This is something I’ve wrestled with since high school.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Maybe it’s been longer than high school. It’s probably been since whatever age people start asking you that question.
I went to a high school for the arts and studied visual art. If you’ve ever seen the movie Fame, it was kind of like that. You leave with a certificate in your art area, which I can only think to compare to an associates degree.
In your first year, you explore the different mediums: painting, drawing, video, wood, metal, printmaking, photography…the list goes on. The concept is by your junior or senior year you’ve nailed down your medium of choice and have begun creating a “collective body of work”. That collective body is then shown at your senior art show.
This is where my struggle began. I loved too many things. Printmaking, photography and video were huge contenders. I had bodies of work in each and they were very separate.
I always had a video camera on me, and that was well before video cell phones. I was shooting on mini DV tapes and would take video of my friends doing things or singing or videos of strangers. I’d then compile these videos into short pieces with sound effects or music laid over. They all went to a VHS and played on a big screen TV in the back room of my senior art show. Most of them made people laugh and I loved that I could make people feel something happy with my art.
I look back on them now and realize these videos would have been YouTube gold. They were made for that platform long before it even existed.
I also had a series of black and white self portraits. I printed them on HUGE 16×20” paper in our dark room. I can still smell the chemicals when I think about it. It was an exploration into my own self confidence, body image and insecurities.
My printmaking work was very collaged. It was a combo of prints, drawings and multi-media. Oddly my abstract paintings today resemble this same style.
I struggled in my choices for a college. Art schools from all over the country came to our school to recruit. I was accepted to several just based on my portfolio review. Art school or traditional school? I ended up choosing none of them and instead went to small christian college.
Entering college I was still disjointed. I started as a journalism major but got a job at a TV production company and all the while I filled every elective hour in my degree plan with black and white film photography classes. I painted and drew in my art journals, and randomly for friends, but I don’t think many people even knew about any of the artwork I’d done previously.
I eventually moved into a Public Relations and Advertising Degree plan. Dr. Allen was the department head and he was a great man. He was incredibly encouraging and well read and I used to write down quotes of interesting things he said in the margins of my notebooks. He passed away suddenly my senior year.
I didn’t know what I was doing. The year I graduated college was a year of superior change (though that’s another story all together). I thought I should know my path buy this point but I still didn’t. So I managed a cafe right out of college and did freelance graphic design and video work on the side. I left the cafe for a job with Apple.
Was I a restaurant manager, an Apple employee, a photographer, a graphic designer, a marketing consultant, a fine artist? I had no idea.
I think what we do so heavily defines who we are in our society. When you meet someone it’s usually the 2nd or 3rd thing you ask them. I’ve honestly never had a straight answer for this question and it usually changes depending on who I’m being introduced to.
My career path moved into this great battle between being a portrait photographer or a graphic designer/marketing consultant. This lasted for years. I could never choose. It was exhausting.
Then the fire happened and everything went away. The only thing I could even handle was just being a human.
Fast forward to two weeks ago where I released a quilting class with my friend Allie. I would not define myself as a quilter. I’ve made quilts. I’ve sewed for as long as I can remember. I’ve made clothes and doll blankets and bags and curtains and costumes and all sorts of things. I’ve always viewed sewing as a skill you just learn, like riding a bike or peeing in a toilet.
Then the self critic entered and I started thinking, “who am I to release a quilting class?” I have no authority in this. I’m not a quilter. I hold zero clout in the quilting community. Why would anyone even buy this. And when they do, they’ll know you’re a fraud.
Damn that self critic is harsh.
Dr. Allen’s words always resonate in back of my mind when the self critic enters, he used to say, “Fake it till you make it.” 50% of authority on any subject is confidence.
A few weeks ago it hit me. You don’t have to be one thing. It took me 35 years to figure this out.
You don’t have to be one thing.
I can be a wife, mom, artist, marketing consultant and person who releases quilt classes. My art can be whatever medium strikes me at the time and there’s a name for that…multimedia artist. BAM.
I think what we do and subsequently who we are is so heavily tied to our self worth that it can be self destructive. We think, “I am a ________, so I can’t be _________.” I am an accountant so I can’t be an artist. I am a photographer so I can’t be a painter. I am a mom so I can’t be a rocket scientist.
I’ve heard so many people say, “I’ve always wanted to try doing ______, but I’m not a ______ so I can’t.” I’ve always wanted to try painting, but I’m not an artist. I’ve always wanted to try diving, but I’m not a swimmer. I’ve always wanted to try baking, but I’m not good at cooking.
Who says you’re not? It’s just you. You’re saying you’re not. YOU.
You are legitimately the ONLY person holding yourself back from whatever you want to be or do.
It’s just you.
It’s just you, your self critic, a dash of limited self confidence and maybe an ounce or so of fear of failure. SO again, you are the only thing holding you back.
So what if we change our own narrative? What if we start saying “I’m an accountant and a painter.” “I’m a writer and an artist.” “I’m a rocket scientist, a mother and a baker.” I’m this AND this other thing too. Because really, we’re all more than one thing already, we just need to start defining that in our own heads and allowing ourselves to be whatever WE want to be.