One of the most frequent questions I get from many people these days is, "How do you do it? How do you find time to keep a blog? How to you find time to be a parent? How do you work so much and function on so little sleep?" (I average about four hours a day)
I blame statistics.
I came into this career with big dreams and low expectations. I've managed to achieve many things but have taken very little opportunity to appreciate them because of self doubt.
Artist, Gary Baseman, once came to my school when I was a student at the Art Center, College of Design in Pasadena and he told our class that less than 10% of us would be able to make any type of living doing art and even fewer would be able to do it full time. As a person who is often driven by the fear of failure, hearing this statistic simply terrified me. My teachers told me that the magic number was FIVE YEARS for a freelance artist. Just sit and do your work day after day, and before you know it, you're working as a freelance artist full time, more or less.
That was statistically speaking.
Fast forward to the Spring of 2001. I graduated from Art Center with honors. (It was no big deal really, lots of us did) I was terrified that I would never find a job. Although Art Center claimed an 80% job placement rate I was terrified that I would fall into the bottom 20%.
Three weeks after graduation I landed my first full time job at a video game company called Treyarch where I spent six and a half years of my life in fear of losing my job.
My true passion was to write and illustrate children's books for a living, but while reading Harold Underdown's blog, The Purple Crayon, I realized that the odds of getting published were very low. So, while I was working at the video game company I had big dreams of becoming a famous children's book author/illustrator, but with the low expectation that it could take years before I got a chance to break into the business, let alone publish one of my own stories.
I got my first two book deal with Arthur A Levine Books in 2002 (One year after graduating from art school)
I had big dreams that my first picture book, The Guild of Geniuses, would be a breakout hit, but statistics show that most first time author books end up as a dud.
I was one of the duds.
It was a big blow to my young untested ego. I don't handle criticism very well and it was because of that fact that I was suddenly too nervous to write my second book (Which eventually became Sidekicks)
It might have to all do with my fear of failure.
As he years went on I illustrated more books.... The Secret Life of Walter Kitty, The Otto Undercover Series, The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch, Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo, and I did all this while working at a video game company where I was constantly in fear of losing my job.
In 2006, (five years after graduating from art school) "The Replacements", premiered on Disney Channel. It was an animated show which I had created. The odds of getting your own show is less than one percent. I was constantly in fear that it wouldn't go longer than one season so I stayed at my game job.
It went on for about three seasons.
2006 was also the same year I had my first kid....
...You have no idea what that does to a person who has a fear of failure...
It was one year later, in 2007, I decided to leave video games and television to just work solely on books and be a parent. I was afraid of failing at many things in life but being a father was something I couldn't afford to screw up.I was gong to stick with one profession I was madly passionate about and do it well. I couldn't stop but think about the statistics Gary Baseman told us in art school. So I put all my fear and desperation into the books I made.
As you recall, last year I was offered a job by Google. I figured that if I accepted that job all my fears would have gone away. It was a dream job for many artists from a financial standpoint and I turned it down.
Now here I am. My ten year anniversary of graduating art school. Four years of solely freelancing. One year after turning down Google. I've finally learned one thing....
Living life in fear is a huge waste of time.
The thing about having low expectations in life is that if things don't go the way you expected them to be then you don't feel as hurt by it if they don't work out, but if you succeed you feel, in some strange way, like you didn't deserve that success in the first place.
2011, is the first time in my life where I didn't live in fear of the future and this holiday season I want to thank the following people....
I want thank all of my insanely talented children's author and illustrator peers for winning awards and getting on the New York Times best sellers lists and earning out their advances and so forth. I honestly, at times, envy your success, but at the same time am thrilled for your achievements and aspire to do the same.
I want to thank Lisa Yee for all the lunch therapy sessions we have
I want to thank my agent, for getting my career back on track.
I want to thank my family for enduring all the self doubt and self loathing and being there to pick me up when I'm down.
Lastly, I want to thank all of you, the folks who read my blog. The artists who email me words of encouragement and all the teachers, the librarians, and the independent booksellers who buy my books and spread the word to their friends. You keep food on the table and help my career grow.
I owe all of you. You make me realize now that I am stronger than I could have ever imagined.
I do have one last concern.
Years ago, a famous author once told me, "I can't imagine what it's like trying to start a book career now. Back in the 80's books had a chance to sit on a shelf and sell and do well, but now you get one season on a shelf, at most for the majority of books, and that's it. It's hard for any book to do well when that's all you get."
Now we hear the talk of ebooks and the talk of a slowly dying independent book sellers industry and publishers struggling to make profits.
Optimistically, I feel like I'm on an upswing with my career. Unfortunately, I sometimes feel that it's happening when the industry I serve seems to be slowly falling apart underneath me. I'm concerned but strangely enough I'm not afraid. Transitions, like the one we're in, are always hard for everyone and they usually take a bit of time to run their course, but once we all get to the other side of the process I think things will be fine.
I have faced similar odds.