A few days ago I wrote a blog post about ways to jumpstart your dreams. One of my main points was that few people really know what they’re doing. I am one of those people. Not the few, but the type that doesn’t know what she’s doing. However, after publishing that article, I got an email from someone telling me that it might be true that a lot of people don’t know how to do what they desire, but that clearly I am not one of those people. This email asserted that I clearly know what I’m doing and life seems so easy for me.
Wait one minute. Let me stop you in your tracks as I was stopped in mine. If, I thought, I have given anyone the impression that I know what I’m doing, then I am not doing my job. I want to break down these myths that living the artist life is easy and that I have things handed to me. None of that is true and may never be true for me. So let’s get real.
I wake up every single day and have to make decisions about what I will spend my time working on. I don’t know if those things will ever pay off, if anyone will like them, or if they will in fact hurt me. I wake up with no one telling me what to do and no one guiding me down this path. I have few people to look toward as example. This is not a complaint. These are the things that make me excited to be alive. But at the same time, they are also what put doubt in my mind.
In a single day I will feel immense pride at going my own way and not having a clue about how to do that. What feels like inevitability, I also have the opposite thoughts; that I will never figure it out and that I might as well give up before I begin. I find myself struggling to motivate myself to create without a clear end goal. I feel inadequate at the simplest tasks.
I remind myself everyday that we can’t all be great at everything. I watch people online who seem to be amazing at all that they do, but I tell myself those are the highlight reels. My life is filled with them and utterly devoid of them, depending on the day.
I sit and stare at to-do lists that grow a mile long and I both cower at that and am empowered by that. Other days I stare at a blank page with nothing to do on it and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what to write. Where to start. What to begin. It is hard as a dream chaser to know what to do all the time or how to do it or what it will end up being. All we can do is try. All we can do on some days is stare at that blank page and surrender yourself to the process. Or stare at your to do list and choose what makes your heart sing that particular day to complete.
In no particular order, these are the things I don’t know how to do: taxes, make coffee, bake, organize my office, not watch Harry Potter when I’m having a bad day, successfully submit to all the galleries I like, win awards, update the most basic settings on my blog, a headstand, whistle, etc…
Quite literally as I was writing that list my husband walked in and said, entirely coincidentally, “It’s time you learned how to whistle.” We tried for 15 minutes to no avail. He even drew diagrams to tell me how to shape my lips. He told me that within an hour I would learn, but I told him I was writing an article about the things I can’t do and to try again later. Back to the point…
Do you know what the most encouraging thing in the world is? Knowing that we all started knowing nothing. Everyone who can make coffee started out not knowing how to make coffee, and now they can. (I can make a mean tea though. I’m a pro at boiling water.) Both of these statements are true: I know more than you and I know less than you. You know more than me and less than me. We know different things and we are constantly learning different skills. Instead of being discouraged thinking about how much other people know, think about how they got there. They learned. They grew in their craft. And it might be frustrating and intimidating to not know what you’re doing, but that’s life. We start out not knowing anything and then we know something. Try. Try so hard at what you want. Make it up as you go along. Take steps that might send you flying backward, but at least you can set out again with a little more know-how.
I leave you with this quote from Henry David Thoreau. It speaks to our desire to both know the world around us yet also to keep it a mystery. We need to be challenged. We need to not know. We need to search. So let us do so in pursuit of our dreams. Is that not the greatest possible life?
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us…”
Image: “Blind Beginnings”, modeled by Jen Brook.
Photographed in Iceland June 2015.