How many times have you clamored, mid-stride, for a do-over? How many times have you wanted to hit the reset button before you see That Thing through to completion? How many times have you stopped yourself before you even gave yourself, or That Thing, a fighting chance? If you are being honest with yourself, you can probably name five instances before you get to the end of this paragraph. We are a nation of second-guessers. We question the haircut, the wardrobe choice, the date, the profession, the meal, the conversation…but most of all, it seems that we have a certain propensity for questioning ourselves and our abilities.
Given the nature of what I do for a living, I know that the Trust Spectrum is vast and people reside all along the X and Y axis. If there are areas of ambiguity and anxiety to be found, they tend to be most pronounced in the artistic, creative, and self-awareness realms.
Recently, I was teaching one of my Art Journaling classes. The emotional intelligence piece was about having the confidence to ask for what you want and need. The technical, artistic piece was an introduction to layers. As we created the pages, we layered one medium on top of the other: stamps, then paint over stamps, then stenciling over paint, then paper over stenciling, then more stamping on top of paper, then a layer of words and supporting thoughts. This can be a stressful process because you have to give yourself over, one layer at a time, and keep your thoughts and focus on the final outcome. If you allow yourself to think “micro” and get stuck on the perceived imperfection of a singular design element—you can cripple the process (and yourself).
Sure enough, no sooner had we touched the first layer of stamps to our blank pages when I hear the familiar, anxiety-ridden call of “Jeeeennnnnn.” Amidst the cacophony of a dozen teen and pre-teen girls, one voice stood out from the rest.
Quietly and tentatively, “Um, Jenn. (pregnant pause) I want to start over.” I responded with a firm, yet loving, “Not this time. This time we have to trust the process. You are going to have plenty of opportunities to fix whatever you think is not working.” Now, it is not lost on me that the EQ piece of that class was a discussion about asking for what you want—and this girl had the courage to ask for a do-over. However, in art class, as in life, asking does not always equate to a yes.
No sooner had we applied the paint layer over the stamps when I heard a more frantic plea: “Can I pleeeaaasseeee start over? You know I am a perfectionist and I promise I will catch up if you let me start over.” Once again, I responded with a gentle and loving “NO.” Once again, my mantra was that she would have to trust the process.
Layer by layer we went. The projects began to take shape. There was a lot of dimension on each page and each person’s personality began to shine through via different paint choices, the way they applied their paper, the stamps and stencils they chose, and the words they wrote. I was only asked one more time if it would be okay to start over, and then there was silence as my Beautiful Perfectionist gave herself over to the project. As she worked through her early mix of displeasure, anxiety, and paralysis, she became acutely aware that art mimics life (and vice versa); there are no mistakes in art, there are only opportunities for growth. When the projects were nearing completion, I walked over to her to see how she was doing, and guess what? She greeted me with a smile. I asked how she liked her page now that all of the elements were in place. “I love it,” she said, “I had no idea it would turn out this well.”
Truth be told, I knew all along she was going to be pleased. Because I know that taking risks boosts confidence, I forced her to keep going. Because I know that stepping out of your comfort zone is a massive self-esteem booster, I encouraged her to be uncomfortable for a few minutes. Allowing her to start over would have been robbing her of a lesson…and her self-confidence. It would have been echoing her internal dialog of not being enough. And, I just can’t allow anyone to feel as though they are not enough—not on my watch.
This is a perfect example of someone being afraid to start because they can’t fully envision the outcome. This is also a perfect example of beginning something from a disempowering place of fear, and then finishing from a fully empowering place of faith. Whether or not she knows it, it took tremendous courage to let go and put her faith in me. Forging ahead was an unequivocal act of bravery. At the end of class, I awarded her efforts with a smile, a high five, a big hug, and lots of verbal praise. But the REAL reward was her own personal satisfaction.
We have class again on Thursday. I think the emotional intelligence piece might be on the benefits of not only trusting the process…but also trusting yourself. More often than not, whether it is a relationship, a life decision, or a blank canvas, things tend to turn out exactly as they are supposed to if given time and space.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” ~Scott Adams