It’s that time of year again. We usually start each year with grand expectations of how we will improve ourselves this year, be it getting healthier, stopping a bad habit, giving more to other people, making that long-contemplated life change – and we often, either privately or publicly, resolve to follow through. When I was a regular gym rat (something I am determined to revisit this year, since my knee is pretty much fixed) I would get testy each January when I couldn’t find a parking spot at the Y, due to the influx of “resolvers” trying to get fit that particular year. I knew, though, that I only had to stick out the annoyance of having to park at the far end of the lot and trudge across the icy pavement for a few weeks, since it would be back to normal (nearly empty) by the beginning of March. Not that I’m judging, mind you – most of my resolutions were left in the dust by then as well. The only reason that I was able to stick with that particular vow was 1. The State was paying for my membership (a benefit to State workers at the time), 2. The Y was pretty much across the street from the park and ride, with a second branch within 2-minute walking distance from my office, so I could go on my lunch break or after work very easily, and 3. I truly enjoyed it. Generally, investment in ourselves is more likely when it’s convenient, cheap, painless, and easy. This year I’m resolving to do something inconvenient, expensive, uncomfortable and difficult for me.
I’ve spent a lot of energy through my life on the needs of others, especially my children, and I wouldn’t take any of it back. However, putting myself on the back burner has set me back in terms of the time it takes to reach my life goals, and has made me complacent and somewhat fearful of taking risks. The fear of failure is real, and sometimes debilitating. So I have been stuck at status quo, even though I long for something more. I’ve had many goals on my bucket list, aside from the usual travel wish list. Have a book published (I actually have three in the works), develop a set of oracle cards, devote more time and energy to my coaching business, focus on my art – the list is long. But turning 60 has brought a new sense of urgency to my life goals. What’s still doable this time around, now that I only have (unknown but more limited) many years left to accomplish my dreams? It’s a scary and daunting thought. It’s been weighing heavily on me.
So what do you do when you face a difficult journey? Take the first step.
Last year was a year of learning for me. I was growing dissatisfied with what I saw as “production work” – easily-digested pieces I did because I thought they would sell – and decided (with the support and encouragement of my life partner) to try to do more art for art’s sake. I looked around for classes in artistic techniques I personally loved, and would like to learn more about, and possibly specialize in. I bought online classes in making dimensional (thick and layered) portraits, landscapes and seascapes. Then I found out about Narcissus. Narcissus Quagliata is one of the masters of glass art. His artwork is world-renowned. And he’s now one of my instructors. Like me, Narcissus is feeling his age (he’s 20 years ahead of me), and, generously, is determined to impart the knowledge that he’s gathered through the years while he’s still able. I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, to benefit from this invaluable opportunity. The classes are more expensive than I ever thought I would spend on art classes – not my young-self chosen field of study, and what would for some people constitute a frivolous pursuit. The subject matter and techniques (focused on determining my own artistic voice and motivations) are way outside of my comfort zone, experience-wise, and requires a lot of work and time (and expensive glass). But I talked myself into it – “it’s an investment.”
I have invested thousands of dollars on education for career preparation – on college, law school, countless continuing education classes to keep up my licensure, licensing and other fees, and more. Now that I’ve decided to change my career, shouldn’t I do it with the same level of commitment, especially since the cost is peanuts compared to what came before?
“But… it’s … ART. Something our society doesn’t value as much as, say, law. And… what if I’m not good enough? What if I spend a lot of money to learn a technique and never sell a single piece of work? What if it’s a waste of money? What if I fail?”
Wow, how many times have we said that to ourselves? What we’re saying, essentially, is: “I’m not sure I’m worthy of the investment.”
Worth is in the eyes of the beholder. And, in many cases, our own eyes beholding what we see in the mirror are usually the harshest judges of our own value. I went to school, and spent a lot of money, thinking that I would make a good living as a therapeutic counselor, and then an attorney. My career stalled when I got married and had four babies in six years, which was itself a joyful realization of a long held life-goal – to be a Mom. After my divorce, I took and passed the Maine Bar exam, then took courses to learn mediation skills, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and became the Executive Director of a non-profit mediation center, which I also loved. But things changed, and I eventually put my legal education to work when I became an attorney for the State of Maine. It wasn’t what I expected. After three years of school and decades of telling people, “I’m an attorney” when they asked what I was, I realized that I really didn’t like it after all. I enjoyed the challenge of the work, but I’m not cut out for the personality of the profession.
Talk about an existential crisis! How do you suddenly, in your 5th decade of life, become… something else? I had a few really difficult years trying to figure out what was next – what did I “deserve” to do after (in my mind) squandering so much money and time doing something that it turned out was not something I wanted after all? Not to mention the guilt.
Did I deserve the time, money and energy it would take to start over, and do something that I loved that was more suited to who I had become over the years? (Note: to be honest, I’ve always been artistic, and longed for a different track off the beaten path. The career placement test I took in high school noted a marked suitability for a career in the arts, but there were expectations attached to intelligence that at the time I didn’t feel I could disregard, so I took a path that was more likely to bring me “success,” in my mind and in the minds of those who influenced my youthful decision making process – “you can’t make a good living in the arts”. Ironically, it took me 45 years to come full circle back to what I wanted in the first place…).
Thankfully, I am blessed with a partner (who appeared just in the nick of time, as it turned out) who is loving, supportive and generous, and changing careers at this point in my life was not as difficult as for most people – I wasn’t going to starve or freeze to death while I navigated the change. Had I tried to embark on this journey as a single Mom, it would have been impossible, so I understand the folks who are reading this saying – “this wouldn’t work for me.” The other piece of this is having enough trust in the Universe to take such a drastic leap, and at this point in my life, I’m ready to jump, knowing that the net will appear. In my experience, everything works out for the best. I’ve finally learned that an investment of time, money and energy is never wasted, and brings you to exactly where you’re meant to be. I’ve come to the place of understanding that, not only do I deserve this ability and journey to my true calling, I’ve earned it.
So this year I will embark on a journey to the authentic me. I have purchased a class in which il Maestro will work with me individually to help discover and establish my artistic voice and persona, and to develop techniques and blueprints to create art from start to finish, fearlessly and confidently. But most importantly of all, I’m hoping that the class will build my self-confidence, sense of competence, and self-esteem, and help me to deem myself “worthy” of the time, effort and money I’m investing in myself. This is the year I get what I deserve.
What will your investment in yourself look like?