Free Falling

When you work for yourself, there’s always the potential that you might complete your current project or contract and have nothing new on the horizon.

I associate this with free falling.

Which is a bit strange, as I’ve never been skydiving or parachuting.

I guess it’s more the idea of giving yourself up to the moment and trusting that the process will all play out like it’s supposed to.  One second you’ll be careening toward the earth at an alarming rate and the next you’ll pull the ripcord and your ‘chute will billow out as it should and you’ll float down and safely touch ground.

Some folks associate free fall with exhilaration; they live for that rush of adrenaline that comes with extreme living.

I associate it with sheer terror.

As a visual artist whose main income currently comes from exhibition fees (thank you CARFAC!), I am always on the hustle to secure that next show.  When I send proposals to galleries I am, in a very real sense, sending my resume out to prospective employers with the hope of getting hired for a short term contract position.  When the short term contract is over, and nothing else is scheduled for the future, that’s when the free fall – and the anxiety – begins.

Once I’ve finished a project or exhibition my pattern goes something like this:

  1. Mourn and feel ennui for a few weeks.
  2. Panic inside when I realize my schedule is wide open for, oh, the rest of my life (free fall begins here).
  3. Entertain doubts:  When will I get another show?  Will I ever get another show?  What if I never get another show?

After my most recent exhibit was installed I managed to avoid the ennui by keeping busy (accountability partners – love ’em!), but I cannot avoid the fact that I am in full free fall mode right now.

The obvious solution is to get something scheduled.


Which is why I’ve already sent out 6 proposal packages this year and have plans to send out 4 more before the end of February.

But sending out oodles of proposals doesn’t mean that any of them will result in a “short term contract position”, it doesn’t guarantee that my ripcord – now out of my hands and in external custody – will be pulled and I will float safely into the next project.

There are so many variables involved in landing a show:  the curator’s or committee’s interests, how many exhibition slots the gallery has available, how many artist have applied for those available slots, and the worst possible variable…maybe my work isn’t good enough.  All of these factors heighten the anxiety and the thought of Maybe Not Ever Being Hired Again circles the forefront of my mind like a fruit fly courting a piece of watermelon.

As for entertaining the doubts, I’ve found that if you don’t nip them in the bud they can be fueled by the adrenaline rush of free fall.  In the past I’ve been completely paralyzed by doubts.

These days I’m learning how to deal with doubts; the fabulous thing about them is that they are usually illogical.  Once you logically answer doubts, you realize how ridiculous they sound:

When will I get another show?

You’ll get the next show when you get it.

Will I ever get another show?

Yes, you will get another show.

What if I never get another show?

If you never get another show you will still continue to make work because you are an artist and that’s what you do (besides, this question is irrelevant because you will eventually get another show if you keep working and hustle hard).

As much as I might not like it, free fall is part of the process of working for yourself and I have to acknowledge that the anxiety – the adrenaline rush – is what pushes me to get my s**t together and start hustling.

Amazing how a little bit of fear can go a long way towards reaching your goals if you manage it correctly.

How do you deal with the adrenaline/anxiety rush that comes with free fall?  Does it paralyze you?  Or does the adrenaline boost propel you forward?

2 Responses to “Free Falling”

  1. jody says:

    Jake, I do love how closely the process of creating in science and art are. Having less than half of your projects “succeed” is a familiar disappointment (although “failed” art pieces that are hidden away can sometimes be resurrected, as successes, at a future date).

    Many folks aren’t aware of the massive amount of process behind the scenes – in both art and science – to arrive at a product: repetition, failures, small gains…

    My experience is a “messed-up variant of classic deadline anxiety”. I’m quite comfortable in my abilities to create something amazing while working to a deadline and I much prefer it, in fact, to free fall.

  2. Jake DeNiro says:

    “free fall is part of the process of working for yourself” and so is having faith in your abilities to wake up before you land. When I finish a project, or synthesizing a goal molecule, there are always several more waiting in the wings, so I’m sure my feelings of post-completion anxiety are very different from yours. From experience however I now realize that >50% of the compounds I start working on will fail to be… “realizable” as I move down the synthetic pathway, and they will be abandoned after perhaps WEEKS of work. Inching up slowly to the abandon-point is nerve wracking. It truly sucks, but is the price of doing “this stuff”. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it! BTW your experience sounds like a messed-up variant of classic deadline-anxiety, without the deadline.