That was the strangest January I can remember.
I normally love the turn of the calendar. Such lofty goals! So much potential! A fresh start. A deep breath.
But this year’s optimism keeps getting battered by grim political news. Then a second later there’s big-hearted opposition in the streets, and now the airports. Fear-mongering is facing off with love-mongering, on the daily. It feels like a high-stakes tug o’ war contest. A battle for what and who is “most American.”
Am I the only one having trouble focusing on my day-to-day work?
More importantly, am I the only one whose work goals are shifting with each new set of presidential tweets? Didn’t think so.
I’m lucky, as a solo business owner, that I can redirect my efforts when the situation demands it. (Click here to read about Valentines for Our Vulnerable Neighbors, happening on Feb. 12th in my studio.)
Asking the Big Questions, Always
Last month I crunched year-end numbers to size up the state of my business. The whole point is to answer the broad question: How’d I do??
I actually enjoy swimming in the data for a few days, since I am my own accountant. It’s not just about money, although that’s important. I do want a sustainable business that pays the bills, after all. And I want to show others that being an artist doesn’t have to mean living in poverty.
But there’s so much more to my definition of success, that it begs a better question.
Looking Back, Big Picture-Style
To get into reflection mode, I used the Year-In-Review strategy of one of my favorite online mentors, Marie Forleo. I recommend watching her entertaining 8.5 minute video for the full scoop, but basically, she poses three prompts. The first is this:
What did I do, create, or experience this [past] year that I’m really proud of?
I paused the video to scribble answers in my notebook. The list kept growing, filling an entire page.
Here’s what emerged:
2016 was a breakout year for All Hands Art.
I’m not gonna lie! Against the backdrop of stomach-churning politics, All Hands Art got a bunch of really exciting stuff done. I don’t even want to be modest about it, because our accomplishments were a long time in the making.
They were the result of healthy collaborations built on trust. Of saying Yes to opportunities. Of more than fifteen years-worth of small steps forward.
Here’s another question, though: What exactly does “forward” mean?
Specific Stuff, and How it Gets Done Around Here
Now, my brain travels in spirals and loops far more often than in straight lines. So in case you’re imagining that I write out a list of resolutions each year and then set about methodically checking them off… haha, no. That’s funny, but no. I’ve already changed my mind six times about what this blog post was going to be about since the moment I sat down to write it!
That’s not how “forward” works for me.
While I love brainstorming and journaling about goals, mine live in a state of flux, and are prone to over-thinking, rejiggering, being forgotten, stopping, and re-starting down an alternate path. The things I actually DO accomplish are not necessarily the things I set down in my January resolutions. (Here is a good example of how this plays out.)
One Powerful Ingredient to Define “Forward”
I’ve found one ingredient, though—which I’ll tell you about in a minute—that makes the difference between lurching wildly in all directions, and taking incremental, methodical-while-sometimes-also-spontaneous steps in the right direction.
But before we get to that key ingredient, here are a few items from my “proud to have done it in 2016” list, if you don’t mind me bragging for a minute:
- I started a daily doodling practice. Nearly every morning I spend 30-60 minutes doodle-journaling whatever shapes and words are on my mind. Just for me. (I’d been wanting to start a daily art practice for years.)
- All Hands Art led several corporate team-building events—some involving doodling! (Also a years-long goal.)
- We took our mural-making show on the road, so to speak, leading projects in San Diego (500 miles/ a 9-hour drive away), and in the Dominican Republic (3500 miles/ 24 travel hours away). This, in addition to completing more murals in Oakland and the Bay Area than any previous year. (Traveling to make art? Been wanting to do it for years.)
- I started an All Hands Art YouTube channel, and have now published nine art-related videos.
I want to continue with all of these efforts.
But it’s that last one I’m highlighting today, making videos. Why? Because that was the biggest s-t-r-e-t-c-h for me, personally. It was also the least pre-meditated step, but might become the most important over the long haul. And I’m definitely in this for the long haul.
Bear with me while we zoom out.
Before we get to the videos, why they matter, and whatever that powerful ingredient is, here’s some more back story.
Things You Might Not Have Known About Me
- I was extremely shy as a kid. I cried turning four because I didn’t want the attention of everyone (meaning my family, at home) singing “Happy Birthday” to me. In 9th grade I started a presentation to the class by saying, “You don’t have to listen.” I was hoping they’d just talk among themselves so I could say my thing, unnoticed. Of course that backfired. Instead I muddled through, voice wavering, to a dead-silent room with all eyes riveted on me. Ugh. Torture!
- For years as an adult, I was a closeted artist. When I had my first art show at a local cafe in 2004, most of the people I invited did not even know I was interested in art. A week before the show, I was a heap of tears in the company of an experienced artist friend, as she helped me assign prices to my paintings. I still remember the feeling: so completely audacious and show-off-y to be putting my artwork on display for others to come look at! Like I was shouting Me! Me! Come look at ME! Yes, I very badly wanted to take that thrilling step of showing my work, but I was also mortified and completely out of my element. Fortunately I calmed down in time to enjoy the opening reception, which was well attended and well received.
- I’m an introvert. (Duh.) INFP if you’re into personality types. While I can be very sociable and adept at leading big groups, when I get home I kinda need to break up boxfuls of tile with a hammer, or putter in my studio for 3 hours to decompress. And if I have too many “lead big group” events in a row, I’m gonna get cranky and off-balance, and need even more alone time. I honestly don’t know how I survived as a classroom teacher for nearly 20 years!
