Yesterday I shared a story about one of my Growth Studio students, “Dani.”
Dani had one month until her first ‘real’ show.
She should have 12 paintings finished.
She had FIVE.
She tried to control her panic.
This was exactly the situation she tried to avoid. How did this happen? How could she do this to herself? AGAIN?!?!
When she said yes to the show, she had 3 months to do 15 paintings. Given her hectic work schedule, it was ambitious BUT she could pull it off.
IF everything went perfectly.
IN HINDSIGHT, THAT WAS A BIG IF
Her daughter caught a nasty stomach flu and shared it with the rest of the family. Dani missed a few days of work AND painting for that fabulous party.
To make up for lost time, she started getting up at O’dark-thirty so she could squeeze an extra hour or two before work. She powered through her first hurdle and had four paintings finished in the first month. One less than she wanted BUT she was on track!
Later, when I asked Dani what happened that second month, she couldn’t really say. I’m not sure if she understood it herself – which made it difficult for her to articulate what happened.
“Nothing major happened at work or at home,” she said, “but every time I went into my studio, I was like a deer in the headlights. I’d just sit there and stare at the canvas.”
“I kept thinking ‘I just have to be more disciplined , I can do this!’ I’d go in, try to force myself to paint, and when that didn’t work, I’d start organizing the studio thinking if I couldn’t paint today, at least I could make it easier for the next morning.”
As Steven Pressfield notes in War of Art , Resistance is clever. It doesn’t try to convince you that you will never do the thing you most want to do. It just postpones it.
Flash forward two weeks:
Dani sat back and stared at the painting. Nothing had changed.
Nothing had changed because for the past TWO weeks, she hadn’t made a SINGLE MARK on the canvas!
She wondered what the other artists in the show were doing and how her work would compare.
She thought about the people who would look at the work. She knew exactly what they’d be thinking: “How did THIS artist get in the show? Even I can paint better than that!”
She got nervous and indecisive. She started beating herself up for even thinking she could or SHOULD pull this off!
The longer she looked, the less she liked it. The blue of the sky didn’t fit. The trees looked fake. Something about the shadows felt off.
Sometimes willpower is just not enough.
“This painting isn’t working. See? You have NO IDEA what you’re doing.”
Shiny object says:
“Hey – maybe check a few paintings on Instagram? Wow- those abstracts are ah-mazing! Maybe I should start painting like THAT!”
Inner Critic Says:
“Get real. You’ll never be as good as THAT painter. Make sure you don’t lose your day job, sweetheart. You’ll starve without it. You and your whole family will end up on the street.”
Dani felt tired. Defeated. Uninspired.
Another day gone.
She looked at her calendar and all the dates she had already missed.
Painting is HARD. And to make it worse, her mind was playing tricks on her.
As a Growth Studio member, Dani had access to a full library of Office Hours calls.
She pulled up a recording of another student who had a similar issue.
Faced with a tough deadline, this other student suddenly needed to catalog all of his paintings and organize his studio.
I call this ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’.
When we are overwhelmed, we procrastinate. And one beautiful deception we play on ourselves is to ignore that big pressing thing in favor of small details that are completely irrelevant.
It feels good because we’re busy. But what we’re busy doing does not move the needle. We don’t get any closer to what we want.
“That’s fine if cataloging your work moves you toward your goal,” I told him, “but in this case, it doesn’t. Let me ask you a tough love question: Why are you choosing to do that over your painting?”
I went on to explain why we do this and how he could redirect his focus.
Dani picked up the idea and ran with it. It was do or die time.
Tomorrow we’ll hear what Dani learned from this experience, and how the show went. Keep an eye on your inbox!