To my 23-year-old self, now that you are trying to be an artist

Dear self,

So you want to make art. It's going to be a long road ahead, and I hope that what I am about to say will give you some perspective.

Right now it might seem like the only things you have to worry about are which materials you should invest in to make your work look polished, or which props you need to style your next flatlay, or how overwhelming it is to see your inbox flooded with emails, or how many new followers you get in a day. But let me be the one to tell you that in a few years those "problems" will be but trifle matter to you. As early as now I advise you to start thinking about what you want to say and where you want to go with your art. The sooner you find the answers to these questions, the more time you have to build your skills, to experiment, to grow your creative repertoire. Being at the top of your game is not as vital as having a solid sense of self. This may sound counter-intuitive because we are raised in a culture that thrives on competition, but know that your primary goal should always be to go beyond the trivialities of your existence. Being a maker of art is no small task; even if your initial purpose is simply self-expression, once your work finds an audience you will be bestowed the responsibility to shape their impression of art and the world as a whole. Strive to influence and inspire, not merely to be idolized.

Speaking of idolatry, people will try to put you on a pedestal. Let them try as hard as they can to deify you, but never do it to yourself. Don't deem yourself too important that you should feel compelled to uphold a reputation. With influence comes expectations, and you might find yourself reeling away from your core just to feed your ego. In times like this you need to remind yourself that you are not special. You are only human, just like the rest of us. You will have successes. You will make mistakes. You will have experiences you would want to share with everyone. You will have thoughts you would want to keep to yourself. Let the situation remain that way for the rest of your career, heck, for the rest of your days. Self-righteousness and humility cannot coexist. Make sure you choose the correct virtue to live by.

In the end, it will not matter how many people you've reached with your Facebook posts, or how many exhibits you've participated in, or how many exclusive events you've been invited to, or how many products you've sold, or how many achievements you've unlocked. Life is not about how many boxes you've ticked off your bucket list. Life is about how you react to the critical moments in your time here. Whether you're feeling excited because you've just read an email about a really big project, or feeling confused about your current career direction, or feeling angry because someone ripped off your work, how you respond to these moments will dictate what kind of artist--and ultimately, person--you will be. I hope when I look in the mirror, I will like what I see.

With love, the older (hopefully wiser) you