Chicken Soup For The Artist's Soul:

June 23, 2015


I got the idea for this blog when I was feeling down about not being able to fit my life into a mold of being conventionally “successful.” I was craving to hear words of wisdom from other people in the arts about how they get out of the funk I was feeling by defining success and/or happiness in their own way. This blog is not so much about my own thoughts, but about being a place to start a dialogue among artists about something that I am sure most of us a battle with at some point or another. Our power as artists comes from having other artists to turn to for inspiration, wisdom, comfort,  insight, advice and community. I am fueled by being connected with the passion and journeys of other artists and hope you enjoy reading about others' journeys that may be similar to yours. I am so grateful to the people who contributed their precious words and thoughts! The following quotes come from directors, teachers, actors, writers, film makers, etc. some answers are short and some are long, but all are heartfelt; so enjoy CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE ARTIST’S SOUL and be inspired to define success for yourself.


I think success is the achievements of one's goals. Happiness is knowing that the vibration of the universe corresponds with the space you occupy in this world. It's the fulfillment and the sharing of one's spirit.

-Kendra Halloway



Success is bullshit. It's a lie. Because success implies completion of a goal or task. When placed in the context of career, life, love, or education, you can never succeed. Because success means you've done enough. You can never do enough. You can never work hard enough. You can never live long or well enough. You can never stop loving, or learning. We're human beings, we will always want more than what we have - even if we have it all. So success is a fairy tale. I prefer failure. Failure forces you to learn. Failure teaches you who you are. Failure makes you love harder when you find it. Failure is the only way to succeed.


Success is the ability to pursue your dreams. Happiness is what you make it.



I used to think about "happiness" and "success" as being, if not synonymous, than certainly correlative. But the more success I have had, the more it has dawned on me, that, not only does one not bring the other, but that you, in actuality, have to fight extra valiantly for happiness once success has entered your life.


Success in the way that most people think about it is, in reality, a fantastically dangerous sensation. You get a role, you win an award, you get picked up, you develop "buzz" and suddenly you're "someone" when you go to a party. These highs, in the moment, are outrageously intoxicating, but, like, say, heroin, they're fleeting, ultimately meaningless, and only leave you starving, scrounging desperately for the next high to match your last - for more validation - confirmation - adulation.


To be honest, all of that success does bring happiness - of course it does; it feels fantastic - but it's a happiness of a cheap and surprisingly transitory variety that adds up, ultimately, to very little in the grand scheme of your life.


I truly believe that the most important thing you can do for yourself in this business is to chase happiness - let's say joy - over success. The question must become, not - How do I get ahead? How do I get them to pick me? How do I win at whatever whimsical and vaguely deranged game we're all playing? But, rather, WHY am I doing this? Why did I decide to become an artist - rather than the hundreds of thousands of other jobs that would almost certainly bring greater financial and mental stability to my life?


If you can really, truly dig deep and find the answer to that question in yourself - then you will have something real to seek. And if you can find a way to make it your life's work to do THAT - and there is always a way - then you will be happy. How could you not be? You will experience fulfillment and joy in your work. How can "success" be anything but irrelevant in the face of that?


I am not saying that this is an easy mental leap to take. It's even harder to adhere to - I, like everyone, am profoundly susceptible to the great expectations of my parents, my high school drama teacher, every single citizen of my home town, my colleagues, my friends, my manager, that random woman I met a party last Saturday, all asking "what I've done" - but I very deeply believe that it is the only way to make it through this business with yourself and your sanity in tact.


When I look back at my 7 years in the business - which, I realize, still makes me a baby - the moments of greatest joy have been on set, working on excellent material with collaborators who I enjoy and respect and making work of which I feel fiercely proud. Then when I have been able to take that work and show it to people - whether it's one person, a roomful of people, theaters of people across the continent, or legions of people worldwide who I will never even meet through the wonders of the internet - when it has moved them or made them deeply feel something or changed their mind or in any other way made them experience their own humanity, then I have actually achieved everything I ever wanted.


At the core of everything, if I can continue to do just that for the rest of my life, I will be joyful beyond anything.


Chase the sheer joy of creation. Chase impossibly great collaborators. Chase the meaningfulness of reaching out and touching an audience member's soul. Then try your absolute damnedest to remember that the rest of this business is nothing but glitter-filled set dressing.


-Naomi McDougall Jones, Actress, Writer, Producer



Happiness is not necessarily the same as success; nor are they mutually exclusive. Sometimes the two intersect, and other times they seem to be on parallel paths with no chance of crossing. For me, I was a successful and happy attorney, but decided that I wanted to be "happier" and "more successful" by pursing acting. Along the way, I started directing and producing, and writing (with varying degrees of success, but always with a great deal of happiness). I am a perfect example of how happiness and success can be found on any path you chose. Ultimately, for me, finding happiness and success was the result of following my dreams.




For me, success is measured by audiences moved.  That's it.  That's what matters.  In my heart, my biggest successes have been being the first person in History to perform a show about the Cult of Scientology having lived in it for 23 years.  Highly dangerous and then to be nominated for a Broadway World Award and lose out to Chita Rivera is something I can look back on at my last breaths and say, "I did something that mattered and did it through art."  My next big success would be getting on Broadway with Tony Randall's National Actors Theatre, becoming close to him and that one of the shows I was in "St. Joan" was nominated for a Tony Award.  My part was very small but there are no small players)  Very proud of that achievement. Another success was getting to work with my idol, Barbra Streisand.  My scene got cut out of the film, but my mom died knowing I got to work with my most favorite of all time and she passed before I was notified by the director my scene got cut.  It was a huge victory for me to work with Ms. Streisand and honored the director had the heart to send me a handwritten note as to why she had to cut the scene.  That's success as well.  I'm extremely proud of working with 2 others, Curt Bonnem and Benjamin Burdick, on waging that march on Actors Equity and pulling it off.  We had no idea it would get coverage, over 400 marched - we only knew we had to do it - it was Right and we're still engaged in that battle to preserve theatre in LA.  I'm currently finishing up a Short that I hope gives much joy to others and a voice to a neurological disease I have and relief for those who suffer from it.  If people like the film, I will consider that a big success.  So, you see, success is not measured by Income, it's measured by Giving and Expressing.  You can't take it with you when you die so what matters the most is, "What did you do when you were here and had a chance? 

-Roz Cohn, Actor


Success and happiness for me are about living a creative life as an artist in which I'm the Creator. I spiritually perish when I don't feel like my creative spirit is being engaged. I've chosen to make a low cost lifestyle, a marriage partner who shares the creative spirit, new projects to work on constantly, surrounding myself with lots of people who share the love and the dream of creating art, and I've created ways to make income that are always feeding my creative curiosities. My whole life centers around supporting my creative spirit.



Success starts the day Work and Play look at each other, and don’t know the difference.


I define happiness and success as being true to myself and ONLY holding MYSELF accountable for my happiness.  When I book a job or get really great feedback, yes, that makes me very happy but thats not what I RELY on for my happiness.  I try and put the ownness on me.  And if I am my own business, I diversify!  My happiness comes from family, spirituality, healthy habits, good friends, giving back to others, new experiences, favorite places, delicious food, and lots and lots of laughter.  If you have so many great and diverse areas in your life bringing you happiness… you are bound for success!

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