How I went from Jack-of-all-trades to Master-of-One:
I haven’t always been a painter. Except in my head. In my head, I was a master painter.
My creative outlet was my graphic design work, but I secretly harboured a desire to create art.
Lost in thought, I’d picture myself wielding a paint-laden brush before a wall-sized canvas. Probably wearing paint spattered clothing and looking accidentally attractive in a mussed-up “this old thing?” kind of way (you know the look I mean).
Every now and then, I’d spend a day trying to create what was in my head. My complete lack of experience and a perfectionist streak meant that it always took longer than a day to complete, and I felt frustrated with the results, so it was inevitable that my paintings remained unfinished.
Nearly two decades later, I was still in this place. Three kids, just a handful of graphic design clients, and still that same wishful dreamscape. In my mind’s eye, I hadn’t even aged. (This dream truly was becoming a fantasy!)
In 2016 it all changed.
Perhaps it was the recent loss of my sister to cancer. Maybe it was my 40th birthday drawing nearer. Maybe God just put it squarely on my heart at a time when my family could sustain me making changes.
Whatever the impetus, I was tired of straining toward something but then finding excuses not to do it.
The fear of failing seemed trivial in light of the fear of failing to try.
So here’s what I did:
1. I made a Game Plan.
I wrote down what I wanted to do and why. Then I wrote down how I was going to start doing that. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have all the answers, I just determined to start and committed to learning what I didn’t know as I went.
2. I made myself accountable to an audience.
Possibly the scariest step in the process, I set up a blog and outlined my goal to a real live public audience. (You can read that first post here.)
It didn’t matter that my audience was probably just me, my parents and their illiterate cat Ferris - I just imagined a group of loyal readers with a sprinkling of critics baying for my failure and that spurred me on.
My blog made me paint regularly, and my painting progress gave me something to blog about.
3. I ditched all my other hobbies.
All those ‘urgent’ things I’d spent time doing instead of painting over the years were little more than fear of failure. The baking, the gardening, the sewing, the piano playing, the handmade cards, even - to a lesser extent - my reading.
I hadn’t spent half my life dreaming of creating the perfect sponge cake, or tending an immaculate garden or creating designer clothes with hems that weren’t ironed on. I dreamed of painting. It was time to do what I dreamed of.
4. Something is better than nothing.
This is what I often say to motivate myself when I don’t feel like doing exercise or when I’m procrastinating about starting a project. It worked well to help me actually finish off paintings - even when inspiration felt low.
5. I aimed for process over perfection.
You can’t expect to be brilliant at something you haven’t practiced. When I wasn’t super proud of a result, I’d reason that it had probably helped me improve in some way for the next painting. The best way to find out was to start another painting!
6. Rinse and repeat: I set new goals.
After about a year, I figured I’d developed enough of a habit to know that I was genuinely hooked. I really hadn’t missed my other hobbies, and I found myself seeking out new art-related challenges. I wanted to exhibit. I hoped to sell my work. These became the new day dreams. So I stopped imagining, pulled them out of my headspace and began the whole process again with a new focus.
What about you? Do you find yourself wishing you could do something, but fearing you’ll fail? Is a lack of time your key excuse for not trying? Perhaps you’re using other ‘easier’ activities as a procrastination tool for delaying what’s actually more meaningful to you.
I can’t say I’ve mastered painting yet - but I’m a lot further along than I was three years ago. Check out my instagram feed to see my raw developmental journey in progress. Now I don’t fear failing; I see it as another part of the process. And I don’t regret a moment yet.
Blog Title Photos by Andrian Valeanu (brushes) and Taylor Grote on Unsplash. (Doctored by me!)
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