When I was nine or ten years old I had a class assignment in which I had to write my autobiography. In my book, I wrote about my favorite TV shows, hobbies, friends and I also wrote about what I wanted to achieve when I grew up. In this section called “My Life in the Future” I wrote, “I want to be either an artist, model or fashion designer.” Like most kids, it seemed perfectly logical that I could be any of these things or all of them.
I never really pursued my dream to become a model although thanks to my friend Kim Turner of Elizabeth in Pearls, I recently modeled some jewelry. For many years I also didn’t pursue my dream of being an artist. In fact I have actively run away from this dream. Long ago I convinced myself that I didn’t have enough talent to become an artist or that I needed a gimmick to become successful. So in college I studied to become an art historian, not an artist. After a few internships in museums, it became draining to be so close to my dream but not in it so I never went into a career in art history either.
In her new book on creativity, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Finding your true purpose is really about deciding which flavor of shit sandwich you’re really in for.” And apparently the assembly line of shit sandwiches doesn’t end even if fame and success come your way. So the question becomes, “What do I love so much that I don’t mind eating the shit sandwich that comes along with that thing?”
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve recaptured my desire to be an artist. But what does it take to pursue and commit to your dream especially when you’re older? In my childhood autobiography, I wrote, “What I’m doing to achieve this goal (of becoming an artist) is I draw a lot.”
So off I went to “draw a lot.” A few days ago I started a self-portait. I draw patterns for my hand painted accessories company Furious Flower Designs, but I haven’t tried to draw a realistic portait in some time. It was hard. I was using muscles that I haven’t used in a long time. I would draw, take a step back to look at my work, would see where I needed to make a change, erase, draw, erase, draw, etc. After two hours of work on my portrait I kept feeling like this drawing was playing hide and seek with me. I would make one more change to get it “right” and suddenly that one change put into sharp relief all of the other changes I needed to make.
So after several minutes more of working on my portrait, I called it quits. My eyes were red from trying to capture fine details that I could no longer see and I was hungry and getting cranky. I felt angry with myself for having spent two hours on a portrait that still wasn’t right. Hello, shit sandwich.
I hadn’t gone back to work on the portrait in two days because honestly I wasn’t sure if I liked the taste of this shit sandwich. Committing to your dream ain’t for sissies. Yesterday, I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons, a companion to her book in which she talks to creatives who are stuck in their creative process and experts on how to get unstuck. In her last episode she spoke to Brené Brown who has a new book out called Rising Strong that deals with how to handle failure. One of the things they discussed is what it takes to keep pursuing your dream particularly when you feel like you’re failing. Elizabeth Gilbert said, “The only thing that’s going to get you back to work on Day 2 is if you forgive yourself for how bad your work was on Day 1.” Brené Brown added that “Day 2 doesn’t stop because of willpower or discipline, it stops because of shame. And the antidote to shame is empathy.”
I hadn’t gone back to work on Day 2 because I still hadn’t forgiven myself for how badly it went on Day 1. I’d walk past the portrait and was drawn to do something with it, but what? I wasn’t sure that I could make it better and I was afraid that I might even make it worse. All I could see were eyes that I’d drawn too closely together and a chin that was ever so slightly off. My shame about my portrait filled the room. No shit eating today.
So of course this turns out to be the week that I have this post to write about committing to your dream and here I am not committing to my dream! I knew that I couldn’t write this post without finishing the portrait or deciding that being an artist isn’t the dream I want to commit to.
I went back into my studio, turned on some jazz music and remembered to have some empathy for myself. I still had stops and starts and I didn’t keep track of how long it took me to finish. But the funny thing was I actually lost track of the time. I hit a flow. I don’t know if I’ll always hit that flow and I know that I can’t peg my willingness to create art on feeling that flow. And even though I felt a flow, I’m still not completely feeling how my portrait turned out. But for now, it’s enough. I’ve done enough. Though I’m still getting used to the taste of the shit sandwich that I’ve chosen for myself, I know, for now at least, what’s on the menu in my life.
What’s on your life’s menu?