What began as a list to remind me of exercises that I enjoy turned into a really fun hour, and something I thought might make you smile too. Here’s a quick and dirty peek into my secret notebook. Let me know what you think.
I got a tattoo of a deer today.
Though I do think deer are lovely creatures, it’s not especially about deer in particular. Or at all, really.
I had the idea to sell my Art Outlines illustrations almost two full years ago, and with the support and encouragement of my fellow entrepreneurs, I even built a fully functional website, created a video, and got strangers from all over the web to sign up for the email list.
But then it came time to actually list something for sale. And what did I do?
I shied away from it. I let doubt creep in. I turned my back on the project, thinking it wasn’t good enough. I worked on other things.
Over a year later, deep into my 10-month travel adventure around the world writing The Eat Team, I was getting really itchy feet (and a shockingly tiny bank account). I have a massive drive (compulsion?) to create, and because you can’t take an entire print studio full of hundreds-year-old lead and machinery and boxes full of paper, I couldn’t work on Ye Olde Gangster.
So, even though I felt totally unprepared and scared and embarrassed, I just decided I’d put a few of the illustrations up for sale on Etsy. I was terrified, and I didn’t have a lot of hope, but I asked myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And the answer was.. nobody would buy my illustrations and I’d be in the exact same place I was now. Well, that’s not so scary I thought–either I’m in the same place I am now, or perhaps maybe just maybe someone will send me some money for something I enjoyed doing.
Nothing happened for a few months. So, my “worst case scenario” was true for a few months. But of course, I wasn’t really thinking about it much and hadn’t expected anything to happen anyways.
Then, out of the blue, on July 4th, 2012, a stranger from New Zealand sent me $2 for my drawing of a deer as I prepared an American Independence Day feast for my new Australian friends in Melbourne.
“WHAT?!?!?!?” I shouted, I danced, I shoved the email in front of my friends faces. It wasn’t the money that lit my fire.. obviously $2 isn’t gonna stretch very far.. it was the cold, hard, undeniable real truth that I had a viable product. A worthy idea.
It made my heart soar.
So, why the tattoo?
I guess there’s several facets to that answer.
- Commitment to the long haul. It’s always been my dream to support myself with my creativity, and this was a moment I’ll never forget. I know there is no quick fix, no secret to making my dreams come true–it’s hard work and trust and taking risks and getting up every single day and starting all over again. It’s blood sweat and tears and I’m in it, forever. This is a commitment to myself to never give up on my creativity, to never stop growing and learning and making.
- That if I can pull this off, anyone can.
- Reminder that what I do is good enough. For a long time, I was embarrassed that my style of drawing was so childish and simplistic. At some point I decided to embrace that and run with it. It’s amazing how much love and support you get when you say “fuck it” and embrace the differences that make you you.
- Reminder to keep it simple. My whole idea with Art Outlines is to make extremely simple, elegant drawings. To eliminate what’s not necessary, and do only what’s necessary. Focus. Minimalism. Contrast.
- Reminder that imperfection is perfection. That you’ll never feel ready, you’ll never feel finished, but to say YES anyways. To figure things out as I go. Something I learned on my big adventure was that nothing is ever perfect.. but if you can embrace those imperfections, it makes it perfect. That was one of the overarching themes Hannah and I encountered every single day on our crazy trip. If we tried to make things perfect, we wouldn’t have done a single thing. If I had known that I was going to get this deer tattooed on my body forever when I drew it, I would have spent hours trying to perfect it. I love that it has tiny flaws and things I’d probably have changed if I had known.
If you look real close, there’s a little dimple on my deer’s bum–that wasn’t part of the original drawing. That was a speck created by the xerox machine that my tattoo artist thought was part of the image. When we realized it was permanent, she asked if I wanted her to try and pick it out. I considered it, then remembered.. imperfection is perfection. I love that it’s just another layer. Humans are all imperfect, and instead of getting mad or embarrassed by “hiccups”, we can just run with it and love it anyways.
