You’ve probably heard it said before that we become the average of the five people we hang around with the most. This supposedly not only determines our level of career, success, and income–but our general attitude and outlook on life as well.
Twenty years ago, this essentially meant that whatever motley group of characters you hung out with in high school would pretty much determine the direction you were heading. Some of us, of course, moved away and made a clean break from the high-school crowd only to be later snared by an entirely new set of questionable characters in college.
The values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are. ~Malcolm Gladwell
Assuming that this is the case, how many groups of five do we get? Do we get one set for our personal lives and another one for our professional life or are we stuck with only five people total? Do relatives count? I mean if I could somehow trade in some relatives in exchange for some real go-getter friends I would probably be interested. Finally, does this mean that I have to start doing performance reviews of my inner circle each year and then annually toss out the weakest member of the group. What if that weakest link is me? Why is it five people? Why not ten or twenty-five people?
While I agree that the people you hang out with the most has a profound effect on your attitude and outlook on life, I also think that it’s pretty ridiculous to arbitrarily limit this number to five. I mean unless you’re in a book group that meets every week, who has the time to hang out with the same group of people anymore? Most of my best friends live hundreds of miles away from me now and I’m lucky if I see them two or three times a year. So am I really supposed to hide in my house the rest of the year?
Without trying to sit down and come up with some completely random number, I do think that it’s important to surround yourself with supportive people both in your personal and professional life. What exactly that number is, I don’t know, but it’s probably a lot smaller than you think. In other words, you don’t need the whole town throwing you a parade every time you sell a print on Etsy, but it would be nice to have a small group of like-minded people whom I could talk to on a regular basis about my life, my work, my hopes, as well as some of my doubts. These don’t necessarily have to be a group of people you physically hang out with or see once a week. This could simply be a few kindred spirits who understand not only who you currently are as a person, but also who you are trying to become.
In fact, sometimes it’s better if this group doesn’t live in your backyard
Our physical tribe are those people who we know and physically hang around with the most. Most often these are either old childhood friends, co-workers, or relatives (shudder!). Sometimes we are lucky enough to live in the same town as our best friends, but more often than not because of jobs, spouses, and geographic distance; we are rarely able to physically hang out with those people who we connect with the most.
In fact when you really look closely, so many of these relationships are often little more than relationships of convenience. We work with this person, we live near them, or maybe our kids go to the same school. We like them okay, and we may talk to them about the weather during our kid’s soccer games, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we really connect with them.
We can sometimes outgrow our friends just as we can outgrow last year’s jeans. And even though we may not look or feel any different than we did before, things just don’t seem to fit as comfortably as they used to. Things change. People change. Our interests change. That’s okay, because if we’re doing anything right we should be naturally evolving and growing as human beings.
There are about five people in my life to whom I really listen. They may not always be right, but they know what I’m trying to do. ~Emily Mann
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have kick all of our old friends to the curb, but think about how many of the people in your life really know who you are trying to become as a person and as an artist? How many of them understand some the issues that you struggle with as an artist on a daily basis?
Of course not everyone around you is going to understand your need to be an artist, and believe it or not, not everyone else wants to be an artist. So there’s nothing wrong with hanging out with your best friend who happens to sell car insurance (unless of course she’s that annoying Progressive lady, then may you have to get rid of her!) as long as she continues to be supportive of you and your dreams. Friends like this are members of your personal tribe, which means that they don’t have to be an artist in order to hang out with you, they simply need to like and support you as a person.
Now having said that . . .
You also need to create a professional tribe to support yourself as a working artist
Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a large city with a thriving arts community, it can often be difficult to find other artists who are willing to get together with you on a regular basis and talk about your art/writing/music. Now of course I miss hanging out with my college buddies at the local bar and coffee shop, but with three small kids running around terrorizing the dog, I don’t have the time to brush my teeth half the time let alone set up a playdate for myself with another local writer. So I have been forced, like many other artists I know, to create my virtual artist tribe online (lucky you!)
Those of you who have read our 21 Artists to Watch in 2010 post already know that I have been incredibly fortunate to have already met so many amazing artists like you online. This is the true beauty of the internet, because with just a few quick keystrokes, we are able to find a community of like-minded individuals who share our not only our creative passion, but also someone who understands our collective fears and concerns. Now that doesn’t mean that we will necessarily connect with every single artist we meet on a personal level, but it’s a good place to start looking.
I know what you’re thinking at this point . . .
My point here (I think) is that you need to find and create your virtual artist tribe. So often our personal relationships these days are defined for us by convenience and geographic location. These are fine for our day-to-day life, but we also need to create a virtual community for our professional life made up of the type of artists we would like to hang out with if we could.
According to a recent poll on WetCanvas 90% of artists said that they were “loners” by nature.
You’re right, sometimes I do feel like I’m saying the same thing over and over, but I’ve learned firsthand just how important this really is– Trust me, for the benefit of both your sanity and your career you need to go out there and find some artists to connect and interact with. It doesn’t matter if you find them in the WetCanvas forums, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, DeviantART, Redbubble, or wherever else you crazy people like to hang out.
I know you don’t want to.
I know you don’t have the time.
I know that the idea of “networking” both repels and scares the crap out of you all at the same time.
BUT honestly it’s the only way that . . .
People are going find out about you
People are going to care about your work
People are going to buy your work
And it’s very likely going to be the only way that you’ll be able to survive long-term in this often difficult and lonely profession. Don’t worry though, because chances are once you’re out there, you’ll realize that the rest of us are just as crazy and screwed-up as you.
I know, comforting, isn’t it.
Image courtesy of blue_arim
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.