Overthinking and Grace, Part 2

Last week I pointed out that we have to give ourselves the grace to make mistakes – and learn from those mistakes. We can’t wait until we have everything perfect to start. But what about other people? They have to get it right before they share their efforts, don’t they?

Of course not! We would never say that. Never in a million years! Show us your art! Sing your songs! We’ll cheer you on! We see your effort!

(Unless of course, you are saying something that we know is wrong.)

I don’t want to get political, or religious here. I don’t want to get preachy, though I know I do sometimes. But we are all working through all the crazy things it means to be a human on this planet. Most of the people I know are trying to do what’s right. They are trying to believe what is true. And they are all different.

Let’s celebrate the differences. In art, in music, in story. In opinion. Let’s stop being so condescending when someone younger than us or older than us puts something out in the world that we don’t think is ready. Show some grace, and encourage good people to keep trying.

Overthinking and Grace, Part 1

I am a profound overthinker. I can put off an important decision almost indefinitely simply because I don’t want to make the wrong decision. And I can get pretty down on myself for doing this, which actually makes me do it more. I worry that I am overthinking, so I actually overthink about overthinking.

When I go to write an article on my blog. When I come up with a new comic idea. When I want to share art. When I want to start a conversation. Yes, I do these things often, but the number of times I don’t because I’ve talked myself out of it are innumerable.

When I overthink, I am trying to keep from making a mistake. But it is far easier to learn by doing something and correcting once you see the results, than waiting until you are sure you’ll get it perfect to try. I know this. I teach other people this through art. If you wait to show me your drawing until you have it just right, you will never show it to me, and I will never be able to help you improve. Same thing with singing. I have worked with choral groups, new singers just starting out, and they want to sing really quietly so they don’t mess up the person next to them. But if I can’t hear them, I can’t bring everything together. There will be flaws that persist, that basically are just put off until later.

So, you have to give yourself grace. It is more important that you begin the work than that you spend years learning everything you can before attempting it. Learn as you go, and practice. Practice. Practice. Write your blog posts. Share your art. Sing loud. Give yourself grace to make bold mistakes and learn from them.

Start Now With What You Have

For 10 years this kitchen counter was my art studio, my office, my everything. I drew, I painted, I worked on my comic and my website, I watched videos to learn new things; I struggled with what it meant to be the best version of myself, while dodging toddlers at my feet and actually doing, you know, kitchen stuff like making dinner. I challenged myself and set the bar high. I failed to measure up to the hopes and dreams I had for accomplishments, over and over and over again. But I made progress. Every year. Slowly. Painfully. I got a little better, not just at art, but at figuring myself out while feeling the pressure of running out of time as my 40s were fast approaching.

Now, my 50s are fast approaching, and I suddenly feel like I have all the time in the world. I’m setting up my new office, studio, hideout, lair-from-which-I-can-conquer-the-world. It isn’t perfect, but it is a giant step beyond the kitchen counter.

You still have time to find your place in the world, at any age. But worrying that you don’t have enough time, or stressing the fact that you aren’t sure about the how and the why is stealing that time away. Start with what you have. The kitchen counter. It is enough.

Start today.

Renting Space in My Own Head

Three years ago I made a decision that changed everything. I signed the lease for 500 sqft of commercial space that I would share with a friend. At the time, I had nearly no art at all. I had a webcomic that was ongoing. I had a few watercolor paintings and drawings. That was about it. No actual income from art. I intended to use this space as a studio, to have a quiet place to go accomplish creative things.

That didn’t happen. I mean, I did go, even in the winter when there was nothing but five space heaters running constantly to keep it above freezing. I did go, and try to do art. But I didn’t do much art. I swept the floor. I rearranged the furniture. I listened to podcasts. I went and got lunch.

Eventually I would come back home, feeling rather defeated.

But I was still doing art. More art than ever. I was just doing it at home. While paying for studio space. So, add “crazy” and “selfish” to “defeated” and you’ll have a good idea of what was happening in my head.

Fast forward a few years, I’m in a bigger and better space, with art that’s thriving, a growing Arts Council I helped start and now run, and more creative direction and determination than I have ever experienced.

Why? How did this even happen? Especially since that first decision I made to rent space was a terrible one. I rented space I couldn’t neither use nor afford.

But by signing that lease, I committed to much more than 500 sqft. I was also taking part of the space in my head and leasing it to my dreams. Every time I thought about the seriousness that I needed to make something work, every time I felt bad about that commitment and resolved to find a way to make it work, I committed to the importance of keeping part of my brain working on the problem of how to discover who I really wanted to be as a creative person. I had to be determined to continue taking action as long as I was paying rent.

