Women Artists and Success: The Top 5 Challenges

Part of my Outside the Lines series, one painting a day for one year, Feb. 2016. carolineallen.com.

Women have been trained for many centuries to keep quiet, and be the behind-the-scenes support for others. When we have any kind of personal success it’s a game-changer. When that success appears in the Arts, where we are expressing our truth, and beauty and putting our souls out into the world, then our success becomes nothing short of revolutionary. With any revolution, of course, comes epic challenges. We expect accolades. We expect to be showered with love. We expect to be celebrated. We expect to have a base of money so that we can continue doing our Art. In the following list of challenges for women who succeed in the Arts, I look only at the difficulties we women face. I fully understand and have experienced the utter joy of Artistic success, the real sense of accomplishment that goes with speaking your truth and beauty, the beautiful people who come to assist you in seeing your dream to fruition, the excitement of seeing your years of hard work rewarded.

For the purposes of this blog, however, I’m just focusing on the challenges. It is not the easy and fun parts of success that many of us women need help with. We need help understanding and dealing with the challenges.  Note: Throughout this blog, I use the term Arts to represent all forms of art – literary, music, visual, dance etc.

  1. Your gifted-but-stuck women friends, the ones who are not doing their Art, will resist your success. They may even try to tear you down. One old friend said this to me about another woman who was having some success, “Someone needs to put her in her place.” This old friend then did so – she called the woman and during their conversation reminded her of her negative life choices and her personal faults. Devastated, the woman fell silent on the other end of the line. It took me a while to understand what was happening, and to back off the negative friend, and move in to support the newly successful woman.
  2. Even powerful, successful women friends may resist your success. Okay, so you’ve worked hard, over many years, to own your power as a woman Artist. You’ve put in your time. You’ve perfected your Art. And some big break comes. Or maybe it’s just a normal run-of-the-mill break. Watch how people react. Study which women friends congratulate you. Celebrate you. Honor you. You may be surprised. Sometimes the successful friends don’t even say congratulations, not even that one word. You expect these women to understand. It seems that they just cannot overcome their notion of you as a struggling Artist.
  3. The success many not mean you have more money, but people may think you’ve become rich over night.  Even after Bastard out of Carolina came out, author Dorothy Allison was still poor, according to a Salon.com interview (http://www.salon.com/1998/03/31/cov_si_31intb/).

 “I was still poor. All that stuff happens and everybody thinks, whoa, she’s rich. That was a bad couple of years just keeping balance, materially, emotionally and psychically.” 

When I was living in London, a woman in my writer’s group had two novels out with a major New York publisher. She still could not live on the income. She still lived in a cramped, dank flat in a rough area of London. I was in my 30s and seeing her experience was an eye-opener.

In fact, when you succeed, you may actually lose income. Sometimes the people you work with and for cannot take your success.  Clients leave. Jobs fall away. Why? “Who does she think she is?” is a common refrain. They are used to you serving them, and now that you’re shining, they don’t know how to handle it. Besides, how can they compete?  You wish you could tell them: “Listen, you are this powerful, too! As women Artists, we are ALL so powerful!” But we are up against many years of conditioning and it’s difficult to break through mindsets.

People may, in fact, want you to do more things for them for free. There is something about seeing a woman succeed in the Art world that brings people out of the woodwork. With the publication of my first two novels, I’ve had numerous people want me to do work for them for free. I’m learning a new level of saying, “No.” The onslaught is so unexpected, you may find yourself entwined in doing work for free before you know how you even got there. Backing up and saying, “I change my mind,” is your right.

4. Some people will think that now you’re successful you don’t need emotional support. In our Culture of Fame, people equate external success with deep personal fulfillment. The two don’t necessarily go together. Often, we need even more emotional support. It’s scary to put yourself out there. Strangers often feel it’s their right to criticize your book, art, music, right to your face. You’re freaking out about this new level of being exposed. You need someone to talk to! Of course, there are people who love your work and will tell you so, and I hold these beautiful souls deep in my heart. But, I still need friends with whom to discuss the difficult people. Women, don’t dump your successful friends. They need you.

5. You may have to deal with intense tumultuous emotions related to your success. What I felt after the publication of my novels — and I know other recently published authors feel this way too, because they’ve shared it with me — was not pride or cocky confidence, but very low-self esteem. It seemed every button inside me was pushed. Instead of feeling on top of the world, I was fragile and often overwhelmed. Success doesn’t necessarily make you feel that you’re great. Again, there are powerful moments of feeling all is right and good with the world when you sing your voice out into the world. And for these I am eternally grateful. It’s not all bliss, though, and as an Artist and a coach of other Artists, I’m committed to exploring all levels of this process.

What can we do about all of the challenges? How can we successfully navigate them? Over the next few weeks in upcoming blogs, I will be exploring  in further detail each of these five points.

My novels, Earth and Air, the first two installments in the four-novel Elemental Journey Series, are on sale at most online booksellers. Read more at www.carolineallen.com. I’m a book coach. Contact me for a free initial consultation.


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