My husband and I have been watching Project Runway this season. We have our favorite designers and our least favorite ones. Near the beginning of the season, the one we were betting against the most was this young man named Brandon who designed only menswear before the show.
In the first challenge, he’d been assigned a beautiful plus-sized model and tasked with creating a red carpet look for her, and he was very nervous about doing the look right. He decided to make an outfit with a cropped camouflage top and a pink bottom with an athletic stripe.
Throughout the episode, the young man expressed doubts about his ability. His model was worried. Some of the other designers thought his work was hideous. We pretty much agreed with them.
At the end, as you probably know, the designers with the highest and lowest scores stay onstage to be judged. Brandon was among them. We of course thought he had a low score, and would immediately be eliminated.
The judges loved his red carpet look. They praised him for his originality, for knowing what was going in on the world, the athleisure trend. They loved all the elements others had doubted him for. He had one of the top scores. The only thing they wanted him to improve was his shyness, his hesitancy to talk about his work.
Brandon has continued with his very distinct aesthetic throughout the season. His clothes are often oversized, with lots of buckles and straps. And he’s won lots of challenges. At this writing, he is in the final four.
This reminds me of what happens in other forms of art. Of how easy it is to be dissuaded by the critical tongue of a peer or a teacher or a parent or a coach.
But does it matter if all those people hate your work?
It doesn’t matter one iota if my husband and I don’t like this guy’s clothes. The judges are the gatekeepers, the tastemakers. Those are the ones who matter. The people working in the ring, giving you access, helping you become as influential in that world as they are.
Brandon spoke about how he came from a small town outside of Salt Lake City and has wanted to be a designer since age 13. He talked briefly about the difficulties he had growing up. I wonder how if his anxious reluctance to talk about his work came from his upbringing, if the people around him always dismissed his taste and talent. How many times had he wanted to listen to those voices?
How many times have you been told by someone you’re not talented enough to “make it”? And what were the bona fides of that person? How do they align with your goals?
In the writing industry, there are lots of people who claim expertise, when their credits are slim to none. There are teachers who have no idea of what it takes to be published in today’s industry. There are students who will slam you for the sheer malicious pleasure of it. There are people who recognize talent and jealously try to dissuade it, as if someone else’s success could diminish their own.
Be careful about giving up your power to people who make no difference to your success.
Before you invest emotional effort into someone’s opinion, make sure that you respect the credentials of the person giving it. Does this person know what they’re talking about? What is the proof of their expertise? Consider these factors before you listen to any advice.
In fact, before you shell out any money for a class, you should also consider who’s teaching it. Does the instructor have the kind of publication record you hope to achieve?
And remember, if someone tells you that you lack talent, it could be that you’re like this Project Runway contestant—brilliant and unique, but misunderstood by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
Has anyone ever told you to give up? How did you handle it?
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