It is so easy to feel like what I am doing is not enough, especially right now, a time when there is a lot of healing and change and action needed in the world. It is natural to feel so small and useless when the scale of the problems and suffering seem so large. Enter downward spiral of the mind: How can I help make the world a better place? What am I EVEN DOING? How is what I am doing even meaningful or useful at all? I spend a lot of my time working, but is my work serving anyone else but myself and my own enjoyment? Entering the dark side is a slippery slope these days if you’re not careful. This time, I hit a point where I seemed to convince myself that enjoying what I do for work is somehow bad (?!). Guilt is a powerful force.
The problem? A negative voice tries to make me believe that I am not a good enough person because my work isn’t directly healing people or helping anything that matters or saving the planet from ultimate destruction single-handedly. Trying to figure out where my guilt and confusion were coming from, I sat down and tried to transform my feelings into an overall negative statement – something written down so I could understand it better. This is what I came up with (warning, it’s ugly):
“Making design and paper goods is not of service to others, it is a self-serving form of pleasure to use my skills to do nothing but have fun and prove my worth to myself for the sake of my own self-acceptance and enjoyment. It is a way for my ego to thrive and nobody else benefits.”
Ouch! Do I actually feel this way? NO! What a terrible way to feel! You know how the mind just wants to make us suffer? It tells us “Hey you, yeah you, YOU are not good enough” as if it’s an automatic function of the mind. Actually, it is. Studies have shown that the ‘default state’ of the human mind, the state that is active when we are not intentionally directing our intention toward something, is powered by the parts of your brain that 1. think about the self, and 2. look for problems. It is no wonder we are so self-critical all of the time. I took an online course/lecture series on this topic called The Neuroscience of Self-Compassion (recommended to my yoga community by our amazingly supportive teacher), and it was eye-opening.
Anyway, through this process of journaling and unravelling, I realized that this super negative statement isn’t actually how I feel, but it is what sums up my FEARS in relation to my work and purpose. As in, I would hate it if that statement were actually true. It’s the same kind of fear as not being a good mom, a good person, a good anything. There is something to learn form this and I started paying attention. When I am self-critical, it is almost always fear-based. But the good news is this: the fact that I am feeling this unveils a deep truth, and that truth is “This is what I care about”. I wouldn’t feel this way if I didn’t care. Our fears reveal what we care about the most.
So, I did an exercise. I tried to transform my statement into a positive one, to realign and discover what it feels like my purpose is. Writing is a magical thing, it causes your mind to slow down and get things out that you may not be able to discover by just thinking about it since thoughts can be so racy when untamed. Through this negative-to-positive phrase transformation, I actually learned a few things about myself.
Here is my transformed positive affirmation I came up with:
“Creating thoughtfully made goods and artwork is something that does benefit others. I can help make the world a better place even on a small scale, which matters too. While my work is fulfilling for myself, my intention is the driving force behind it – to use my creativity to spread joy and simple beauty to other people. It is a way for my true self to connect with the world and it is a practice worth engaging in”.
I know now that my Negative Voice must just have high standards and was giving no credit to small gestures of kindness, acts of sharing, inspiring small personal – human – raw – loving connections when we need them the most, making things that encourage compassion and an appreciation of the Earth. Negative Voice forgot to examine my intention. Negative Voice says “You are no hero”. Positive voice says “You are doing enough, and small victories are special too”. I love my negative voice because it teaches me things, but it isn’t actually what makes up actual ME. Whatever that is, it’s far beyond my limited human comprehension, but I think I am grazing the surface just enough to feel comfortable.
I am happy I stepped out of the dark side and got productive doing some inner work. What is the purpose of being an artist here and now? Artists can make the world a better place on a big or small scale. Artists can be introverted in other areas, but visual art is a way of communicating and connecting with the world around us. Art makes the world a more beautiful experience. Art is expressive, personal, healing, natural, influential and necessary. Art can spread ideas. Art can bring people together. I can’t single handedly save the planet, but I CAN use my creative gifts to make things that will bring some kind of good to the world even on a really personal level, such as a meaningful, loving connection between people, or a human connection to nature.
Life is a gift exchange, and this is my gift. This is what I have to offer. It it is a small but beautiful thing, and I am thankful for every opportunity I have to share it.
XO + thank you for reading.