This is a re-post of  something I wrote as a guest blogger for the website, Admitopia. They had asked me to advise teens who were considering going into the arts. In the end, I only felt comfortable advising myself.



Dear high school Senior self,

It’s me, your thirty eight year old self. (Ancient right? Don’t worry. They sometimes still card me in restaurants, but probably just to flatter me to get a big tip. Your 22 year-old waitress self makes a ton of money with that trick.)

On the Creative Process -Paul Arden

On the Creative Process -Paul Arden

I want to tell you something. I/we grow up to have a successful career in the arts! I know what you’re thinking. “Um. YEAH. Of course I’m going to be famous and make it as a painter. I’m kind of a big deal in my small town and I just need to be discovered.”

Not so fast. As your older and (sometimes) wiser you, it’s my duty to tell you that though your confidence in your talents is strong (and good), you have some less than beneficial thoughts and habits that need to change if you are ever going to make it. Having talent is great, but the world is HUGE and you’ve only seen a tiny fraction of it and met a few people in it. You. Have. So. Much. To. Learn. Learning is an adventure. Don’t count anyone out as a potential teacher with lessons for your benefit that will help you grow.

I also know how scared you are. You’re going to be the first one in the family to graduate from college. Once you get to school next year, you’re going to be WAY outside your comfort zone, but this is a good thing. You’re suddenly going to be surrounded by other “art stars” who were known in their schools for their talents. Some are going to be better than you and in different areas you’ve never even tried before. Pssst. It’s OK. There is no chosen one. You can all succeed in your own ways, and those so-called competitors will be your friends and connections who bring you opportunities later down the road. Stay in touch with them.

Stop taking as many absences as the school will “legally” allow and make yourself talk to your professors and answer their questions. I can tell you right now, that no matter how hard you try, they won’t just notice you through your work alone if you are silent and barely there. I know it’s hard, but push yourself, show them you have a personality and are paying attention, and they WILL see you for what you’re worth. I’m also a Professor now (cool right?) and can tell you if you have good classroom habits and show your intelligence, drive, and unique spark, your teachers WILL think of you when they hear of a job opportunity. Trust me on this one! Talented slackers who are unreliable never get the goodies because they have the wrong attitude. You can’t trust some people with a hot plate, if you catch my drift.

In about one year’s time you’re going to get your first gallery job. It’s just minimum wage, mind you, but you get to paint a mural that everyone will admire and develop a ton of great skills and work habits. Best yet, while gallery-sitting one evening you’re going to write a wish-list of all the things you want to do in your life. You put down seemingly impossible things like volunteering in India, a safari in Africa, living and working in foreign countries, making animations that screen in theaters, and getting awards for your art. Boom! I’ve done all those things and look forward to getting to more on the list. Write out all the possibilities for your life and then watch all the coincidences and opportunities line up to make your wishes a reality. It takes time, and you’re going to have to learn to think more positively. You will. Just remember that you are what you think and thoughts can become things.


So just a few quick things before I go:

1.) Enjoy your metabolism. I want you to eat a whole box of brownies and Barney cookies from your bakery job and then put on your bikini and admire yourself in the mirror. OK. That’s Not art-related, but I thought you should know how good you have it right now.

2.) I’m still applauding the mature decision you make in a few months to go to the top-rated art school that’s in-state, saving yourself from the headache of students loans. If only our 23 year-old self who goes to the private and insanely expensive graduate school thought this way. We do eventually pay off the loans, but they are BRUTAL. Proceed with caution.

3.) Don’t be intimidated by so-called VIP’s. They are people too with their own insecurities. Most people are so worried about what others think of THEM, they are too busy to think about you.

4.) You are wonderful and have so much to offer! Don’t be shy. Don’t be scared. And if you do something awkward, don’t beat yourself up. Act confident until you are confident. Fake it until you make it.

5.) Thank our family and friends for being so supportive. We are lucky that no one discourages us. Not everyone has that.

6.) Money IS important. If you are really serious about making a successful career in the arts, plan well and take all those crappy jobs to pay for your school and rent, to gain new skills, and to learn what you like and don’t like. They are stepping stones to a better place.

My last tidbit for you is this: The people with the most talent don’t necessarily do the best in life. It’s the scrappy ones who make it. The ones who try and fall down flat on their faces and just can’t accept failing so they pick themselves up again, each time learning a new lesson and making changes until success is inevitable. People who succeed in the arts are passionate about what they do. In fact life is downright painful for them when they’re not creating something. The most successful artists have drive, but they are also flexible. You say you want to be a famous painter? Great. But FYI, I’m not. I went digital. You are going to LOVE the possibilities. Take a hint when you don’t get that painting award your Junior year of college and start exploring other ways to express yourself.

Not that I’m ruling out success as a painter. I’ll have to see if my 80 year-old self has some advice for me.

With much love,

Kristen Palana (38)