Thursday, 3 May 2018

Why you need to change the story you're telling

You'll never make it as an artist.

Those words jolted me from my daydream like a slap in the face.  

I was sitting in a small office at the back of the college art room in the middle of a tutorial.  It was stuffy and crammed with files and boxes and art materials.  Outside the window I could see trees and leaves moving in the wind, and there was the hum of distant traffic on the street below.  Outside, life went on as normal and my art tutor continued to talk, shuffling some papers and taking sips of her coffee.  

She didn't know she had just dropped a bombshell which had blown my dreams apart.

I sat frozen to my chair, feeling small and vulnerable, fighting the tears that threatened to spill, along with the sudden rush of panic, fear and embarrassment that enveloped me.  The tutorial ended, and she turned away to write some notes.  I didn't know what to do or think, I probably smiled politely and mumbled thank you - thank you for what? For pulling the rug out from underneath me? For destroying my self confidence?  For shattering my dreams?

I was eighteen years old, and those words created something that became my story for the next few years.  I no longer believed in myself and my abilities.  In those days, we were raised to respect our elders and believe what they told us - why wouldn't we? They were experts in their fields, it wasn't like it is today.  I never thought to challenge her and shout "You're wrong!" - I never thought to follow my calling despite what she had said, because I'd been told by someone in authority, an art lecturer, that I was no good.  Her words held weight, and I believed them.

And over time, I let those words shape me.  I let my paints gather dust, my sketch books lay untouched and slowly, insidiously, the rot seeped in and I stopped being an artist.  I turned my back on it all.  Her opinion became the only voice I heard, it crowded out my fragile sense of self belief, it crushed my hope.  It was a long time before I found the courage to paint again, and when I did it was the sweetest moment.  It was like coming home.  In the years that followed my life has been full of creativity, and I look back with sadness and tenderness at that young eighteen year old girl, who didn't have the confidence to listen to her own voice.

What are you not doing, or putting off because you don't believe you can do it?

Who, or what was it that stood in your way?

What happened in your life that stops you doing what you love now?  What story are you telling yourself that prevents you taking the next step? 

Unless it's completely life threatening or dangerous, then why are you still believing that you can't?

It's time to ask yourself if the story you believe is even still true.  For me, the feeling of not being good enough was numbing, but eventually the nudge to make art became too great to ignore.  I started tentatively painting again at home, then I did an evening class in Interior Design before going to University where I had superb art tutors who really encouraged me.  My self belief soared.  The trick is to take small steps - don't imagine that your first piece of work has to be gallery worthy, just make a date to get some colour onto paper, buy a beautiful skein of yarn, or make a mood board of things that inspire you.  Each step you take is a step in the right direction, you're changing your story every time you choose to say yes to what lights you up.

It doesn't matter what level of ability you are at either, deep down we all have a seam of creativity, a spark that comes alive when we tend to it.  I want you to think about what you enjoy or love, and what makes you feel excited and alive.  Now go and do it.  

One small step.

There are millions of ways to express ourselves, but believing we can't isn't one of them.  It's time to re-write your story and start again.

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