We have recently finished renovating 3 old cabins on Mystic Waters. After a dramatic search for the water connection for one them (it’s a long story), the basics are mostly done. Now it’s time to make them beautiful. The walls really need to be dressed up – and seeing my old art through new eyes has unleashed a whole fresh burst of ideas and creativity. It’s also reminded me of how easy it is to forget what makes me strong.
My husband suggested I frame some of my original art and hang it. My first thought was this: “What a dumb idea. I don’t have anything that is frame-able.” My assumption was pretty simple. When a painting is “frame-worthy”, I frame it and either sell it or hang it. My stubborn desire to always be right kept me from doing anything with this for a while…and then my curiosity got the better of me.
It started with me in the studio, opening drawers looking for something else. In one of the drawers that almost never gets opened, I found a big brown envelope. When I pulled it out, I found the above picture.
I had forgotten that I could do this. The part of me that came out of hiding to produce this piece went back under-cover almost immediately all those years ago.
Finding this drawing stuffed away in a drawer reminds me that art - or any other expression of ourselves - is more about the willingness to be real and be seen and to risk not being liked than it is knowledge and technique.
When I was young, my mother -an art major in college – taught me how to sketch portraits. She helped me learn to see the proportions, and most importantly, to understand that the eyes are NOT at the top of the oval, but in the middle.
Just because I knew HOW to draw did not mean that I could bring myself to risk the critique of showing WHAT I would sketch
So 30+ years ago, I sketched this and put it away, only to find it all these years later. Now my curiosity was piqued. What else is hiding in here?
And in the next hour, it was like I had entered a whole new world. My eyes began to see differently.
In that same drawer, I found one of my earliest paintings from my “watercolor era” which started around 2002. An older, gentler version of me was able to give that painting a loving critique and then a slight makeover. By adding some depth to the trees, a “drawer painting” became frame-worthy.
Still needing MANY more paintings to fill those walls, I started pulling out more drawer discards. Having opening my mind to the possibility of bringing 16 years of experience and the courage to screw it up, I started having some serious fun.
One of my favorite reclamations started with a frame mixed with desperation and a big dose of seeing everything through the eyes of possibility. I had been storing a square frame for years and had never painted a square painting. It’s just a weird proportion. With my new found courage, I pulled out several old paintings that were too big for the frame. Then I started experimenting with finding the best part of the picture:
Just putting a frame on this made it a better painting in my eyes. Here’s the original:
Now I had a choice to make. Which part would I reclaim, knowing that the rest of the painting would be scrapped? I was feeling kind of reckless, so I made my choice and got to work. I figured the worst that could happen was that a long forgotten painting would simply move from the bottom of the drawer to the trash. It’s just paint and paper, I thought.
If only it were that easy. In reality, working with this painting was pretty uncomfortable at times. Once I decided this was going to become a “good painting”, I got more invested in the outcome. Seeing with new eyes quickly triggered the old patterns designed to keep me safe and keep me small.
I started wondering “will it be enough?”, which quickly morphs into the question “am I enough?” Dammit. It’s just an experiment with paint and paper!
I talked myself into having fun with it – and after letting go of a good outcome, I’m pretty happy with the final outcome:
The differences are mostly subtle – I just brought out the parts of the painting that were already interesting. I strengthened what was already there. I reframed what was so -so and made it frame-worthy. It is still full of “mistakes” and imperfections – and those are part of what makes it good.
The painting was enough. With new eyes and a new frame, it is now unleashed.
This experience has reminded me – once again – that we are enough too. Where do we need to find the courage to screw it up and make mistakes? What will it take to bring our true selves out of hiding? How can we learn to be real and confident in who we are at the same time? Where can we see ourselves with new eyes and a new frame? Where have you forgotten what you are truly capable of?
Your strength is already there.
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Last week I did a short workshop with the McDowell County Chamber of Commerce to kick off a Woman in Business Series. Our topic? Using Fear to Thrive and Grow. These courageous women tackled the topic of fear in a profound way. Fear is an interesting topic – because it’s like eating. We need fear to survive, just like we need to eat to survive. And like eating, we can overdo fear, becoming bloated with woulda, coulda, shoulda instead of living the big life we are meant to live.
Every single woman in this session had a story of doing something big and important in the face of fear. Some of these actions involved physical danger – like jumping out of an airplane. Others involved following her own spirit instead of falling prey to “what will people think?” And some involved speaking truth to power, where the danger was more political than physical.
Since that session, I’ve been corresponding with some of those women and reflecting a lot more on how fear can help us learn and grow. Here is what I’m learning.
