Redefining Success

Some interesting things came up with that last post I wrote, a post rounding up the good fortune I’ve been lucky enough to collect lately. The way that post was framed held a lot of projection. Projection about what the world might consider successful. Holding the product forth to be witnessed in its shiny completion. Look! People liked these things I made! (And maybe just a teeny bit of: my life is justified!)

This is no good. This is product-centeredness. I got carried away with hard work that had finally ‘paid off’. I’ve had a hangover all week after that trophy post. When you have a lucky streak of good things, you wrestle with addiction. You hunger for the next good thing, and it needs to be bigger and better to boot. The longer it takes, the more miserable you become. Oh hello! The comparison trap.

While celebration of success is healthy, I want to cultivate a life where the small things give me as much lasting pleasure as the big things. I don’t want to censor the failures. Rather, I want to embrace the lessons I take from them as the real successes. I’ve tried to bring in some of my Chan ink painting practice into the studio this week. The intention of Chan is to stay with the mark making, moment to moment, accepting, not judging. It’s a mindfulness-in-painting practice.

The Kipling Garden

I have a strong memory of the happiness that radiated from my first Chan teacher: he laughed after each brushstroke. I saw him on days when he was sad, too, and he was still happy. Both feelings exist in us, and are available to us in every moment. Feelings are of us, they are not us. It’s a good thing to remember, on the sad days. One of the things I thought I’d learned was the equalising power of mindfulness. I do believe, even if my habit mind doesn’t, that negative emotions and experiences hold the same power for growth and transformation as positive ones. Each can be broken down into the same components, and each can enhance our life story as much as deplete it, with active management.

Neil Gaiman said it very nicely: artwork is like sending out hundreds of little messages in bottles, maybe one of which will come back. If you listen too much to what the world has to say about your art your creative powers are diminished. So you need to do what makes you happy, find comfort and nourishment in the process, and work to lose craving of the approval. Art making needs to have meaning in itself, rather than just in exposure.

Last week my focus slipped back into old ways of framing my experience in which successes and failures are divided. I’m noting that, and sinking into the present, where every moment contains both failure and success. Both things are necessary to my story and to my growth.



  1. I LOVE this post Romy- so beautiful, so honest. But you know, I didn’t perceive your last post as a trophy, I saw it as a moment for you to be able to celebrate your success. However I totally understand what you mean about it becoming addictive and being taken away from the moment by it. You are an artist pure and true lady in that it is your spiritual path. So looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks time!

    by Susan Nethercote
    • It IS a spiritual path! In the same way, gardening, cooking, mothering and a host of other ‘body’ experiences can be spiritual..and I guess that is why I want to shift the focus back on the practice. Because while awards and exhibitions will allow me to continue to practice these things that I love, it is the practice itself that makes life meaningful.

      by romy zunde
  2. Beautiful post once again Romy – you have a great ability to put things into perspective and articulate it so well. I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself though – you totally deserve to get some credit and recognition for your amazing talents! x

    by Talina Edwards
    • Hullo Talina! :) I don’t feel like I’m being hard on myself. I kinda feel like this is the gentler path, to encourage equanimity in life. The craving for events and applause is something unhealthy. I want to be happy both when they happen and when they don’t happen if you know what I mean. I want to feel enough when, to the outside world, it seems like nothing is happening. You know? But sure, the intersection of my work and others appreciation of it is a beautiful thing and I cherish that. I just don’t want it to feel like the sole marker of success xx

      by romy zunde
  3. Romy, continue to write, please. I completely relate to what you are swying about attachment to this and repelling from that. Success v failure, happy v sad, popular v unpopular. ..choose your own binary opposites. I love your interest in equanimity because it is beyond the yoyo-ing. I didn’t read your last post as trophy-ish, just a celebration and there’s lots to celebrate be it external appreciation or the reflection out there of what is going on internally…that’s huge! Self appreciation n support as an artist are huge achievements. Xxx Caitlin

    by CAITLIN McGrath
    • Ah well, Caitlin, 20 years after writing my first ‘novel’ I don’t think I’m physically able to stop. It’s as much part of me as my hands. And you keep on keeping on too please. Writing, like painting, is about so much more than being read. That’s nice too, of course.

      by romy zunde
  4. It’s OK to celebrate an achievement! Don’t beat yourself up, it’s not bragging to share an affirmative experience.

    IDK but in the Artists Way morning pages, Julia Cameron advises us to do alot of positive affirmations, like “I’m a prolific painter” “I’m a talented writer” and so forth.

    I’m just saying… I read the last post and it didn’t seem like bragging at all, I rather enjoyed it and smiled at your success.

    by Andrea Fuentes
    • Hi Andrea, thanks for reading :) The ‘beating up’ was more about falling into the old pattern of deriving self-worth from productivity. You’re right about self-criticism not being particularly useful, though, regardless of context. I think affirmations are good, as long as they are dependent on you rather than outside conditions: “I’m a prolific painter” is different from “I win prizes”.
      Thanks for smiling at the successes (and they were wonderful happy things, no denial there).

      by romy zunde
  5. Wow, Romy your post has been so helpful to me in my struggles to re-engage with my creativity, and the journey I’m on to find ways to earn a living doing something I enjoy. You have articulated the dilemas of success and failure so beautifully, it is a revelation to me. I didn’t realise I was so influenced by the “pop culture” of promoting yourself through product successes. And yes, I agree those successes are good to acknowledge and receive feedback on, but they are only half the story. I will be striving to re-think my attitude to failures from now on, and not be so hard on myself.

    by Jodie
  6. Oh hello again Jodie :) My main motivation for writing the blog is to articulate and clarify things personal to me (which, by their nature are kinda ‘human condition’ topics). But the fact that they occasionally help someone is extraordinary to me. Thank you for reading and understanding.
    You might want to check out Susan Nethercote’s ‘Creative Conversations’, one of the aspects of her business is helping others find and do what they love in a sustainable way xx

    by romy zunde