When I was a little girl, I was deeply connected to wonder, always walking half in a daydream. I was that kid who jumped all the cracks in the sidewalk and loved to watch the sunset. As I grew, my determined and perfectionist tendencies took over that more innocent part of me. For a lot of years, like through college, grad school, 12 years of a professional art career, and having 3 babies, I’ve been pushing my way up the ladder. Showing in impressive galleries, exhibiting at top-tier shows, and getting magazine publications—these were the big goals of my life. But the funny thing is even when I hit my goals for recognition or for sales, it never felt like quite enough. I would feel happy for a second (or maybe half a day if I was lucky), then the desire for more, more, more would kick in, and I'd be planning my next move.
Something strange has been happening to me over the last year but especially this summer. Maybe I’m hitting mid-life crisis early? I don’t know, but I like the changes that have been happening under the surface. I feel like that little girl feeling the waves at her feet is being reborn in me. And that has opened up new space in my relationships—with God, with my husband, kids, and friends. I’ve been experiencing a sort of internal rest; it feels like an unfolding inside. Anyway, in this season of rest, I’ve been more reflective and jotting down a few things I would say to that younger, driven, perfectionist version of myself. Hope they’re helpful reminders to you and to me, as we look to live life more fully and more present:
- Don’t push SO hard. Allow yourself to enjoy painting, and to enjoy sharing your work. Do more going with the flow and less fighting your way to the top. Do more allowing and less pushing, more receiving and less striving.
- Continue showing up consistently for your art, even if it’s just a little bit at a time. Your art doesn’t have to wait until your kids are gone from home; you can engage with it now (and understand that engagement is going to look different by season.)
- Be willing to wait. Things like finishing that painting, improving your paintings overall, and learning how to sell your work—all these things are processes, and processes take time. Rather than fighting time, get ok with it. Treat time as you would a friend.
- Time is elastic. Treating it as a scarce commodity will only hurt you as a person and as an artist. Treating it as a scarce commodity will only SHRINK your time and energy, as you fret about how you’re going to get everything done. Still be intentional with your time and make plans about it, but let go of the intense angst that you feel around it. Sometimes slowing down and enjoying something is THE best thing you can do at the moment and will actually stretch time. As counterculture as this sounds, believe there is enough time. Reject hustle culture in favor of slow, deliberate progress toward your goals.
- Embrace failures as a normal part of your journey. When something doesn’t work out the way you planned, it does not mean anything about your value as an artist or as a human being. Failures are going to happen despite your best efforts, and the more you can make peace with them, the happier you will be for it.
- You’re not behind. You haven’t lost out on your *only* chance to make it as an artist by deciding to have a family and prioritize that. Your art is patient, and you will prioritize it again, sooner than you think.
- Stop comparing yourself to other artists. Or other moms. Or other wives etc. Especially ones whose lives, choices, and individual capacities look radically different than yours. Life is not a race—there’s no prize for the person that gets through it the fastest. You are on your own path at your own pace. Believe it is a good path, and it will be.
- Celebrate your wins. Even and especially the small ones. Allow yourself to feel genuine joy instead of rushing past the good thing that happened.
- Let yourself enjoy things more. Especially when the sink is full of dishes, the house is a disaster, and you’re falling behind on your (ambitious) art goals. Connecting with simple, deep joys along the journey will give you the energy and the time you need. Life is hard but also beautiful. Take more time to enjoy things and less time focusing on the hard.
- You have enough light to see the next best step. You have enough resources to figure out the problems you’re facing. You know enough to work through the problems at hand. (And please stop trying to work on next year’s problems now!)
- You are doing a good job. As a mother and as an artist. “Good enough”—despite what you have believed as a perfectionist—really is good enough. It really stings to even write this down, but be happy with B+ work. Celebrate that you’re giving things your best shot, celebrate your progress, celebrate the process while you are in it, celebrate your life while it is happening. These are the “good old days”.
- Be more kind to yourself. Don’t allow yourself to say mean things about your art, your appearance, or your mothering. Give yourself and others more grace. Do more “being” and less “fixing”. More breathing, less fretting. More receiving, less clutching. The world will tell you the way to be happy is to get more and keep more. To be truly happy, open your clenched hands to receive more. Allow yourself to be loved (by God, family, friends), then give love to others out of that strong, peaceful, secure, and centered place.
- There is no "perfect". There's no perfect decision, no perfect gallery, no perfect partner, no perfect child, no perfect YOU. As a believer in Christ, I have a deep and settled hope that all of creation will be remade at the end of time, and that the restoring that our hearts yearn for will finally be realized. But in the here and now, there's no perfect ______ (fill in the blank with whatever you want :) The sooner you and I can make peace with that, the more free we will be to embrace and enjoy the life that we have now.
Hope some of these were helpful for you; I know it’s helpful for me to come back to these things now and again. If you’d like to start a conversation about any of these things, you can shoot me an email at email@example.com ; I’d love to hear from you! 🤍