work I would not be able to fulfill a commitment that I’d made to myself months ago – to finish a new series that I’ve been planning to unveil at the open studios weekend.
As hard as it is for an artist to say “no” to an exhibition opportunity that they didn’t have to hustle for, sometimes the ROI doesn’t add up. The scope of work to be done to mount a show in a space not traditionally set up for exhibiting artwork is vast and the time needed to pull it off adds up fast.
And so, with that in mind I thankfully, and happily, declined the show op.
The next time a Perfectly Good Opportunity surfaces I’m hoping that my new consciousness will continue to be present. Instead of quickly jumping on someone else’s bandwagon I’ll be able to respond with a confident, “Thanks for thinking of me, I’ll need a few days to consider.” If it’s not in alignment then a polite “No thank you” is in order.
No regrets. I must stay focused on what I’m meant to – the business of making art.
And you? Do you find yourself being continually distracted from your main purpose?