Celebrate Your Actions, Not Your Awards

I was talking with my friend the other day about working on longtime projects and how the day-to-day process can be grueling.  You see the end goal in the distant future, but it always seems just out of reach.  But what is the end goal really?  Is it the praise you receive or could it be something else?

I think it is important to celebrate the act of finishing.  This is quite an achievement in and of itself.  You would be surprised to know just how many people never actually finish what they start, especially when it comes to a longer project.

Why don’t we finish?  There are lots of excuses.  We’re too busy, we’re bored with it, we’ve changed direction, we no longer have the resources, and on and on.  But there really is just one reason: we’re scared.  We don’t want to know what the end result will be.  We’re worried we’ll fail.  That our project won’t turn out as we imagined.  If we stop now, we’ll never have to taste failure…or success, whatever that is.

So for those brave souls that push through these fears and frustrations and make it to the end, I say THIS is the victory.  This is the accomplishment for which we should be so proud.  Celebrate those actionable steps you take, each and every one, regardless of the outcome.  And then see how you feel.  You might be surprised to find that you want to take more steps.  That you’re motivated by simply finishing.  That you become more confident in your ability to make decisions and carry them out.

Typically I think we only find ourselves celebrating after we receive a prize or praise for finishing our project.  If we win an award for our submission to a writing contest, we celebrate.  If we get a promotion at work, we celebrate.  If we lose five pounds, we celebrate.

But what is the true accomplishment?  Is it winning the award, or is it finishing the work and having the courage to submit?  Is it being recognized and selected for a promotion, or is it being motivated to do our best at work and actually enjoying what we do for a living?  Is it losing weight, or is it having the strength to adopt a healthier lifestyle and commit ourselves to an exercise routine every day?

If we only celebrate our awards, we run the risk of never being satisfied with ourselves or our lives unless we receive awards.  Also, we tend to simply want more and more, almost like a drug.

On the other hand, if we celebrate our actions, we take pride in ourselves regardless of whether the outside world recognizes our value.  Then if we receive recognition, it’s just icing on the cake.  But meanwhile, we don’t internalize it as much, because we’re already back at the wheel taking action once again.  We’re not caught up in our successes or failures.  We’re free to simply live, experiment, try, push ourselves even further.

So start celebrating the act of finishing without awaiting judgement.  Don’t wait for others to deem your work worthy.  Don’t wait for an arbitrary award to be handed out.  Give yourself a reward right now for simply being brave enough to take a chance and act.

Practicing Patience: Favorite Inch by Favorite Inch

watercolor collage painting

Let’s start with an exercise, shall we?  “Breathe in trust.  Breathe out fear.  Breathe in trust.  Breathe out fear.”

What does this teach us?  To calm down.  To be in the moment.  To practice PATIENCE.  But why?

Making art is a lengthy process.  I should know.  This particular piece took 10+ hours and several class periods to complete.  At times, it looked so abstract that I feared nothing would come of it.  But as fellow artists know, once you’re in the middle of a project, you only have two choices.  Quit to avoid failing (which actually translates to an automatic failure) or continue on the path and see how it turns out.  I chose the second option because I’m just stubborn like that 😉

The process of watercolor collage painting involves dyeing handmade paper using liquid watercolor paint.  Then you have to let each piece dry.  Meanwhile you sketch your scene.  Then you painstakingly glue each colored piece to your paper using matte gel medium.  You can’t be sure if you’ve colored enough pieces for each section.  Also be aware that your hands will become dyed and glued very easily!  All you can do is trust the process.

What can I say?  The end result was satisfying.  But is that always the case?  Sometimes you reach your destination after a lot of hard work to find a breathtaking sight.  Other times, you feel discouraged by your work.  You may also feel like it goes unappreciated.  But patience and perseverance are always the keys.

“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” — Hal Borland

If you don’t feel up to it, try this exercise:  “Find your favorite inch.”  I learned about this at a recent workshop at the Mazza Museum for children’s illustration in Findlay, OH.  One of the speakers mentioned that when you’re feeling down about your art, search for your favorite part inside a piece of art.  You can also use this exercise when viewing art at a museum or gallery as a learning tool.  There must be one part you’re satisfied with in your work.  It could be an interesting line or angle, a character’s expression, a unique color.  Something is always working in a painting.  It is your job to find it, which can be extremely difficult when self evaluating.  Once you identify your sweet spot, work from that.  Think of it as a stepping stone.  Achievement always begins with a single step.  In this case, a single brush stroke.

Let’s review:  Breathe in Trust; breathe out fear.  Practice patience.  Find your favorite inch.

And when all hope is lost, just remember:

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” — Harriet Tubman

As the new year approaches, keep reaching!


How to Embrace “Failure”

I came across a wonderful quote just in the moment I needed it most (after a critique).  The question on my mind is: How do you know when you’ve got it right?

“He is able who thinks he is able.” –Buddha

Go forth with that wisdom and I promise you will move mountains, mostly because you put the mountains there yourself.