That I’m not the only one involved–the stranger in New Zealand and my amazing tattoo artist had huge parts in it. To remember that PEOPLE are what make the world go round, and we’re all family in some way. To trust others and not try to control everything. I went in thinking I’d get the deer facing me. Alice told me that would be upside down to the rest of the world. And so I worked with her instead of trying to control it, and accepted her expertise since I was a tattoo n00b, and rolled with it, even though it’s not what I first imagined. Give and take.
Life is imperfect, and if we want to LIVE we have to remember and accept and love anyways.
I spent the last two and a half days doing absolutely nothing. I cancelled every hangout, meeting, and party I had planned, shirked all responsibilities, ignored my emails, all so I could do… not a single “productive” thing. And as much as I wanted to want to do these fun things and carry on with my work, my intuition said no. It said my brain was overloaded. And so I succumbed to my “weakness” and hid in my room like a werewolf waiting for the human/”good” self to come back out. I also read, walked, biked, ate, cried, laughed, drank, and more. I listened to my intuition, even though my ego wanted to carry on with scheduled programming.
But I’ve put “weakness” in quotations because I’m learning that if I view this low state as a normal, natural, and necessary occurrence (sweet alliteration, or?), and let it take its course without judging myself, it passes without adding insult to injury. That is, it doesn’t make me feel less like crying or hiding, but it makes me feel okay to cry or hide. I feel pretty damn good about this realization. When I can remember that its a passing state, and that everyone I know goes through the same thing (even Tim Ferriss) then I also can keep it in perspective.
I’ve tried to convey my understanding in a highly advanced technologically and scientifically sound graph above. The blue line represents the “good” and “bad” events which happen in your life. (I’ve put these words in quotations because I don’t think there are good events or bad events.. they are both equally necessary, but that’s a topic for another day.) For example winning the lottery is up at the top of the orange curve, and getting stabbed is down at the bottom. ”Good” and “bad” events such as these are gonna happen no matter what you do or how you feel.
Similarly, you will feel both “good” and “bad” at different times in your life (as illustrated by the yellow line); by this, I mean natural fluctuations in your hormone levels and brain activity that just make you feel a certain way, regardless of actual events. Have you ever felt on top of the world, even when you had an outwardly shitty day, full of mishaps, miscommunications, and failures? Or have you ever felt terrible even when you had nothing to complain about? If so, you know what I mean when I say the blue and yellow lines have nothing to do with one another. These two lines have nothing to do with each other; the “happy” emotional state you feel after winning the lottery has nothing to do with your natural emotional states, but rather it would be part of the third, black line, which is your reaction to both of the other lines. For example, this weekend, my emotional state (orange line) was on the bottom, even though I had no actual reason or event that caused it. On the contrary, my events (blue line) have been pretty close to as high as possible for the last few weeks and I had nothing on the orange line to be upset about. However, since the blue and orange are independent, I was free to feel like crap. But this time around the low bend of the rollercoaster of my yellow line, I managed to (for the most part) keep my black line straight. And that’s what rocks.
And since I’m always fumbling to maintain that shiny black straightness that pervades cool and unattached-ness to outcomes when I hit the bottom of the yellow curve, here are my top tips for keeping my cool until the bend swings itself back up.
Read, read, read. Especially fresh material, and things that inspired you in the past. Try on some different perspectives, and be reminded of other parts of life. When I’m feeling low, I really love the cheesiest material imaginable, like Paulo Coelho’s classic novel, The Alchemist. I seriously cried reading Tuesdays With Morrie this weekend, and I have never cried over a book or movie in my life. That was cool. I also loved watching this compilation of awesome Will Smith wisdom .
Treat yourself to great food. Splurge a little, indulge. I don’t just mean eat a bucket of nutella, but take yourself out to a nice lunch, and nourish your body. Cause what you put into your body affects your mind.
Make a list of a few things to be thankful for. You might even find that after you start, you want to keep going on, and on, and on. Mine usually starts with really small things, like “Thank you for sunshine. Thank you for the cool breeze.” and today it ended with thanking people who have challenged me or been angry at or disrespected me. I thanked them for teaching me patience, and for helping me grow stronger. For showing me how to be better next time, to act with courage and love. For forcing me to think creatively, and suspend judgment. To let go of resentment.
