Why we need each other

Friday, 8 December 2023

by Wendy Dixon Whiley

I often hear people of a certain type (often those who have benefitted from unacknowledged wealth and privilege) boast that they are ‘self-made’, that they succeeded ‘all on their own’, that ‘no one helped them get where they are today’. This self-aggrandising is usually followed by a criticism of people less fortunate and how those people just ‘don’t work hard enough’, as though it were that simple. The lack of self-awareness to not acknowledge the universe (and some useful networks) coming together in just the right way to facilitate their success through good schools, engaged parents, lack of health challenges and a rich network of influential connections is a special kind of hubris.

I know I am nothing without others.

I may have worked hard to make the most of opportunities when they have been made available to me, but I know for certain that my life could have been very different had there not been other people for (nearly) every step of the way ‘in my corner’ and cheering me on from the sidelines.

I was lucky; I had parents who encouraged my creativity despite the fact that I didn’t grow up in an ‘arty’ family. I didn’t grow up in a metropolitan area with access to art classes, galleries and museums but I inhaled what culture I had access to (mostly cartoons, which should explain a few things about my personal style).

I went to a public school but was lucky to have school teachers who were for the most part engaged and encouraging. Though it did help that I was incredible nerd and girly-swot who thrived on getting good grades and praise. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend university with my parents help, and I was fortunate that I was able to stay with them during university teaching breaks where I could work to save up money for the upcoming semester.

Through some misguided ‘advice’ from an unsupportive ex-partner and being cut down by some ‘frenemies’, I lost my way and convinced myself I needed to get a ‘real’ job for a few years. But when I decided that I needed to find my way back to my creative practice I was lucky that the director of the Masters program I applied to accepted my application.

I was lucky that I had a boss who was willing to let me move my work schedule around to fit in with lectures and tutorials and I was luckier still that I could work 4 days a week while completing this period of study. I was luckier still that I had a husband who understood how important study was to me, because I know for certain that I was stressed to the maximum while I tried to juggle a full on job and the study load that came with a Master’s degree. I know I was difficult to live with at that time (Sorry Jim!).

I was lucky in the early days of my creative career that friends and family supported and encouraged me. I was lucky to have a wonderful mentor, the late Anton Hart, who gave me the confidence I needed to take risks and to embrace my differences. I miss him and his energy but I remember his words often.

I may put in a lot of work when applying for a grant but knowing how competitive the landscape is for funding I feel lucky when I am selected from the group.

I continue to be lucky to this day when I am approached for new works or projects. I am still humbled when someone I know (or I don’t know!) recommends me to someone else. Perhaps that’s just the imposter syndrome talking - though constantly feeling as though you don’t measure up can be an excellent driver for extending yourself and pushing to improve.

We can’t succeed without the help of others, and I am grateful every day for the big and small acts of generosity by others. I only hope I can adequately pay it back in my own way.


This Post was originally published by Illustrators Australia Member Wendy Dixon Whiley on her website.