But every once in a while, something on reality TV sparks my imagination. I was inspired by an episode of Dancing with the Stars to write what I think is a pretty good blog post awhile back. Recently, the last minutes of the penultimate episode of Project Runway’s Season 8 gave me something important to think about. (You don’t need to watch Project Runway to appreciate this post, but if you are curious, here’s a link.)
When finalist Michael C. was eliminated just before the opportunity to show at Fashion Week, he broke down despite the fact that Heidi Klum told him “Michael, you should be very proud of what you’ve done. You’re a great designer and we all think you have a great future ahead of you.”
Between sobs, Michael asked, “How do I tell my mother and father that I didn’t make it?” He feared they would tell him to “just give that up now.”
In that moment, Michael C. became one of the artists who believe that success is the only justification they have, that if they don’t succeed, they should stop trying, stop giving so much time and energy to a frivolous pursuit.
I’ve been one of those artists at times. I think we all are. Michael C. was just more open and his feelings were more on the surface. And perhaps because his feelings were on the surface, he seemed able to move through and past them.
Welcome to Disappointment
Disappointment is part of the game for every artist –for every human being really, but writers and other artists court disappointment (as a necessary part of pursuing creativity) in a way non-artists don’t. We don’t need to be protected from disappointment. What we need, what Michael’s tears and fears highlight that we need, is unconditional support.
I’m not talking about unthinking, unwarranted praise for everything you do (we need honest feedback about our work), but unconditional love and support for who we are.
If you have to “earn” someone’s love and support by succeeding, that person’s support isn’t worth the effort. People who love you only when you’re winning are faux allies, not real allies. Real allies treasure who you are. Which is why we need to treasure our real allies.
The first real ally Michael C. needs to enlist is himself. I suspect it wasn’t his parents’ suggestion he give up that upset Michael C. so much; it was his own inner voice telling him he should give up. (Can anyone say ‘Saboteur?”) As Michael C. comes to believe in himself more and more, it will matter less and less whether his parents do. And paradoxically, the less it matters to Michael, the more they’ll believe in him. Michael got a taste of that during the season. The best thing many of the designers did for Michael C. was to doubt his taste and ability because that gave Michael the opportunity to realize he believed in himself.
All of this is true, not just for Michael C., but for all of us. If you want more real allies, start by being a real ally to yourself and others. Start by distancing yourself from faux allies. Nature abhors a vacuum – make room for them and your true allies will appear.