A few years ago, I was in Arizona with some of my clients. We were on a company-sponsored trip together enjoying all kinds of new and adventurous experiences. We had the privilege of going to an artist’s studio for painting lessons. This artist was amazing! I have always admired that gift… to paint onto a canvas what the heart and mind can see. So we had a small canvas and a palette of paint and it was time to start painting! Exciting, huh? Well, right out of nowhere came some pretty nasty insecurities and fear! I was terrified. It took me by surprise! All of my insecurities about being perfect showed up! I was blocked and I felt inadequate and I was anything but artistic! I questioned whether I should even try. Save the canvas for someone who could paint something beautiful on it! I actually had that thought.
Hearing it now, it seems silly. But I bet if you were really honest with yourself, there are parts of your life where you do the same silly thing. Right?
Sometimes, it’s in the strangest places that we discover our need to be perfect . This art studio was my place! I slowly and carefully applied small strokes of paint onto the canvas. About the time I began to relax into it, she said we could start mixing colors! Oh my goodness! My heart began to race with anxiety. I had no idea how scared I was of doing something wrong. All the joy and excitement and adventure of trying something new, all the passion and possibilities of learning how to paint, all the confidence I am used to having was simply GONE! But I kept applying layer after layer of paint to this little canvas, painting over all my insecurities and beliefs that I’m not good enough. I painted over my insecurity one stroke at a time. But all the way through to the end, all that I felt was FEAR of getting it wrong. FEAR that it would be ugly. FEAR that everyone else would be doing it better than me. FEAR I would not be good enough. FEAR that I’d discover something I just couldn’t do, and I didn’t like that at all.
It was profound to see how quickly I could lose my confidence. But still, I continued to paint and follow the instructions from our art teacher. As the afternoon project went on, I felt myself letting go of my fear. I felt myself feeling excited about what I was seeing on this canvas! I felt myself letting go of trying to be a good artist, and just let myself be artistic. There is no such thing as the word ‘perfection’ in an artist’s studio! As a matter of fact, artists love imperfection! They make an art out of it!
What do you do when you are invited to try something brand new? Do you dive in head first without giving it a second thought? Good for you! Or, are you like me and you withdraw? Get nervous? Anxious? Scared? Are you cautious? Do you retreat or make excuses about why you can’t do it? What is something that you want to learn to do, or to try, but your fear is holding you back? Is there something in your business that stops you because you don’t feel confident? Is there a business you’d like to create but you won’t, because you don’t feel you know enough? Action brings clarity, so I invite you to take action. I want to share a few tips with you so you can tap into your courage and paint a bigger picture of your life! You know, the life that lives inside that safe little box? Yea, that one!
1. Breathe past your fear. By the time I ran into my fear, it was too late. I was already in the art class, butt in seat. I didn’t have any idea that my fear would show up and be so intense. I was just there, in front of all these women that I coach week after week to be brave! How could I let a little palette of paint and a blank canvas bring me down? So I began talking deep breaths and baby steps.
2. Observe others who are successful at what you’re learning to do. When my fear rose and my anxiety kept growing, I stopped to watch how others were painting. Some were relaxed and tuned into nothing but the canvas and their paint. Some were light-hearted and laughing as they painted JOY onto their canvas. Some where quietly following directions, maybe feeling as scared I was. Each person taught me that I could do this, and that it didn’t have to be perfect – it was ART!
3. Don’t get stuck. It was easy to stop painting entirely and just watch everyone else. I loved learning and observing how they were painting their canvases. I was safe in observation mode. But I knew I had to get into action! Every time I stopped to watch others interact with their paint, I got inspired but it wasn’t until I painted another brush stroke of desert sand onto the canvas that I broke the escalation of fear. But I noticed I was hanging out there a little too long! I used my need to learn as a way to avoid being in action! There comes a point when you have to leave the research and learn observation tower and go apply what you know to what you’re trying to do. Get onto the playing field. Get messy. Make mistakes. Take chances! Just don’t get stuck. Action brings clarity, every single time.
4. Ask questions. Ask yourself or ask someone who is an expert whatever you need to ask. I began getting little tips about how to paint, and I realized that knowledge is power! I felt more and more powerful. And, because I could hide out in the ‘ask question’ place, I made an agreement that for each question I asked, I had to apply what I learned before I could ask another question.
5. Notice your safety zone and boundaries. I never colored outside the lines that day. That felt like a sure ticket to failure, or so I thought. But for this first piece of art that I was creating, staying inside the lines gave me structure and some assurance that my painting wouldn’t be horrible. We need to have boundaries to feel safe, especially when we are trying something new. Maybe one day I’d gather up enough confidence to step outside the lines and be outrageous, but on that day, just painting within the lines was already a big leap! No need to borrow trouble and create more drama within myself. Don’t try to do something so big that it just gives you evidence that you can’t and shouldn’t try new things. That’s self-sabotage! Start out small and stay within the boundaries so you get a success out of it!
6. Celebrate your courage! Don’t judge your result. This is a big deal for a lot of my clients. It was a biggie for me the day I learned to paint. We often compare ourselves to others and that is a recipe for a sure confidence buster. In truth, my painting didn’t look natural. It looked like a color-by-number painting… it looked safe. It was recognizable as a desert landscape, but the lines were distinct and harsh and I could have spent an entire afternoon in judgment over how much better everyone else’s painting was than mine, but instead, I chose to celebrate the fact that I pushed through some fear and allowed myself to be creative on a canvas! I was an artist! I successfully tried something new that I wasn’t going to be the best at, and I had fun!
The best part of this story came when our instructor walked by my table and saw me struggling to put clouds in my sky. There were no lines on the canvas to follow because I had already painted the sky. Clouds are not thick and solid and easy to fill-in-the-blank objects, they are light and puffy. I watched others and got really stuck in my fear again. Our instructor picked up my canvas and dotted my brush into white paint and began effortlessly dotting paint onto the canvas and painting a perfect cloud! “Here… now you do it,” she said! FEAR! There it was again! And then she said something to me that is still to this day, changing my life! She said, “Jenny, be brave with your paint. If you don’t like how it turns out, you can paint over it and try again!” Wow. Artistic Imperfection! What a concept! So I began being brave with my paint, on that canvas, and in my life! I jumped out of an airplane and I went to New York City to learn how to publish a book! I created a business plan that reflects some hefty goals for myself. I planted a garden hoping that I’ll actually have some fresh produce this summer, instead of dried up neglected plants! And I learned how to forgive, perhaps one of the bravest things I’ve ever had to do!
So go be brave with your paint. Whatever your gifts are, I hope you are putting them to good use! I hope you are brave and colorful and painting a beautiful life onto your canvas. If you don’t like how something is, change it! If you’re staying safe within the lines, but it’s getting you unstuck, GREAT! When you’re ready, paint outside the lines. Be creative when solving a problem or facing obstacles.
I brought my little piece of art home with me and framed it. But first, I had to do something that would anchor my breakthrough! I took a black permanent marker and I wrote across the sky, “TODAY IS AN EMPTY CANVAS, BE BRAVE WITH YOUR PAINT!” It’s my reminder to live large and face my fears and create a beautiful life using my gifts and talents each and every day! It never ceases to amaze me when I see how incredibly rich life is! Full of opportunities to grow and learn, even if we have to get messy and dirty while we do it! This week, I hope you’ll try something new and let your creative side come out to play! Go be brave with your paint!