You might not be able to put money in for your dream, but you have to put in something of value. It doesn’t have to be the right decision. It only has to be visible, and tangible, and unavoidable. It has to force you to come to terms with what you know you want to do, and to keep trying for it. It probably won’t work out, but I promise it will move you forward.

Rent some space in your own head.

Scary Times call for Scary Measures

Had a great art conversation last night with some of my creative community, and we talked about how we’ve all been meaning for years to do a better job of communicating with the world around us. Putting ourselves vulnerably out in the world, exposing flaws and weakness, sharing art that never feels ready, talking on camera, it is all hard. But when we’re brave enough to do it, we make real, human connections with people just like ourselves all over the world.

So, I hope you are well and safe and keeping yourself in a mentally good state right now. Consider using this period of isolation and separation to get over your fear of posting on social media, recording video, sharing art, story or song. I’m going to try.

We all could use a more genuine sense of connection.

Feeding Our Creative Souls

I took the concept of Tribes to heart. So I started to lead one.

And it is everything to me. I have found like-minded people, who haven’t yet found the right place to belong. Others who are looking for some kind of affirmation that it is okay to want what they want – a chance to have another chance.

We’re not young. We’re in our 40s or our 50s or our 60s and many of us have made bad decisions that pulled us away from the creativity that once fed our souls. Or life just led us down another path. We’ve lived. We’ve raised kids. We’ve handled bills and health crises and breakups and loss. We now have a wealth of wisdom and the tools to accomplish nearly anything. We have no regrets. We have perspective.

But we have never tried to accomplish much for ourselves. We gave to others. We helped. We healed. We prioritized other’s priorities.

And now, we are looking to ourselves. Reinventing ourselves. Remaking ourselves. Taking everything we are and everything we have and pouring it all into our own dreams. Believing it isn’t to late to start over.

This is my tribe.

A Trophy or a Tool?

Okay, stick with me a moment for this metaphor. Life is a journey. Your daily decisions are your progress along the path. You carry with you a pack that holds everything you are and everything you need.

When you go the wrong way, make a bad decision, fail at something, you add that experience to your pack. You have a choice between two items.

You may pick up a trophy or a tool.

The trophy is symbol of your failure, something to always remember it by. When you put that in your pack, you can take it out and look at it whenever you want, to remind yourself of the cost of failure. But the trophy is heavy and serves no other purpose. You begin to avoid anything that might add more trophies to your pack. You stop taking risks.

But you don’t have to pick up the trophy at all. It is just dead weight. You could just leave it lying on the side of the road. You could pick up the tool instead. The tool is the thing you now know you need because of the failure. The item or idea or practice that might have kept you from failing in the first place. But you didn’t know you needed it until after your terrible experience. Now you know.

What if for every failure you picked up another new tool? Your pack would be filled with creative swiss army knives, inspirational flashlights and emotionally resilient rolls of duct tape. With enough failures behind you, you’d soon become unstoppable.

Self Care May Not Be What You Think

Recently I’ve made the statement to more than one group of friends that “my self care is work.”

And I mean that most sincerely. I just figured this out.

Isn’t the purpose of self care to take some time to put your own needs ahead of the endless demands of the world around you? To make the conscious decision to invest in your own well-being?

I have a long history of never working in my own best interests. I work on others’ behalf. And now that I’m a mom, I have often felt guilty choosing my own interests over theirs. But when I put all I have into what helps me grow as an artist or even as a person, don’t they benefit as well? I know my marriage has been positively transformed by my willingness to be a little more selfish. When you try to put everything you are into someone else, you can create a dependency and even a set of expectations that are fundamentally unhealthy.

How do you invest in your own well-being?

Stop Trying to Believe in Yourself (Start Investing Instead)

Yesterday I spent about three hours trying to get ten minutes of video, telling the story of how art changed my life. I still don’t have that video, unfortunately, but in one completely off-script take I made a discovery.

Ten years ago I began to make decisions that have completely transformed my life. My art. Who I am as a person. I went from being ineffective and defeated, aimless and confused, to focused and purpose-driven.

You might imagine that ten years ago, I started to believe in myself. So much belief, that I was able to turn everything around.

But I didn’t. I didn’t believe in myself at all. 

In fact, NOW is the moment that I am finally starting to believe in myself. Ten full years later.

Ten years ago, all I knew was that I had to try. I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t really believe I could achieve anything, but I knew I was not okay with a life of never even having tried. So I began to invest time and energy in myself to learn and grow and become something more.

