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On Comparing Beginnings and Middles

Today’s quote is:

Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. – Jon Acuff

Yesterday, I emailed Judy Wise to tell her how excited I was about her upcoming “painting faces” class which my calendar said was starting today.

She replied pretty much immediately and said that the class had started a month ago and was now over.

I felt my heart sink.

She then said the students were still working on all the material in the FB group and did I want to be added. I said of course and she added me and once I visited the group and saw everyone’s work, my heart sank even more.

The other students’ work was so so amazing that I just wanted to quit before I even started. What’s the point? There’s no chance I will ever be that good. I’ve been working on drawing faces for quite a few years now and I just can’t get good enough at them, how could I even think I’d be good enough to paint.

What was I thinking.

I churned and churned all night.

Then this morning, I saw this quote and decided it was my quote for the day.

It was a reminder that even if I’ve been trying for a while, I am still just at the beginning of my journey. I don’t need to compare myself to anyone. Who knows how much time or effort they’ve already dedicated to it?

And who knows where I am in my journey.

All I do know is that I want to learn how to do this. I know that I love Judy’s work and I am thrilled at the chance to learn from her videos. I know that my journey is mine alone. And not only do I not want to compare my beginning to their middle, I don’t want to compare my journey to theirs at all.

So onward we go.

I can’t wait to dig into the classes even if I showed up a month late.

Maybe they can be my project for May.

The Seemingly Impossible

Today’s quote is:

It always seems impossible until it’s done.  - Nelson Mandela

When I saw this quote today, I laughed out loud. Yesterday, I had one of these at work. I had a situation that seemed impossible. It was driving me mad and I couldn’t figure out how it was ever going to be solved.

When I am in situations like this, I don’t handle it well. In fact, it drives me so mad that I become the worst version of myself. I stop thinking logically and operate in mostly the fight or flight mode. I panic and freak out. And, like most people when they are panicked and not thinking clearly, I do unwise things.

I flail and get others involved. Which makes things even worse.

And then when it’s all over and the prefrontal cortex starts kicking in again, I feel the strong wash of shame.

Which is the worst.

So I thought a lot about this quote today. About how I can remember that it always feels impossible until that one magical moment when it’s fixed. It seems impossible until it isn’t and it’s like a switch. There isn’t much in between impossibility and possibility. It’s not always gradual (though sometimes it is) but most of the time, it feels impossible until one day, one moment you look at it and you see it is indeed possible. And then it gets done. Not a lot in between.

So the question is how will i remember that it will get done. That it will become possible. That it will seem deeply impossible till that one moment. And that I need to have faith. Faith that it will indeed get done.

That’s the hard part for me. To have faith. To stop the panic and let my thinking kick in so it can remind me to have faith. So maybe I should make a bigger version of this sign and put it up on my desk so I can remember.

Walls we Build

today’s quote is:

You are confined only by the walls you built yourself.

I read this quote a while ago and had made an art journal page on it, too.

I was thinking about it again last night when I was trying to pick a quote today. I thought of all the ways i get in my own way. All the ways I create limits for myself. Hurdles I have to jump through, blocks on what I can and cannot do.

I have so many ideas.

So many ways I get in my own way.

I know that we all do this in different ways but I think, like most things, the first step to knocking those walls down is awareness.

Seeing it.

And then Saying it out loud.

Owning it.

I build walls around what i am capable of and what’s possible for me. I feel strong urges to do things (or to stop doing things) and then I talk myself out of each of them. I have a sense of the “responsible path” and I pretty much try to follow it to a T. I create a lot of stories around what responsible means and what it doesn’t mean. In those moments when I look around and I see only walls, I need to remember that they are created by me. They are in my mind, my story, but rarely are they in the real world.

And just like I get to put them up, I also get to take them down.

Regenerating Creativity

Today’s quote is:

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. -Maya Angelou

I have found this to be very true for me and it’s the exact reason I do these month-long exercises. I find that the practice of creating art every single day only fuels more creativity more. It gives me more ideas. It stretches me more.

So if you’re from the camp of “what if i run out” I highly urge you to use up all you have. Sit and do art. Again and again. Don’t hesitate, don’t postpone, don’t be afraid.

You will get more.

So much more.

So, sit and create.

ps: alas i don’t like the spacing and lettering on this one. but i keep trying. that’s the goal after all.

The Price

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.  -Thoreau

How true eh?

