My friend Veronica and I went to a painting class in Houston this week. It was a small class, only eight women and the instructor.
The women across from us opened a bottle of Chardonnay. I eyed the bottle and sighed, thinking July 13th seemed awfully far away (no, I did not partake although I may have sniffed their glasses when they weren’t looking).
Since the class was so small the instructor was able to give each person more individual attention. While making her rounds she looked over my shoulder.
She asked, “Are you an accountant?”
I froze, red paint loaded brush poised in the air. “Um, no. But I was a math major.”
“Uh huh,” she said. “I can tell by your brush strokes. Relax. Not everything is an Excel spreadsheet.”
To my right Veronica snorted laughter. “Dude. Busted.”
They were right, of course. I have a deep and abiding love for straight lines and Excel spreadsheets. I was trying so hard to follow instructions that I forgot art doesn’t have to be perfect.
If you’re trying something new, something outside your comfort zone (i.e., painting when you’re more like an accountant) here’s a reminder: We’re all stiff and clueless when we try something new. We all make mistakes.
So your branches look drunk and your trunk is fat. Who cares? It’s your painting. Own it.
Drop the negative self-talk. I heard all kinds of it in the class. “I suck,” and “I hate this branch,” and “I did this wrong.”
Guys, it’s not a test. It’s a painting class. Have fun. Be willing to fuck it up.
We’ve been taught to be afraid of failure. This is problematic because failure is a damn good teacher. We’re so focused on never failing that we forget no one can live that way.
And another thing about failure: The worst has happened.
You took one painting class and discovered, holy shit, you’re not an undiscovered prodigy.
Wait… You’re still here, right? Failure didn’t kill you?
Now you have a choice: How important is it to you to become a better painter?
If the answer is ‘a lot’ then you better get to work. Take more classes. Learn more about the craft. Practice, practice, practice.
If the answer is ‘meh, I’m okay’ then chill. Have fun with it. Just because you’re not great at something doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.
Not a one of us in that class was a Picasso. We all knew that walking in. But even knowing that it’s easy to get caught up in what you aren’t good at instead of focusing on the point of the class: having fun.
And really, what good would it be if you walked into a painting class and reproduced a Rembrandt right out the gate? What appreciation would you have for the hard work and lifelong dedication of the great artists who propped up their easels centuries before you even thought about picking up a brush?
Try new things. Go do something badly just to say you’ve done it. Chances are you’ll probably have a pretty good time.
Don’t be afraid to try something you know you’ll fail at. Learn from the experience. Even if it’s only to laugh at yourself.
And if you still can’t embrace failure as a learning experience, put on your wine goggles.
They’re guaranteed to make your painting look spectacular.
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