I think the idea that we have to believe in ourselves and our ambitious goals can be defeating. We don’t move, we don’t act, we don’t try, because we are waiting for the motivation, which we think comes from some kind of feeling, deep down, that we are worthy and capable.

If you start moving before you have any of that lined up, if you start investing before you can see what it is worth, I absolutely promise, those things will come. They make take ten years, but you will get to the point you can finally see your own potential.

Update for Patreon

I don’t normally post my unscripted Patreon updates here, but I finally feel like I have more clarity around what I am trying to accomplish, and this is me trying to explain it. I don’t push the supporter thing, because it’s weird, but if you want to help me create more of this kind of content, Patreon is the way to go.

Also, Happy New Year!

No Excuses No Complaints

This is my resolution and my mantra for 2020. No excuses. No complaints.

Sometimes I have this almost out-of-body experience where I am suddenly standing next to myself, hearing myself complain about nothing in particular. I stare at myself amazed, wondering what could possibly be going on in my head. Am I even paying attention to the words coming out of my mouth?

It is more than a habit, though I do it unconsciously. The complaints are often just excuses that keep me from fully accepting responsibility because they make me believe I am not accountable for my lack of progress toward something I have said I want.

But I am in control. What I choose to do or not do is up to me. And if you think you don’t have choices, you are deceiving yourself. You may feel stuck and tempted to complain about your lack of autonomy, but even when you do have control you are not making good choices. You may complain that you don’t have enough free time, but if you spend your available free time scrolling on your phone you have made your decision and you were in full control of that moment in time.

No excuses. No complaints. Try it.

 

(Watch this on YouTube: https://youtu.be/QivDyaSeR8g)

Trusting Your Gut

It is possible I seem like a very confident, secure person. I often stand up and say what I am thinking. I bravely forge forward into areas in which I have no clue what I’m doing. But I’m still scared. Insecure. Most of the time.

I’ve learned to embrace this fear and work with it. A lifetime of habitual procrastination has taught me that if you hold on you can survive just about any self-made crisis, but that doesn’t erase the feeling of fear when I do something I haven’t tried before.

And I have a very hard time trusting my instincts when it comes to new endeavors. What you see me doing is a small fraction of what I secretly want to try.

The challenge for me is that when I have a gut feeling, I’m nearly always alone. I float ideas to see if other people think they are good, but they don’t. So I back off. Over and over and over. But looking over my lifetime of insecurity – I wonder. What would it be like if I just went ahead and trusted myself? What if I didn’t wait for someone to tell me my work was good enough, my idea had merit, my plan might work?

Lately I’ve just been going with my instincts and even though I’m braced for the inevitable failures, things seem to be working out okay. So, I’m trying to trust that inner voice a little more each day.

What is your gut telling you to do?

There Is Never A Right Time

Why aren’t you doing what you want to do? What are you waiting for?

 

I waited for encouragement from the people around me. But they didn’t understand my dream. It was mine to understand.

I waited for the money to justify the investment in my art. But I had free opportunities all around me I missed for years.

I waited for the perfect “inspiration.” But the best inspiration comes when you are already doing the work.

I waited for the available time to set aside. But I wasted hours and days and years on activities that did nothing to help me grow.

I waited for a clear path and signs that told me I was going the right way. But I needed to wander before I could find the right direction.

I waited and I waited and I waited, and if I could go back, I would change nothing about my life but the waiting.

 

There is never a right time or situation to break free and move toward what you should be doing.

Don’t wait.

Nothing New Under the Sun

The other day I was sitting in the dentist chair and a song came on the radio that I had never heard before because apparently I’ve been living under a rock. (On a related note, my husband finally believes me when I say I missed nearly all of the 90s because I was running a small business and my tiny black-and-white tv only picked up three channels…) Anyway, the song was P. Diddy’s “I’ll be Missing You” and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was a complete ripoff of “I’ll Be Watching You” by the Police. Of course, I later googled it to get up to speed on all the copyright details, and that isn’t really the point.

The point is, I don’t like to imitate. I like to do my own work. Yes, I may never do anything wildly original, but I don’t want to just do what someone else has done the way they have done it.

But the problems is – when you start to realize what’s out there – what is original? Every story has been told. Every idea has been stated. Every picture painted. And when you start to do your own version, let’s be honest – it is probably not even as good.

This thought stalls me out completely – often. 

So, why tell the story that’s already been told? Why create art derived from an idea you got from someone else?

Because it is your way of communicating with your own circle of influence.

