Three Expectations That Lead to (My) Downfall (Part 1 of 3)

Three Expectations That Lead to (My) Downfall (Part 1 of 3)

Ok, I will admit that this headline is a little overly dramatic lols, but it’s what came to mind as I was writing this blog post. Don’t worry, I’m nowhere near my downfall (at least not that I’m aware of… I hope *fingers crossed*).

But I will say, though, that if I hadn’t learnt over these past few years how to manage my expectations, especially these three big ones that I’m going to share with you, I’m 100% certain they would have easily led to my downfall. And I probably won’t even still be on this journey of chasing after my dreams, or writing this three-part blog article.

I recently read somewhere that the best I can do is to share my truth. So I will try to put aside the part of me that wants to write something pleasing for everyone, and simply express what it is I really want to say.

My truth is that my expectations have always tripped me up when it comes to following my dreams and going after my goals. See, I’m an idealist with an overactive imagination, which is very useful for making the art I love to make (all dreamy and happy and penguin-y). But it’s not so useful for the times I have to do the work necessary to fulfill my dreams.

To be honest, I spend much of my free time dreaming of the outcome I want to have, and how my life would finally be the ideal day I have envisioned and fantasized about, and I have everything I ever desired…

Then I look around me at my half-finished projects and the balance in my bank account, and I see how I’m still such a long way off from living my dream life, and especially after putting in hours of work that don’t seem to help me get any closer, I then get discouraged and depressed, and disappear into the world of Netflix and mobile phone games for the next few hours.

Eventually I get bored of the escape, so I will return to what I’ve set out to do, but instead of just getting to work, I start to shop around for other ways to arrive at my end goal faster.

My current dream as an artist is to travel the world and paint 92 more Dream Tree murals (which I’ve had to pause for a bit because of covid), and as you know travel requires money, so I end up justifying it to myself that if I could find a way to get the money quickly, then I’ll be able to continue living my dream for the long haul.

So this is where I start shopping around on the Internet for online business “gurus” (including some art business coaches), hunting for formulas and systems that would help me earn the money I need (either from selling my art or maybe I can create some product to help my ideal clients), and this takes my time, energy and focus away just doing what I need to do as an artist, which is make my art and make it better.

Then once again I find myself dreaming of the outcome I want to have (including a lot of money), and how my life would finally be the ideal day I have envisioned and fantasized about (this time with a nicer more expensive rental home)… and then I look around at my half-finished projects (including whatever business systems I’m looking into), and I’m even more confused now with too many options and no clear direction… then I get discouraged and depressed, and disappear….

“PenguinGirl’s Down the Rabbit Hole” (2020)
Watercolor, ink and color pencil on watercolor paper, 11.7 x 8.3 in.

You get the picture. The cycle starts up all over again. And then runs a few more times. And it’s been like this for the past five years.

Anyway, after repeating this cycle so many times, I’ve been observing and examining it closely, and coupled with other behavioral and thought patterns that I’ve got, I’ve concluded that one of the main culprits in all this have been my expectations of how things are supposed to be.

In no particular order, here’s the first one:

1. I expect that when I’m doing what I love and what I’m passionate about, it should come easily for me.

When I was preparing for my first solo exhibition in early 2013, my big comeback into fulfilling my childhood artist dream, I was certain I’d be inspired and brimming with ideas and wanting to paint all the time that I set myself a daily practice of painting for six hours every day over five weeks, so I could complete 30 new paintings.

The first day of painting, I managed to clock four inspiration-filled hours before my usual distractions sneaked in. The second day, I was barely two hours in, when I hit the first hurdle of being completely unable to paint a decent looking castle (my reference image was the castle in Disneyland Hong Kong which I somehow thought was going to be easy enough to paint lol).

Instead of taking the time to Google a step-by-step tutorial or something, I sat there thinking about how this goal of making 30 paintings in five weeks was too crazy, and I should be using these five weeks to get a day job and stable income, and in the meantime continue to hone my painting skills and have my exhibition at a much later date.

Thankfully I was working with a no-nonsense life coach on this project, and he was more than perceptive enough to see how I was (once again) setting myself up for failure by running away from the main goal, and he simply (and firmly) told me to “do whatever it takes to make these 30 paintings in five weeks.”

It was a constant daily struggle, and I never once fulfilled the quota of painting six hours in one day, but after five weeks I did complete 25 paintings, and the remaining five were at least 80% done.

Over the past seven years as an artist, I’ve had many ups and downs with the creative process. I’ve gone through spurts of inspiration where ideas were flowing all the time and I couldn’t wait to get to the studio to work, to dry spells where nothing I’ve painted or drawn brings me joy or fills me with a sense of pride. I’ve attempted daily projects to complete one new painting a day, for 100 days in 2014, and 35 days in 2017. I’ve gone through months of handling commissions and not working on my personal projects. I’ve started projects on a stroke of inspiration, sometimes even taking the time to see them through, only to abandon them at the last moment.

I think it’s a common misconception that when we’re passionate about something, the process of engaging in it should be easier than if we were to do something we don’t care as much for. Perhaps this is true for some people, and they wake up every morning excited to start their day with what they are passionate about, and they eat, breathe and live that passion. But perhaps it’s also challenging for them at times — it’s just that they’ve gotten so used to their process of handling the difficult parts, and over time it has become easier.

Everyone is unique and different, and just because some people make it look so easy to live their passion (I blame social media and all the pretty happy pictures), holding on to the expectation that it’s supposed to be the same way for you doesn’t help you fulfill your passion.

From my journey, I’ve started to notice that oftentimes the things that truly matter to us are the hardest things to fulfill. When there’s something we really really really want with all our heart and soul, achieving it would mean reaching a great new height in our life, which also means that it’s accompanied by a long fall back to Earth should we fail.

“Sinking” (2014), watercolor and ink on paper, 8.3 x 11.7 in.

This happens at an unconscious level, where our fears of failing, of not being good enough, of the unknown, of succeeding and proving that we’re more than we believed we were (yes, this is a legit fear too), etc… arise and stop us from even attempting it.

Or we might think that pursuing this passion needs to culminate in some amazing outcome, that it needs to result in a product that we can be proud of, or for us to make a full-time living from it (I’m guilty of this one).

Thus, a lot of the time it’s not so much the difficulty of the task itself, but more the difficulty of getting past these voices in our head, and entering the mode of “just do it”.

What I’ve learnt from attempting my various work and projects as an artist so far: Pursuing your passion is a very simple thing, but it’s far from easy.

It’s simple because all you have to do is to just show up and do it.

It’s far from easy because you have to fight the resistance within yourself that doesn’t want you to just show up and do it.

So I’m learning to focus on just showing up, on just doing it. The outcome is secondary.

I expect that this is going to be challenging more often than it’s going to be easy.

I expect that every resistance in me will protest against my showing up.

I expect to have days where nothing seems to work, and I will feel unproductive.

And I expect to have days where I will feel dejected about everything.

But most important of all, no matter how today goes, I expect that tomorrow I will still show up in the studio (or at the wall, or at the paper, or at the guitar, or at my laptop keyboard), and continue working at my passion anyway.

(You can read Part 2 here.)

“Penguin Mother” (2018)
Watercolor on watercolor paper, 8.3 x 5.8 in.

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