You don’t jump out of an airplane without some training. You start with some level of skill and then continue to build on that until you are ready to do a tandem jump, and eventually, with enough skill, you do a solo jump. Skilled skydivers do all kinds of things a newbie would never dare to try. Me? Not interested in jumping out of a perfectly good airplane! (Nor do I want to get over that kind of fear!) I would rather fly them.
When I was in pilot training, my first flight had me to do the takeoff, flying around and landing, with the instructor in the right seat of the plane. Even though I had a lot of fear and no skills. You can bet he wouldn’t hand me the keys to the plane without him being in there! He gave me the illusion of control and it was exhilarating. It made me want to learn to fly – which was the point of giving me the challenge of being in the left seat. The key was the support of having someone in the right seat who could fly the plane – and more importantly get us out of any trouble I got us into.
As my flight training advanced, I came to learn that flight instructors train specifically to handle rookies, who are probably scared or sometimes too cocky. They learn to do everything from the right seat, which is very different than the perspective of the left seat. While it can be very scary to turn an airplane over to abject beginner, they are trained for it.
So if I had accidentally gotten our airplane into a stall the very first day I flew, the instructor was trained to get us out of it. Would he have been scared? Probably not, because it is a maneuver he had done successfully so many times. Was I scared the first time we intentionally stalled the airplane? Heck yeah! Was I scared after doing many times? Not as scared, because I eventually learned to do it without being totally freaked out.
If fear is stopping us from doing something we would like to do, we need to build our skills to deal with the fear.
First, we have to acknowledge that we even have fear. Take the idea of speaking truth to power. This is not an impossible task. Somebody has spoken truth to power before. They did it knowing they could be fired. They did it knowing that the person in power might get mad. They did it while being aware that they may not be listened to. All of that is ok. The point is to learn to say what needs to be said, to not let fear stop us.
Fear almost stopped me from learning pottery. I tell that story in this video (which also includes our drawing for who wins the mug in today’s drawing!
Fear can help us thrive and grow. It points us to our personal edge of discomfort.
When we reach that place, we have a choice. We can either turn back and say – nah, I wanna be comfortable. I want to feel secure in what I know, I would rather be really good in my sandbox instead of learning to play at the beach or swim the ocean. Or we can move forward and decide to learn and grow.
We can seek the skills needed to help us navigate the “discomfort zone”. We can take a risk and act while being scared.
Where is your discomfort zone? Do you have more fear in physical danger, or social and relationship situations? What do you do to overcome your fear?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I want to learn from you!
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Washing windows during spring cleaning, I was feeling all happy and proud that I found a perceived shortcut using my new microfiber rags. Cleaning the windows seemed as simple as wiping them down. No visible streaks at all. Until there was light. Once the sun shown on the “clean” windows the next morning, streaks and spots covered the entire surface. In the light of day, it was evident that the windows fell far short of clean. It simply took the feedback of the sun to reveal the shortcomings.
It became apparent to me that the only way to truly get windows clean is to have the feedback of good light. No matter the technique, if you can’t see what you are doing with the sun shining through, the windows will always have some spots and streaks. Now I am not some clean window perfectionist. But I did come to the conclusion that cleaning windows without truly looking at them will leave me with windows no one wants to look at-especially in the light of day.
There was a time when I wanted only one kind of feedback. It looked something like this: “That was great!” or “You were wonderful!” When I first learned to facilitate programs in my banking days, we handed out evaluation sheets where participants could rate us 1 to 5 on a variety of factors. I liked getting all “A’s”. My schooling had programmed me to want “A’s” and a 5 rating brought back lovely memories of being a good student.
When I decided I wanted to be better, however, the “good grades” left me wanting. What exactly could I do better? Where could I have been clearer? What would have helped the people in the room better grasp the topic? How could I be more effective in achieving the goal? As a result, I began to crave real feedback. Growth could only happen if I learned what was effective and what was still lacking. Like my windows, I needed the light to be shown on my “streaks and spots” in order to continue getting better.
Since that experience, I’ve begun to seek real feedback…light of day feedback… the kind of feedback that helps me perform better even if it stings at bit or reveals the streaky spots. What made this possible? What if someone “hurts my feelings?” Inch by tiny inch, I’ve come to realize that I am not my skills, actions or even thoughts. I can choose not to get my feelings hurt. I can choose to assume positive intent. My performance can become better; who I am as a person is off limits to feedback or comment. That part of me is just fine, thankyouverymuch.
I’m still learning that feedback helps me improve, and that I don’t need to take things personally. It sounds so simple in theory. It’s the journey of a lifetime in practice.
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Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email firstname.lastname@example.org
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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