Yet another one that’s been on my mind a lot lately. What am I willing to exchange my life for?

To me, this shows up significantly in two different ways. One is how much of my soul (my core beliefs, desires, identity) am I exchanging for it? Is this going against some deep sense of self I have and what will be the cost to giving that up? Am I willing to pay that price? Is this worth more to me than what I am giving up?

Some of these questions are subtle and hard to answer.

But they are important, too.

This is one of the reasons, many years ago, I walked away from my Wall Street job. I wanted to make sure that if I was working 100 hours a week, it was for a cause I really believed in. That wasn’t the case with the job I had then. I felt like I couldn’t look my future kids in the eye and tell them I had to work when I was doing that kind of work. I respect other people’s choices, but it wasn’t a right fit for me. (I left that job to do Teach For America, I felt that, there, I was serving a much more needed and important role. That didn’t pan out for other reasons but I still don’t regret my choice at all. I still believe there’s a cost to doing something that’s really not aligned with who you are and what matters to you.)

The second way this quote speaks to me is more easy to visualize and define: The time you spend on doing activity X is time taken away from being able to do Y. It’s always like that. More than money, time is the one resource that runs out no matter what. We all get the same amount of it each day and none of us gets to save any of the minutes up. So we get it, and we use it. One way or another.

I feel like a lot of my choices would be better served if I kept asking myself, what am i exchanging for this? For this hour of TV I watch, for the trip I am taking, for learning lettering, for listening to a book. Even for the activities I like doing, they still mean that I can’t do something else. My self-induced todo list can sometimes get in the way, too. And it’s important to always ask what I am exchanging.

We often think about “what am I getting?” but not as often about “What am I giving up?”

In coaching, one of the exercises I do with my clients is “what are you saying no to?” So when you say Yes to watching TV, what are you saying No to? (like getting more sleep, reading a book, talking with hubby, etc.) When we’re clearer about what we’re exchanging, we can make better informed choices.

Change of Self

Today’s quote is:

“Very often a change of self is needed more than a change of scene.” ~Arthur Christopher Benson

I remember as a little girl, I kept thinking how I would come over to America and get a fresh start. I wouldn’t be the weird girl anymore, I would fit in. I would belong. As if all the things that made me weird would magically disappear.

Alas, not so.

I took a class a few years ago and one of the quotes they say there is: Who’s always around when you’re complaining?

Let me give you a hint: you.

So I’ve learned that you can’t run away from who you are. Who you are is who you are and it follows you around wherever you go. Hence if you want something to go differently, what you want is a change of self.

(there are exceptions of course.)

I think of this often when I am unhappy with how things are and daydream that if only I had so and so, life would be so much better. If only I lived in this place or had that job or had this body, blah blah.

A shift in perspective, a change of self, can go such a long way in these situations.

I do this with my clients often. What’s the perspective you’re holding and are other ones possible.

And, like most things we tell others, I need to hear it myself often, too.

What Lies Within

Today’s quote is:

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like that this is not as much about the present moment as it is about being you. I like the idea of thinking about what lies within me. And also what lies within the people I love. It makes me curious about what lies within each of us. I wish we talked about that more.

When we’re kids this question comes up all the time. What do you want to be? What do you like to do? What makes you happy? But as we get older, it’s as if these questions are no longer relevant.

Maybe we just assume that the career/path we picked must be the one we wanted. Or maybe others assume that. Either way, I don’t see this question come up in conversations. I can’t remember the last time anyone asked me any of these. Nor can I remember asking an adult myself.

So maybe this is a good time as any. I’ll start and maybe you can share, too.

  • I don’t know what I want to be anymore. I am a bit confused and lost.
  • I feel inspired by art more than anything else at the moment but I am not sure I have any deep desire to be an artist for a living. However I know I don’t want to stop doing art or learning art.
  • I also love learning in general. I’ve been on duolingo a lot with David for Spanish and also practicing my Italian. I love it and feel excited when I do it.
  • I love reading and listening to books. They make me happy.
  • Teaching my kids, explaining something i know, seeing someone else “get it” makes me happy.
  • Nature makes me happy. 
  • Volunteering makes me happy
  • What lies within me is a deep desire to make people’s lives better, to be of use, and to fully come into my own.

And there we go. This is my short list as of this moment. I wish we regularly asked people around us:

What lies within you?

