In Appreciation of the Slow Build

So often we want things to happen fast—especially when it comes to our own “success.” Especially when we are growing our own business or career. I know I have talked about this idea on this blog before. For me, as an artist trying to develop an online (and offline) art business, it can sometimes be discouraging to look around and see all of these models of lightening-fast success. Some of you may be most familiar with “the starving artist” concept, but it is pretty phenomenal to see many artists online, especially through Etsy, making it, big time.

{the first piece of art I ever posted on this blog—from my very first blog post ever—back in September 2007}

This should be encouraging, right? “If they can do it, I can do it!” But sometimes, when you feel like you’re just eeking along, doing the best you can, getting a sale here and there (or even quite a few), but never getting that lightening bolt of business that seems to be striking every Tom, Dick, and Jane on Etsy, it can be really disheartening.

I think the key word here is seem. I recently heard this show on NPR, and the speaker (gosh darnit, can’t remember his name) was talking about playing the Lottery. He believes that one of the main reasons people continue to play the Lottery even though people always say the odds are impossible, is that all they see are the winners—so in their mind, there seem to be quite a lot of winners out there.

{The original sketch of my drawing “Value Your Time More Than Your Money,” originally posted here back in June 2008. Shortly after that post, I did the larger drawing and have sold the print time and time again ever since.}

We all know that the majority of people who play the Lottery do not win, but how often have you seen an advertisement that says, “I played the Lottery for 25 years, spent thousands of dollars and never made a cent!”? Oh, how about never. This speaker suggested that if we were to see TV advertisement with an accurate percentage representation of Lottery losers to winners, we would be watching hours and hours (perhaps days) of coverage of the losers with just a few minutes of winners. If we really saw this, I’m doubtful anyone would play the Lottery!

Stay with me . . . there is a point here. I am not saying you shouldn’t try to be an artist, or that you have about the same odds at becoming a self-supporting artist as you do at winning the lottery. What I’m saying is, perhaps the people who have that lightening success—out of nowhere they seem to be selling work like hotcakes or have gotten a book deal, or have gotten a top position at a leading company in their field—perhaps they are really the anomaly, and therefore we shouldn’t be using their success as a gauge of where we should be.

I find this idea quite encouraging. I think it can be so inspiring and uplifting to know that the real truth of the situation is that it’s likely to be a slow build. I see it much less often, but on occasion I have read other artists online talking about this, and I do think this is the truth. It’s kind of like the turtle and the hare—slow and steady wins the race. And isn’t it better to be a turtle, really? I’m not denying that I would love to turn around and be selling like gangbusters, but it is encouraging to know that if you just keep doing your work and putting it out there, your business/art/career will slowly build.

You may be saying, “how can you even guarantee that?” Well, all you need to do is look around. When it’s a slow build, it’s easy to miss your successes—one sale leads to two, and two sales lead to five. You may never get crazy busy all of a sudden, but if you look at the numbers, your business is growing.

{Me at my first craft show in December 2008. I have to admit that I haven’t changed my set-up that much because it’s fun and it works, although I have made many additions to what I had for sale that day.}

This was really a long way of saying that today I would like to appreciate “the slow build.” I was thinking back over the last couple of years and realizing how far I have come, and I thought you might like to do the same for yourself.

My story: A year ago, I was just getting started with my online shop. Now, I’m making more and more regular sales that are actually resembling a source of income. Two years ago, I didn’t even have a shop and had never even sold a piece of artwork. Three years ago, this whole business wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye yet. The same goes for this blog—last year this time I was getting less than half the number of view per month that I am now, two years ago—about one sixth, and three years ago, I hadn’t even thought about blogging yet.

Now, if I’m always comparing where I’m at to where I was yesterday or where someone someone else is, I would have a very different view of things (I confess, I do this way too often). But if I take a moment to see the reality that I’ve built a business from nothing, made dozens of pieces of artwork, connected with so many people from across the globe, and all in the past three years—I’d have to say, slow and steady is winning this race, and what a wonderful race it is.

Your story: Take a moment to look back at where you were last year, the year before, and maybe even the year before that. This works with just about any long-term goal/experience—a career, a business, school, finding your life path. Review how far you’ve come either in your head, or if you have them—look at actual numbers, facts, and figures. Bask in the glow of a slow and steady build. Remember this every time you start comparing yourself to other people or get frustrated with not getting where you want to go fast enough. Now, leave a comment here to share what you discovered with other readers! I’d love to hear how far you’ve come!

5 Responses to “In Appreciation of the Slow Build”

  1. 1 Olivia February 2, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    This was so encouraging.

    Today, I had a sale from my shop from someone who I didn’t know! That was a new thing for me, since most sales had been from friends… so, hooray for that!

  2. 2 erasmith February 3, 2010 at 6:40 am

    Oh this is great. You know my story, but I’m going to tell it anyway because it’s a perfect example of the “slow build.”

    Three years ago I was in California, finishing the first quarter of my graduate work in Horticulture at UC Davis, trying to make friends and keep up a long distance relationship with M. Two years ago I was in the second year of my graduate work, had made friends with a lovely girl named Nicole, was single and thinking that academia wasn’t for me after all and didn’t know what to do with myself. One year ago I had just moved back to Philly and moved in with M, had a master’s degree in Horticulture from UC Davis, and had decided to work in community gardens and environmental education. Today I am working full time as a community garden organizer, and volunteering the rest of my time with my incredibly exciting urban agirculture projects, I’m still friends with Nicole, and I’m engaged to M!

    Wow. That was really fun and revealing. I’ve never thought about it that way and I almost can’t believe that all of those things have happened in three years!

  3. 3 Clara February 4, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Thank you for this reminder, and for a very inspirational post. I think this message is particularly difficult for those of us who are Type A personalities (mea culpa).

    Not only is it discouraging (and unrealistic) always to use the “fast-trackers” as our role models, it also robs us of attention to what is happening RIGHT NOW. Fast-tracking requires us to focus almost exclusively on what-happens-next, rather than what’s-taking-place-now. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have goals (I can’t live without them, sometimes to my detriment), but that being excessive/obsessive about them can keep us from appreciating the ordinary, valuable moments of which our lives are made.

  4. 4 bluebicicletta February 4, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    What wonderful, thought-provoking comments!
    Olivia—that’s so fantastic–thanks so much for sharing this “win.”

    Era, you know I love your story–what an amazing build!

    Clara–I really love the ideas you mention here—I am also trying to focus on living in the now, and I think you’re right–often, when you’re so focused on creating a certain outcome, and fast, you miss what’s happening now. That is such a profound loss–what’s happening now is life.

  5. 5 Teresa Penrose March 20, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Great blog post. Thank you for the encouragement! Very much needed!

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Hello there! My name is Nicole K. Docimo, and I am an artist and writer from the U.S.A. but currently residing in Zurich, Switzerand. Thank you for visiting my blog!

Some Thoughts

"Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring."

{from "Joy at Sudden Disappointment"
translated by C. Barks.}

~This Work ~

Unless otherwise noted, all images and writings on this blog were created by me, Nicole K. Docimo aka Blue Bicicletta. If you would like to share anything you see here for inspirational purposes online, I just ask that you kindly let folks know where you found it. If you are wanting to share/reproduce any of my work in any other way, or have any questions about how you will be sharing the work in relation to copyright, please contact me directly at nkdocimo {at} gmail {dot} com. Thanks!

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