I’m a goal-oriented girl. I love me some serious, flashy results. And I always have.
If a project isn’t going to have a tangible outcome that moves my life forward, I really struggle with the motivation to do it. I’ve been like this all of my life. On the one hand, this extreme results orientation has kept me moving. On the other hand, it’s also held me back.
Take my painting, for example.
Painting, for me, is a first love. It also doesn’t really have any tangible results—like money or recognition.
As a free-spirited child, I hated being taught how I “had” to paint. I rebelled against the methods and techniques of the different schools of painting. But the results of this free-spirit approach are that I paint for myself, and to give gifts to friends, but don’t paint seriously enough to make it a profession or even a side income. I’m not even sure what my style of painting really is!
I paint to express myself. Period. I’ve come to accept that it’s perfectly okay.
But for a long time, it wasn’t okay at all.
As a mindset coach working with creative women, I often hear women say that if their creative efforts aren’t going to bring them an income or new opportunities, they struggle to justify their worth. Some women also say that painting to express their souls just feels too vulnerable. What if what they are painting reflects poorly on what’s going on inside them? What if it brings down upon them the judgment that has been heaped in the past by people who are insecure themselves?
Both of these ideas have floated through my mind at various points. But for me I don’t think they’re the real issue about why, in the past, I struggled to just relax and enjoy painting.
For me, the hold-up was my fundamental resistance to the idea that I could do something just because I enjoyed it.
This idea wasn’t super popular in my home growing up. My parents both encouraged my creativity, and I do believe my dad did so from a place of wanting me to be happy and free. But for my mom, my creativity was a means to an end. I needed to use it my “ministry” someday in order to justify the expense (ministry meaning non-profit church work, for those not inducted into the term). Later in my life, she pointed out that she had scrimped and sacrificed for me to have lessons in all manner of creative arts, including painting and music.
But she hadn’t made this sacrifice so that I could enjoy a life full of self-expression. She had done it so that I could be a good worker in the church. This became apparent when I continued my self-expression purely to enjoy myself as a young adult… and faced a lot of raised eyebrows about the time I was wasting.
My creativity, I quickly discovered, was viewed as a means to an end. Not as an end in itself.
For a long time I thought this was the proper perspective, and I struggled to conform to it.
It’s taken me years to sort through this damaging perspective and recognize all the ways it permeated (and constrained) my life. As a young woman I literally laid aside practices like painting that I dearly loved, because I thought it was time for me to take up serious work for God. Looking back, I send only compassion to that dear girl I was. She sincerely wanted her life to count for something bigger than herself—not realizing that in sacrificing herself and the free expression of her desires gifts, she was sacrificing the very material she had with which to make a difference.
It took me years to untangle that web of lies and realize that my deepest delights in life (like painting) didn’t have to result in any other end than my own enjoyment. I also finally realized that when I focused on enjoying those pursuits fully for me, I was not only more delightful for others to be around, but the fruits of my labor actually did find a purpose… inspiring others to enjoy their own gifts, too.
In the last few years, the less my goal-oriented self has focused on goals, the more she has found herself and the success God intended for her.
Painting is one of the most amazing gifts God has given me. When I got a set of paints again, after moving to the UAE, I was so happy I almost cried. Since then, I’ve done little paintings weekly. None of them would win awards as high art, but they don’t have to. Splashing colors on the paper makes me happy. I do hope to develop a distinctive style over time. But even that takes a back seat to simply being happy in the moment as I’m painting.
Sometimes I forget to allow myself this privilege and freedom. I see a counselor from my church to help me stay on track, and she is constantly asking me the same question I ask my coaching clients…. “What did you do just for yourself this week?”
As for the self-expression piece… and what my paintings say about my soul… I don’t worry anymore. If someone wants to judge what’s happening inside of me based on the lines I put on paper, or the colors I use, that judgment says far more about them than it does about me.
Judgment of my paintings isn’t necessary. If someone performs such critique, I don’t bother to listen. Because the point is not what could be, the point is what is, and what came out at a particular moment in time.
Painting, for me, is about savoring the process: something I really wasn’t allowed to do in the world I grew up in.
Some things don’t have to serve a purpose other than to fill up your emotional cup and bring you insane amounts of joy.
That purpose is a good enough reason to spend time doing them.
Your personal fulfillment actually does matter.