One doesn’t choose this profession lightly. In fact, I don’t know one person who said they were encouraged by their parents to take the path into the unknown. It has been my experience where my parents would rather have stuck a poker in their eye than see me go into “the arts.” In fact, I had a real problem deciding what to do with my life when I went to college because since I was seven I’d tell everyone I was going to be an artist when I grew up. And they all nodded and smiled and patted me on the head and said, “That’s cute.” Until it was time to attend college. My practical parents convinced me to choose a field that was more suited for a woman. Something that would bring in a regular paycheck. And something that would bring me security, such as becoming a teacher, nurse, or secretary. I compromised and got a Bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications after changing my mind three times.
Fast forward 20 years. Practicality was always revered as something to strive for in my family. I can’t be called the “black sheep” of the family because I highly regarded those values taught to me by my parents. Hard work, persistence, and ethics were woven into the core of who I am. But there was always this voice that propelled me into creative endeavors. I would seek every opportunity to take classes in the arts, such as drawing, photography, pottery, weaving, watercolor, and more watercolor. Aha! It was the watercolors I was most drawn to. I didn’t mind getting up at 3am before my boys so I could practice painting. I took classes through community education, local galleries and museums, and workshops with artists whose work I admired. FINALLY, I landed a teacher who could teach me watercolors, my true passion. It wasn’t easy to turn off the voice in my head that would tell me I wasn’t good enough. The inner critic who would say, “you’ll never make any money at this” or “how is this helping your family flourish?” Yet, that little voice inside of me was whispering for me to continue. To not give up. To follow that path into the unknown. It also helped that my husband was a huge advocate of my work. He would see how happy I was when creating. He would also notice the growth and improvement. A happy wife and mom made for a happy household, so maybe I was helping my family to flourish after all by nurturing my soul first. No doubt I was! It also helped that we could afford to live on my husband’s income once my children arrived so I could take care of our children, the home, and the other details of our lives. Throughout those years of nurturing my family, I also nurtured my soul.
Sometime around the age of 36 I had a mini meltdown. I wondered what my purpose was. It’s the same question we all ask – What am I meant to do/be with my life? I love my boys, but is my higher purpose really about making sure they do their homework and attending PTA meetings? No disrespect to parenting because I truly believe it is THE hardest (and most humble and rewarding) job there is. I began to engulf myself in self help books to figure out what was wrong with me. They all had common threads running through them. Practice gratitude, focus on what we want to attract into our life rather than what we don’t want, and loving and accepting ourselves for who we are. So I started calling myself an artist. Once again, I was seven years old, but instead of coloring with crayons at my Nana’s kitchen table, I was painting with watercolors in my home studio.
Ever notice how plants bend toward the light? It’s the same for humans. We search for the light at the end of the tunnel. We can be sad and uncomfortable in the darkness and once we learn that we are going to be okay, that we are not alone, that we have the power to create our life the way we would like to pursue it – never mind what anyone else tells us or what the inner critic is saying – we get glimpses of insight. We find the light. We bend toward what feels right. Of course, it helps us to know what it is we want. We have to not only acknowledge that inner voice, but listen open-heartedly to it. We must trust in ourselves.
The light comes in many forms. It may be a teacher whose class you take who helps nurture your gifts. It may be an event or place that inspires you, but most of the time it’s recognizing that the Universe is conspiring FOR you, not AGAINST you in the form of opportunities or people that just so happen to show up at a time when you need it.
Parents, I encourage you to nurture your child’s gifts. If they come to you and say they want to be an artist, don’t just pacify them, believe in them. If they come to you and say they want to be a doctor or engineer perhaps you would do the happy dance and pray that they pursue that “secure” and “respected” field for themselves. I’ve spoken with several parents who questioned their son’s or daughter’s choice of path. I was honest with them. It’s not an easy path to follow, no it’s not. If outside respect and financial security are what you’re looking for you may never get it. It takes long hours of practice, doing things you may not want to do (like long hours on your feet displaying your wares at art shows and festivals), keeping financial records, burning the candle at both ends because you “don’t want to give up your day job”, and most importantly BELIEVING in yourself. EVERYONE is a critic. Whether they say things to your face or behind your back doesn’t matter. Artists are sensitive souls. We feel the disapproval and we see the eye rolls of people who think we’re merely children who never grew up and don’t know what it’s like to have a “real job.” Well, let me tell you – I’d rather have a job I love and derive joy from than one I feel obligated to show up day after day and work at because it’s “what is expected of me.” If the passion within is nurtured it won’t matter how long it takes or how hard it is, or how many meals one goes without (starving artist reference) because when we are creating we are in the moment and the rest of the world drops off around us. And when we’ve created we feel rejuvenated, alive, and infused with the light. At least that’s how it is for me. I can’t speak for anyone else.
So when my oldest son wanted to quit his college career as a student of classical music at one of the finest music schools in NY and pursue a career in the arts to become a tattoo artist what did I think? After a big gulp and a few deep breaths, I told him I believed he would be the best tattoo artist on this side of the Mississippi. He had my blessing. I never doubted he would be great at ANYTHING he chooses to do. However, I do know it takes a certain amount of sisu (Finnish word for perseverance and guts) to do what he does. He has sisu and then some. As does my younger son, who is currently pursuing a career in the healing arts by attending chiropractic school after he completes his bachelor’s in exercise physiology. I am blessed to have very brilliant children exercising their knowledge, talent, and gifts each in their own way.