Thursday, 22 February 2018

3 Things I've Learnt In 30 Years

1. Perseverance is the most important quality needed to reach your goals.

Social media has a habit of only showing us the end result - the book deal, the famous blogger, the shop launch, the music video. The virality of the internet would have us believe that we just need one thing to be picked up by the media, and then we can relax as we bask in successes and opportunities. And for a small group this might be true, but when look back at my years of struggling to become an illustrator, I can appreciate that it was my perseverance that paved the way for me. It was the the small everyday action of showing up at my desk and painting, it was the planning and learning and experimenting on a daily basis. For most, there wont be one pinnacle moment or action that led to their success but rather a succession of small actions, which can span across years and even decades in order to reach a goal.

If this seems tedious, then you might be stuck on the idea of a quick fix. I admit that for a while I was trapped in this mindset too. Every video I made, I hoped would lead to thousands of new subscribers, but when it only generated a trickle I was disappointed. I started to get discouraged, and yet there was something that told me to keep going. It's the same with painting. Now I'm at peace knowing that my success wont come suddenly. It's always been slow, maybe it's meant to be so.

For me, learning that I can rely on perseverance has been a weight off my shoulders. It takes the pressure off needing to create a masterpiece every time I paint, and instead I see it as an opportunity for growth. It's putting one foot in front of the other to reach a goal, but remembering to look around you as you do.

2. Know the difference between pushing and punishing yourself.

I spent a few years after graduating sleeping badly, eating poorly, exercising rarely and sitting hunched on a ridiculous see-through plastic chair whilst I painted long into the night. The repercussions were a coccyx injury that took a year to heal and the probability of a lot of teeth cavities (of which I am still too scared to investigate). I was suffering for my art, and the only reason that I didn't cause more harm to myself was the fact I was in my early twenties and my body had the semi-indestructible quality of youth.

However, the most serious damage I did to myself during this time (and before this too) was to my mental health. I've always been someone who has struggled with low self esteem. Less so now, but since I was a teenager I have always put myself down. My old diaries are actually pretty upsetting - I was forever calling myself stupid and uncool and worthless and ugly. Before I knew it, I was transferring this inner monologue to my work ethic too.

If I painted something badly, I would be angry at myself for wasting time. I would see it as proof that I was never going to make it. And in turn I would punish my body for this failing, by not taking a break, by working until the early hours to try to prove to myself that I could produce something decent.

Now I see how damaging my behaviour was, but at the time I thought I was simply pushing myself to reach my goal. But the difference is one's attitude. I'm not perfect at this, but I try to treat myself kindly, even when I'm working really hard on something. I try to notice when I'm putting myself down, when I'm spiralling into negativity, and I don't let it consume me. This doesn't work every day, and if I'm unable to beat the self doubt, I stop working for a while.

I don't let self-deprecation become a part of the process, because it doesn't have to be.

3. Patience is peaceful.

As I get older I am noticing more and more that what I am searching for is peace. After a decade of intense mental noise during my twenties , dealing with anxiety and self esteem issues and worries about my career, I am rather exhausted. I'm hoping to explore more of this in my thirties, and a great starting point for me has been dealing with my impatience.

Impatience is the annoying offshoot of ambition. You have a goal in your head, and it is so tempting and wonderful that you start wondering how much longer you'll be able to wait for it.

Luckily, impatience is quite easy to quell. As cheesy as it's sounds, it's all about enjoying the present, and the journey too.

It's easy for me to say this with hindsight; I've reached the only real goal I've set myself so far in life, to become a freelance illustrator. I now know, with hindsight, that the goal comes with it's downsides, as with most things in life. Nothing is perfect, not your career, not your home, not your relationships.

Once we stop idealising the goal, and simply accept it as something that will happen eventually, we give ourselves a chance to enjoy the present and all of the tiny steps it takes to reach the destination.