Let yourself cry if you want to. There’s no shame in it at all. It’s totally fine, normal, and valid. And guess what.. you’re not the only one who’s ever cried before or felt the exact same way you do. Pretty much everyone has, and will again. You will feel like this again too, so don’t fool yourself thinking otherwise ;) But on the other side of the spectrum, you’ll also feel ecstatic again. Accept your emotion, embrace it, and when it’s time, move on to the next one.
Draw or paint. My super wise and awesome roommate Jenni (who also played a big part on my 30-day learning german challenge) reminded me that it can be ugly as hell; that nobody but you has to see it, and that using your creativity usually puts you in a different emotional state. Focus on media meeting paper; it doesn’t have to look good. Get lost in a picture.
Go to a park & watch children and dogs play. Remember that sense of freedom, playfulness, creativity & experimentation they have? How freaking awesome is it? So awesome, I know. Don’t forget to let their attitudes infect you, when you’re ready to let go of your current emotional state and move on.
Sing. If it’s not tooooo overwhelming cheesy when you’re feeling low, and you have the energy, I definitely recommend this one. Sing as loud as possible. Put the ipod on full-blast; take a walk or stay inside.
Listen to music. Really listen to it. If you’re feeling angry and you want to embrace it for a while, put on something with fiery passion–I like Audioslave’s “Show Me How To Live” and Nirvana songs where Kurt is yelling like a maniac. If you’re ready to move on from your emotional state (take your time!!) put on something that will put you in your new desired state. When I’m ready to move towards a more relaxed/positive mindset, I love anything by Air, ragtime jazz, and the Amelie soundtrack. Cliche? Don’t know, don’t care.
Get out in nature. Observe your surroundings, appreciate the colors & smells. Take your shoes off and get your feet dirty. Remember you’re just another part of this crazy/awesome world, and connect to it through the soles of your feet, the air in your lungs, the sun in your eyes.
Exercise. If you’re full of energy and/or pent-up RAGE, go sweat it off. Create some endorphins. Release your tension with some physical movement. Don’t promise yourself you’re gonna do a two-hour long workout; just start small.. jog to the corner and see how you feel after that.
Hide in your room. If that’s what you feel like doing, so be it. Take a nap, read a book, cry, draw, watch youtube videos, whatever.. just let yourself do exactly what you want. And most importantly don’t feel bad about it. Hiding in your room is a valid exercise, and downtime is totally necessary. Embrace your solitude and enjoy your own company. Just don’t let solitude turn into loneliness. When you’re ready for the world, get out there.
Meet a friend. In person, at home, at a party, on skype. But not just anybody. Make 100% sure its a friend who will support you and can relate to how you’re feeling. Otherwise there’s a good chance they’ll bring you right back down again.
Remember that you’re awesome. This one is hard if you’re in one of those “fuck the world, rainbows and unicorns suck, and i’m the worst person in the universe” phases, but it pretty much always makes me feel good to look at past things that I’m proud of or that brought me joy, like photographs of people and places I love. Just make sure not to think “those were the glory days, nothing will ever be as good as that was” because it just ain’t true. People and places come in and out of your life; savor the goodness they brought, and move on to the next chapter when its time. More awesomeness awaits.
Remember that all of this is super fucking difficult. Especially when you’re feeling low. But do it anyways. Or at least try one of them (or one from your own list) for 10 seconds. Maybe you’ll find you want to do more than 10 seconds. I’m not a pro, but with practice, I’m getting better at remembering all this, little by little.
Trust your intuition. This is the most important of all. It overrules every other suggestion on this list, because as well-intentioned as they are, nothing beats your own inner voice. Even if the rest of your brain and body disagrees with that voice, and your own mom tells you otherwise, and your friends say you’re crazy: do exactly what that voice says. Cause that’s the only way you’re gonna feel content. And the awesome part about this is that your intuition always, 100% without a doubt has an opinion–my good friend Sebastian, aka Mr. Minimalist reminded me of that. It may be quiet at times, almost inaudible–I know that’s the case when I’m feeling low. But it’s there. You just have to take a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a week, or a year to simmer down and listen. But once you hear it, don’t fight with it. Just let it lead you, because it has your best interests in mind.
What are your methods for handling the lows?