With all this in mind, now enter the magical motivator. Drumroll, please!
That powerful ingredient that helps me define “forward” in nearly every situation? That helps me decide if projects are worth pursuing? That filters out the noise of too many possibilities? That shifts my priorities now and then?
Ta-da! That’s it. Just Purpose.
Now, by nature, I am a Constant Seeker Of Purpose In Everything. My life is one continual quest for the answer to the questions, “Why was I put on this earth?” and “Am I doing what I’m most suited for?”
If you’re one of those people who knew your purpose at age 5 and have steadfastly zeroed in on it ever since, kudos to you! Just understand that for some of us it’s a decades-long pursuit.
And I’m happy to report that, finally, my answers are clearer than ever. This is huge news!
And it’s enough to get me, voluntarily and repeatedly, in front of a video camera making or talking about art, despite 1. 2. and 3. above. Who woulda thunk it?
Unpacking Purpose: the Why and the What
Art makes the world better, and we all benefit from the practice of art-making. Period.
Knowing my why makes it much easier to figure out the day-to-day what. So let me proclaim my what, or my purpose:
I want to get as many regular ‘ole “I-don’t-see-myself-as-an-artist” people involved in making stuff as I can. I want to push all of you aspiring (and often so good at hiding) artists to the next level in your journey. I want art spaces and experiences to be welcoming, inclusive, big-hearted, and community-minded. I want to make the world a more peaceful, beautiful place through sharing and encouraging art-making.
That’s it! The earth didn’t shatter, but something even better happened: I figured out which way is Forward.
Forward is Beautiful! I love Forward.
Forward = anything that moves me in the direction of my purpose-filled goals. For example:
Forward = initiating community mural projects that attract an assortment of random beginners and soon-to-be-artists, which might include you.
Forward = leading team-building events that engage unsuspecting participants (perhaps you and your colleagues?), guiding you to slow down, step off the workworkwork treadmill, fire up a different side of the brain, and surprise yourselves with the results.
Forward = offering workshops/playshops/makeshops that encourage you to playfully experiment with art materials. And to use your creative voice to heal the world.
Forward = publishing how-to videos that demystify things for you like How to Start a Painting, even though, frankly, it would be easier and more comfortable for me not to make those videos. Still, being on camera lets me practice articulating my philosophy and ideas out loud, prepare for public speaking opportunities, and plan the video-based online course I’m developing to help nudge more of you to the next level in your creative journey. (Stick around to hear more about that in upcoming months!) All of that feels very purpose-full.
Forward = taking these creative risks out in the open, even when they’re not polished or pretty. Every video, public art project, class, and workshop is a scary and messy endeavor. And also life-affirming and wonderful and necessary.
Talking openly about, and showing the process of art-making in action is my way of inspiring you to create your own art- and purpose-filled life.
Because I really, really want you to make stuff. Regularly. Make “making stuff” a priority, would you please? For the sake of the rest of us.
It doesn’t matter what you make—furniture, music, wedding cakes, poems—I just want you to create. Interact with the materials around you. Roll the clay around in your hands, roll the words on your tongue, and on the page. Turn things upside-down. Find out what happens if…? Wonder about it, then try it out.
Art is how we will heal our world. Believe me, it’s hard to stay angry when you’re doodling.
A Recent Daydream—Indulge Me?
I had a bizarre fantasy the other morning. For a few moments, I imagined our president, #45, sitting down and making a paper collage. There he was, contemplating images, shapes, and colors. Reflecting. Being silent and alone with his thoughts. I could not picture him doing this with the normal scowl on his face, so I saw his brow relax. He had to put his phone down and use both hands to cut and paste the pictures. He forgot to look at himself for a few minutes, because he got lost in his project. He stopped wondering what everyone was saying about him, because right then it didn’t matter. All that mattered were the colors, shapes, images, and their meaning. He seemed at ease. Almost happy. Even his hair dropped its pretense.
Then to this scenario, I added some congressional leaders and cabinet nominees. Serious men whom you rarely see smiling. Do they know how to enjoy life, I wonder? It felt almost ridiculous to imagine them crafting with their hands, or making music, but I tried. I wished for them some imaginative freedom and playful relaxation. Permission to be silly in a harmless way.
Super weird, right? But we can always dream.
Then, Lovely Reality
Now contrast this mind-bending scenario with events that happened in real life: the Women’s March on Washington, and the many, many Sister Marches around the globe. Plus the numerous peaceful demonstrations since January 20th.
What do you see in the streets? Hand-made everything! Crocheted and knitted and felted and sewn hats on so many heads.
And the signs! Oh my goodness, the thoughtful and beautiful and hilarious hand-painted signs (and yes, some angry ones). Cleverly turned phrases. Heartfelt pleas. Playfulness. Longing. Hope. Humor. Irreverence. Connectedness with each other. Support for the most vulnerable among us. Resistance to the new administration’s fearful and xenophobic and reckless policies.
Love of humanity.
Ideas that travelled from brains to cardboard, via fingers.
That’s what gives me hope. We are more creative than our fear.
So, did I do that on purpose?
I hope my answer will always be, “Yes!” Everything I do, in business and in life, is meant to be on purpose.
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Purpose loves company! Please chime in below and tell me how recent events are re-shaping your actions and your purpose. And encourage a friend by forwarding this post.
Also join me to make Valentines for our most vulnerable Muslim neighbors (info here). Hope and art love company as well. 🙂