The Way Out

And today’s quote:

The best way out is always through. -Robert Frost

Robert Frost has always been one of my favorite poets. I’ve written his Nothing Gold Can Stay on many diaries in my childhood. When I saw this it spoke to me and I started thinking about where I am in my life, how I feel, what I would like “out” of and what “through” might mean for those situations.

I am not sure I know the answer.

I think the point of this quote is that there are no shortcuts, no work arounds. You have to do the hard work it takes to move out of a situation that’s not working. And when you do, that’s when the reward comes. None of us come out the same on the other side. We’ve grown, learned, conquered and made it through.

I don’t even think through has to mean hard. It just means we didn’t take a shortcut. Or that’s what I am making it mean. (what do you think?)

And looking at my situation(s) with that lens, I am trying to put together what through would mean. How do I find my way out? What would out even look like?

I don’t know the answers but sometimes the first step starts with more questions.

Changing the World

So today’s quote is:

You must be the change you want to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

In 2003, when I had my Teach For America training, on the very last night they had a celebration and they blasted Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson. Which is one of my favorites of his. I remember going back to my dorm room that night and calling Jake and telling him that this work was so important and worthwhile that I didn’t know why more people wouldn’t want to do it.

I learned the answer to that over the next year but that’s another conversation for another time.

I’ve been thinking about what this means for where I am today in my life and what I want. I am a firm believer that the only person we can fundamentally change is ourselves. And that if we want others to do/behave/feel differently, we have to start with ourselves. This is the same as role modeling for your children. It’s easy to tell them no to lie but much harder to never lie ourselves.

If we want to see a kind world, we can start by being kinder ourselves. If we want to see more people helping others, we can help others ourselves. This applies to everything I can think of.

Which makes me think, well what do I want?

I want to be kind. I want others to be kind. Open, accepting. I want to be present and I want all of us to be more present. I think our attention span is not what it was. I think it’s easy to work/surf 24/7 now and I want to be present. I want to be with others who are present. I want to take care of nature because it gives me so much peace to be in nature. I want to eat well and move away from processed food. I want all of us to eat more naturally. I want us to be willing to be vulnerable with each other and work together. I want everyone to shine their own light. Step into who they are and embrace that wholeheartedly.

And it needs to start with me.

And you. What do you want?

The Power of your Thoughts

Ok so today’s quote is:

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right. -Henry Ford

I forget the truth of this all too often. I am one of those people who often lives in the land of negativity. I worry, I fret, I assume things will not work out.

But, interestingly, this doesn’t seem to stop me from going full steam after things I want. One of my personal mottos is “yes I can.” Over the course of my life, I’ve had people tell me I can’t do things or that certain things are not possible and I’ve proven people wrong enough times to know that no one else gets to tell me what I can or cannot do.

Except for me.

And therein lies the problem.

When I am feeling low about myself or in a valley instead of peak, it’s tougher to remember that the power is within me. What makes something possible is my personal belief in it. My ability to believe it to be possible. And when I am feeling rotten, I don’t believe in myself at all. I think I can’t do anything. And so I end up being right, of course.

To me, the most important part of this quote is to remember it during those tougher times in life. When we’re feeling up and happy, we feel optimistic and believe in our ability to move forward, do things, make change. But when we’re down, we don’t think we can do anything to change it. Which then means we don’t do anything. Which, of course results in no change. So, when we’re struggling the most, our own thoughts get in the way of our ability to get out of the dumps.

Talk about a chicken and egg issue.

This made me think quite a bit about what I can do differently. How can I use the power of thoughts to my advantage during the tougher times. One idea I had was to write down a list of things I think I can’t do. Brainstorm as much as I can and then take them even one level deeper and write why I can’t do them. What’s in the way? What’s wrong with me? On and on until all of it is out of my system. And then to take a step back and try the opposite. What if I could do these things? If I thought I could, where would I start? What would be the first thing I would want to do/need to?

This way I allow the whole “wallowing” bit to get out of my system and then I move into a space of possibility. I am not saying I can do it, but I am asking what I would do first if I could do it. I am sort of tricking my negativity mindset here by short-circuiting it.

Not sure if it will work, but I am willing to try.

For those of you who believe in the power of thought, too, what do you do to help yourself when you are down on yourself and think you can’t do anything?

