I sat on a gray carpet in the cool, windowless basement. I was in my sister’s house, looking at the pre-op papers scattered across the floor, on top of and underneath assorted tubes of oil paint, pastels, and my easel.
The headaches were horrible but I hid in the basement to escape from the quiet but suffocating anxiety of my loved ones in the rooms above my head. We were all waiting for my scheduled brain surgery at Mass General Hospital, hoping it would bring answers.
It was at that moment I let go of my perfectionism. Who cared about being perfect?! Dali is quoted as saying,
“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”
In that time before my surgery, wondering if I would die or go blind, I painted purely because I wanted to; I stopped thinking about whether it was good because I could feel time slipping away from me.
If this is all the time I have left, how am I using it?
After my surgery and full recovery I returned to teaching high school art. One day a colleague confided in me that he had survived cancer. I can still see him looking around to see if anyone was listening in on our conversation, like we were conspiring. He talked about how productive he was as an artist right after… how he let go and just made art.
Something lifted in that moment and all of the cultural rules we abide by fade as we connect with the things our heart calls us to do.
I felt seen.
It’s really easy to get caught up in the day-to-day things that fill our life. Equally so, it’s easy to get lost in time-wasting, mental-health harming games of endlessly scrolling through social media. OR, looking at endless YouTube art tutorials because that almost feels like making art, right?
Marie Forleo recently shared this stat during her promotion for her class called Time Genius: if you spend 30 minutes a day on social media, that means you are spending nearly 11,000 minutes a year on your phone. That’s 182 hours, or almost 8 DAYS. 8 DAYS!?!?!
I nearly gagged on my chocolate chip cookie when I read that. And I know I can spend way more than I should, much more than 30 minutes, on those platforms.
It got me thinking about my time in the basement and what I chose to do with my time when I had nothing left to lose.
What do you think is THE NUMBER 1 thing people tell me they wish that had more of for their art?
You guessed it.
Yes, we have lots of responsibilities (shout out to all the fellow caregivers out there). Yes, there are always chores to be done. Yes, our lives are full.
But I bet many of you also find time to mindlessly scroll through social media like I do. Every. Single. Day.
I love the power of the internet. I wouldn’t be here today, doing the work I do, without social media, the internet, and other technologies. But how mindful are we actually being with our time?
And is our time spent actually aligned with our values?
For me, this means I’ve stopped reading email and social media and news as the first act of my day. In the past I’ve set a timer while I’m on Instagram so I don’t get distracted and wonder where the past hour has gone. Especially since I could be using that time drawing, painting, or embroidering, or… you get the point.
And it has me asking a larger question: where else in my life am I ignoring or avoiding the time sucks that keep me from making more art?
It’s been over 15 years since my surgery and, for better or worse, that sense of freedom and urgency has faded. But, when I have work I want to do and perfectionism is trying to take hold and the siren of social media is calling my name, I try to bring myself back to that moment in the basement when I really understood the cliché “life is short.”
We don’t know how long we have left on the planet and I’m going to spend it doing the things that matter most, which include my art.
One legacy we leave is how we choose to spend our time living. That time spent says something about the life we led, the things and people we loved, and prioritized.
How do you plan to spend yours?
I’m currently conducting research to support Artist Strong’s community. I’m working to create resources and programming that helps self-taught artists go from feeling stuck in their studios, wondering what’s next for their art to having a plan of practice that helps them build their skill and develop their unique artist voice. They become excited and proud to share their original art with loved ones and begin to see themselves as artists.
If this is a transformation you seek, please choose a time for this 15 minute call below. This is not a sales call; I believe talking to people inside our community is the most valuable path to creating relevant resources for people like you.