Finally we’ve come to the finale of this three-part overly-dramatically-titled blog series.
To recap, I’m sharing three expectations I’ve had to learn to manage over the past few years as I walk this path of pursuing my passion and bringing my creative ideas to life.
While I share these expectations from my perspective, I believe they are common misconceptions that most people have as well.
Here’s a quick recap of the first two:
1. I expect that when I’m doing what I love and what I’m passionate about, it should come easily for me.
Somehow it’s been ingrained in us that when we do what we love and what we’re passionate about, it’s supposed to be easy. And so when it’s not (which is usually the case), we end up concluding that it’s not our passion, and we quit way before we’ve really given ourselves a chance to find out.
From my journey of having pursued many passions and interests for most of my life, I’ve learnt that more often than not, pursuing your passion is far from easy. Learning to compose songs or paint a realistic landscape or write a novel takes time and effort, and countless sessions of trial and error before we start to get the hang of it.
I think a more accurate indicator of having a passion for something is how willing you are to stick through with it no matter how long it takes, and whether the process of figuring it out and overcoming the challenges is fulfilling for you.
2. I expect that my usual way of getting results will always work for me.
We’ve grown up learning different systems of how to get things done, and after years of achieving results in different areas of our lives, we’ve inadvertently developed certain methods which we have used time and again toward our goals.
Objectively, these methods may not be the most efficient or effective, or even the best method to handle certain tasks as our external circumstances change over time. But because we are creatures of habit, we tend to stick to what we’ve seen has worked for us before, and to also apply that as a frame of reference for tackling something new.
Then when we don’t get the result we expected, we conclude that it’s probably just not meant for us, or that things simply “didn’t work out”, instead of examining exactly how our methods and systems could be updated or adapted to get the results we want.
Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having expectations.
It’s part of being human, and we can’t help it.
When we embark on a journey, or take on a challenge, we always have an idea of the outcome according to what we hope it would be, usually based on our previous experiences that we think are applicable.
The problem arises when we get attached to these expectations, because our attachment prevents us from looking at the situation objectively, and assessing what exactly led to us not getting the outcome we desire. This attachment also determines how we respond. Do we give up and conclude “it just didn’t workout / it’s just not for me?” Or do we approach it with curiosity and try to break it down to understand the mechanics of what exactly didn’t work?
Thus it’s the attachment to our idea that our passion should come easily for us that stops us from pursuing what could be our passion.
And it’s the attachment to our habitual ways of working that prevent us from adapting to new methods that are better suited to handle changes in the environment, or even changes in ourselves.
This week, I share about the attachment to the idea that once we’ve discovered our purpose and direction in life, everything will magically fall into place.
3. I expect that when I’ve figured out my purpose and life direction, the path moving forward will be clear and straightforward.
Seven years ago I became a professional artist after successfully holding my first solo exhibition. This was a significant milestone in my life, one where I felt I could breathe a huge sigh of relief because I had finally arrived at the end of a meandering 21-year journey that started with being discouraged from pursuing my artist dream when I was 8 years old. I thought this was it, I’ve found my purpose and direction, I was always meant to be a visual artist, and my path moving forward was now crystal clear.
After selling 17 paintings during my exhibition week, and receiving a commission to illustrate a seres of three children’s books, I believed this was going to be my life from here on out — more exhibitions, more painting sales, more commissions, and other projects that artists are known to participate in. I labelled myself a “painter and illustrator”, and started learning how to sell my art, how to get my work into galleries, how to get more commissions, how to paint murals, how to draw portraits, how to teach art to others, how to apply to artist residencies… all because these were what I believed the path of a full-time artist was supposed to encompass.
But slowly as the years went by, I felt more confused and more lost. At first, getting hired for commissions and getting paid for my art and teaching was exciting. But when I sat down to the do the work, more and more I felt I was just going through the motions of getting it done, so I could get paid. I felt like I was becoming a service provider in art and illustration, which was not at all what I dreamed of when I envisioned myself as an artist.
Basically, my artist dream had turned into a practical job in order to pay the bills, because I had mistakenly thought that the path of an artist is to be able to make a living from my art.
I know people who long to find their life direction and purpose tend to envy others who seem to be working in a job they love. I think this comes from the mentality that our purpose and direction is linked to the career we choose, because that is traditionally where we spend most of our adulthood — working a job to pay our bills. Since we have to work anyway, might as well do something we enjoy. And somehow we’ve collapsed our career with our direction and purpose.
The truth is we are far more complex than the description attached to our job title, even if you’re working at your dream job. I’m starting to see that my purpose and my life direction is more like an all-encompassing thing that determines how I live my life, including the kind of work I want to do that pays the bills.
I’ve always felt deep down inside me that I want to make a difference in the world, that I wanted to bring my ideas to life, and express something that is greater than just me. Even during the 20 years when I had forgotten my childhood artist dream, this desire to make meaning in the world with my work has always been there.
At the same time, we are always evolving and changing, even when we’re not aware of it. Which means that what seems clear as a purpose or life direction today, will change to something else tomorrow, or become confusing and unclear the day after. And when you’ve fulfilled one dream or goal or aspiration, the next one will emerge, and you’ll soon feel like the existing path you’re on is missing something. The more we discover of ourselves, the more we realize what we’re missing, and the more we feel a desire to figure out what that is, and thus we reinvent ourselves.
In 2017 I attended a weekend singing program and reconnected with my singer-songwriter dream. In 2018 I attended my first artist residency in Spain and painted the first Dream Tree mural. A few months later I created a new path for myself as an artist with a goal to install 100 Dream Tree murals around the world. In 2019 I trained to be a voice coach and started leading singing workshops and working with clients on expressing themselves through singing.
It was when I let go of the idea that the artist path was supposed to be about making a living through galleries, exhibitions and commissions that I could expand my own horizons and discover more of what my path is really about. It’s not about me being a visual artist as a career. It’s about using everything I’ve got to create something that is uniquely and unmistakably me, and living my mark in the world. And this is a process that requires trial and error and figuring stuff out, and testing things out, and seeing where my whims and ideas and inspirations take me.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to make a living as an artist through galleries, art sales and commissions. I’m simply saying that even if you’re an artist, or whatever career path you’re on, don’t get so fixated on how it’s supposed to be, because that’s just what convention has decided it should be like. By the way, these conventions are important too, because the process of figuring out your path requires you to try out the existing ones, and decide what to keep, what to eliminate, what to borrow from other places, and what to create from scratch.
Figuring out your path and life direction is an ongoing lifelong process, and it doesn’t end when you’re 65 and it’s time to retire. Sometimes the path is clear for a moment, and it allows us to take a step forward, and then it goes all foggy and unclear again. But at any point in time, all we can see is the next step, and that’s all we need to take a step forward.
Maybe the whole point of living is to do the work to figure this out.
For me now, it’s about drawing things out, singing things out, and writing things out, allowing myself the space to record the ideas and inspiration that come to me, and taking the time to develop them into what they want to be, a process of unfolding and discovery through expression.
And all I must do is to just show up and do the work.