Where You Fear to Live

I was looking at quotes last night to see what I might want to write today and I realized that Rumi and Ram Dass are speaking the most to me at the moment. As I scrolled through my list of quotes, this one jumped out at me. I tried to ignore it but no matter how much I went through the list, it would not let me go. So there’s today’s quote.

“Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Be notorious.” ? Rumi

There are so many parts of this quote that speak to me. I’ve always been a cautious person by nature. It’s just who I am. But even so, the idea of forgetting safety really appeals to me. When I read the last two lines, they sound extreme but also there’s this quality of total letting go. Not caring about others. Living whole. Just as I am. I love the sound of that.

The part that stands out the most for me, however, is “live where you fear to live.” I love this idea. I love the idea of walking towards the fear. Living in it, instead of running away from it. One of the things I’ve noticed for me is that as I’ve aged, I’ve become more fearful. (Izabela mentioned in yesterday’s post, too.) I am not sure what it is. Maybe I have more at stake. Maybe I have more to lose. Maybe the repercussions of a mistake seem much larger. Or maybe I haven’t been practicing bravery enough and my muscles have atrophied.

Earlier this week, I watched this wonderful video by Danielle. And I loved the very beginning where she says: “Your mantra of choice is: I’ll figure it out.”

I love that.

I want that.

That’s how I want to think. I don’t want to stay away from things due to fear. I don’t want to worry. I don’t want to not try. I want to keep saying that mantra in my head “I will figure it out.” Because I know I will. When you’re determined to figure it out, the universe moves with you. So you just have to have faith and jump in.

And I just don’t want to be afraid anymore.

I remember telling my husband years ago (he was my boyfriend then) that we have to quit our jobs on Wall Street. That we have to be willing to walk away so that we get used to looking for new jobs, knowing our worth, interviewing. So that we never feel afraid to leave. So that we never feel trapped.

I don’t ever want to feel trapped in my own life. I don’t have to feel like a victim of my choices. I want to be able to move into places I fear and have faith that I will figure it out. I will survive.

Nah. not just survive.

I will thrive.

Never Too Late

This particular thought has been on my mind often lately. Especially as I count down to my fortieth birthday, I’ve been thinking about the concept of “too late” and about how I had expected my life to turn out and who I had thought I might grow up to be, etc.

I was one of those unusual people who knew what she wanted from a very young age. Before I was in middle school, I already knew I wanted to work with computers (and some form of art ideally) and I knew that I wanted to study in the United States.

As I step back to look at my life now, I joyfully acknowledge that I have had many of my dreams come true. I have now been living in the US for twenty years, I own a home that I love, have a truly wonderful husband who loves me probably as much as any human can, I have two young kids who are gifts that I am grateful for each day. I have a job at a wonderful company who treats its people as well as can be expected from a company. And I get to work with computers and help build a product I care deeply about. I get to coach people who inspire me. I also get to do a lot of art in my spare time and have the honor of designing for a few manufacturers whose products I love.

I am not sure I could have designed a better life if I tried.

And yet.

Of course, it’s far from perfect.

I still think about “what i might have been.” I wonder what that even means. I think about the kind of person I turned out to be. The way I treat the people I love. The peace I seem to yearn for but never allow inside. The changes I would like in my day-to-day life. The amount of stress I am carrying at any moment in time. How much I’d like to do with my kids. How much more I might want to do for myself.

There are parts of me that I wish were fundamentally different.

But then I think, wouldn’t that change everything? If I had been a different person, wouldn’t my life also have turned out differently? Would I be willing to give up all that I have to be this other person? My husband, my kids, my life?

Likely not.

I have always chosen to take the known over unknown. Partly because when I sit down to think about things seriously, I realize that there’s more good about me and my life than the bad. Most of which I wouldn’t be willing to give up in exchange for other possibilities.

However.

This doesn’t mean I couldn’t change and shift things now. In this day and age, forty is not old at all. If I am lucky, I might get to live another fifty years. That’s more years than I’ve been alive so far. It means that instead of being near the end of the road, I am not even halfway yet. So this is no time to give up.

It is definitely not too late to be who I might have been. Every day is a new opportunity to recalibrate. I get to choose who I am each moment. Who I am and who I want to be.

It is not too late to be who I want to be.

I had a lot of dreams at the age of nine and I followed through on almost all. Now that I am almost forty, it’s a good time to sit and make some new ones.

How about you, do you think it’s too late to be what you might have been?