Artwork by John P. Weiss

Wisdom from a Guy in a Bathrobe

By: John P. Weiss

Okay, so the guy’s not actually in a bathrobe. I wrote that to peak your curiosity. The guy actually wears a black robe. As in a judge’s black robe.

Not just any judge, either. He happens to be John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Justice Roberts recently gave a graduation speech at his son’s middle school. What struck me about the speech was its unconventional message.

Rather than shower the students with platitudes about how special they are, Judge Roberts hoped that they’d be treated unfairly, suffer betrayal, feel loneliness, and other negative experiences.

Sounds depressing, I know. But it’s not. The message has value for artists and creatives. Why? Because being an artist and/or creative person almost guarantees personal struggle.

Sometimes our work will be rejected. Ignored. Forgotten. A gallery may not remain loyal and drop you. You might get lonely working in your studio. Sometimes, you’re just going to lose with your work.

The key, as Judge Roberts wisely points out, is to learn to see the “message in your misfortunes.”

When my work is rejected, the message is that maybe I need to improve in some area. When the work doesn’t sell, there’s a message. I may not like it, but I can learn from it. I can adjust. Adapt. Switch things up.

Adversity sucks, but it burnishes and refines us. The hard knocks in life can make us stronger. More appreciative of our successes. And more empathetic to the struggles of others.

Here’s Judge Robert’s graduation speech:

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

That’s my advice for today. “Try to see the message in your misfortunes.” I think artists who do that build resiliency and keep growing.

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