If I share an idea with you in a blog post that I totally got from Seth Godin…well, you might not be reading Seth Godin. And because I am discussing the idea from my perspective, it will resonate with you in a unique way. And if you want to discuss it with me further, it is much easier for you to engage me in a conversation than him. If I draw a comic panel that is reminiscent of a Lynn Johnson (For Better Or Worse) storyline, it is still my own life I am talking about, and you get a window into my world and a new connection between us because you have experienced the same feelings.

Your art matters because it is yours. Your spin on a familiar subject is important because it is your way of communicating with your own people. My dear friend Suzy has called me her “favorite artist,” which I have struggled to wrap my mind around. How can I be anyone’s favorite artist? I’m solidly mediocre on a good day. But you don’t have to be the best. You just have to do the work, and be brave enough to put something into the world to make a meaningful connection.

So go do that.

Deep is the Rut

I always hated making my bed. I was taught the “right” way to make the bed – with hospital corners, the way my mother and grandmother did it. And I NEVER EVER EVER made my bed. Through my teens and 20s, and at least some of my 30s. Never. Ever.

Then sometime in my 30s I watched Martha Stewart on tv make a bed.

Martha Stewart. The queen of domestic perfection.

Guess what?

No hospital corners. 

I can’t do justice to how dramatically this transformed my life. She just straightened and draped the sheet over the bed. Suddenly a task that took several minutes of work I didn’t enjoy became one I had no excuse not to accomplish in 60 seconds with results that at least sort-of matched Martha Stewart’s. And from that day, nearly every day, I make my bed. It starts my day off well, even if the rest of my house is a disaster, and set me on the path of learning how small habits can lead to enormous life changes. 

Why am I even talking about this? Last night I had a great conversation with a friend who has known me since I was 12 years old. Among other things, we touched on the fact that we are still in our 40s working through some of the patterns we carried on from our parents. And this morning, as I was making my bed, it really hit me.

There are multitudes of ways to do things. So many different ways to approach any possible situation or problem. Nearly infinite ways to answer so many of the questions we face in our lives. But it often doesn’t even occur to us to step outside what we always do or the answer we always give. We never even think that maybe this problem doesn’t need hospital corners – the answer that we were told was the “right” one. We can’t innovate because the rut is so deep.

This is absolutely true for me – and I am a very creative person. Creativity is kind of my thing. And I LOVE being challenged to think in a new way. It’s also kind of my thing. And I STILL end up locked in patterns so fixed I can’t envision a departure from the usual way of doing things.

Challenge yourself. What has you stuck because you can’t see a new possibility?

Breakthrough Moment

I finally had a breakthrough I probably should have had five years ago, but better late than never!

I’m the brand.

Everyone is talking about personal brands. I have listened to dozens of people speaking into the “personal brand” concept, and I still didn’t get it where it related to myself. I keep chasing the creative end product (a comic, a book, a story, a piece of art) as my identity, but it has never been that. And that is why this whole thing has never made sense to me. I don’t want to be a comic creator or a story teller (though I do want to do those things.) I want to be creative. To pursue ideas and make art that is constantly evolving and changing without worrying about what it means to the rest of the world. Which only works if I connect with people – not with a product, but with an honest connection to who I am.

So, I’m relaunching my youtube channel (you know…the one with nothing on it..?) and creating content there that connects to all the things I am and all the things I do. I am talking specifically to people who are like me – and I know you are out there, because I meet you every day. Come with me.

Making a Shield

I made Hiccup’s Shield from How to Train Your Dragon (Hidden World) for a class to show how anyone can take junk and create costume pieces that are simple, quick, and cheap. I put it on youtube in case anyone else might benefit from the info for a Halloween costume or school project.

(Side note, I’ve been spending a lot of time revolving the “personal brand” stuff around in my head and I am at the point that I have decided I am just going to do and say and publish and create whatever I feel like doing and if anyone wants to get to know me, they have to deal with how random my stuff is. It is my “brand.”)

 

Toxic People Kill Creativity

Lately I’ve been having conversations that all seem to go down the same trail. The effect toxic people have in our life.

The struggle is real to drown out the voices that echo in my head. Often their desire is to help, and the “worst-case-scenario,” the “reality-check” kind of thinking may be meant well, but can quickly send me into a negative spiral that is hard to recover from.

Negativity is the death of creativity. Creativity must be unfettered – it must be free to move to explore in unlikely directions. When you begin to question what someone else is going to think of your ideas, you are limiting what you are capable of. And trying something new is always going to get some negative backlash.

Yesterday I drew a different kind of bug fairy. This one was inspired by a beetle, so she’s got some defensive capability. She’s not going to be easily swiped up by some bird with sharp words that make her question her decision to throw caution to the wind and pursue an art career.

You choose who you let into your life, and especially who you let into your head. Only let the good in.