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Soften the Scrutiny

Creativity comes in every shape, form, sound, color, and expression that we can imagine and then beyond. Every one of us has aspects of creativity and artistry to which we are drawn and in which we excel. If we’re lucky, our passions and appreciations align with our talent in an inspired outlet, however some of these experiences are purely extrinsic and we admire the expertise of others as the audience.

Have you ever pondered the appreciation we tend to have for someone else’s expressive talents? Museums, galleries, Etsy shops, boutique bakeries, musical performances – All of these and countless other presentations of skill are much easier to receive and seek out with positivity. We get to witness and experience a worthy end product as consumers. Yet what we fail to experience is the effort, trials, mistakes, mishaps, setbacks and calamities along the journey of the presenter, performer, or artist on their road to the final product or outcome. We get to sit back and enjoy without experiencing the struggle.

I can severely recall my self-criticism in regard to creative outlets growing up. I easily excelled at school work and sports as the outcomes were concrete – Grades, wins versus losses. The perfectionist in me did not have the capacity or patience to tolerate wiggly lines, eraser marks, the concept of abstract designs, mixing colors that became a muddy brown, blurred photos, or irregularities in whatever project or assignment was at hand. Junior High art classes became a torturous domain as my own expectations of accomplishment were contested by my actual novice skills. Because athletics and academics came naturally, I assumed artfulness would flow in a similar fashion. I didn’t have the desire to necessarily enjoy the process, I just wanted to experience the thrill of being effortlessly excellent. I focused on the mistakes I made along the way instead of the experience that led to the end result.

As I transitioned into adulthood, my brain battled itself. The creativity and ideas were present and inspired and the motivation to initiate a creative undertaking led to actual project commencement. And then the imperfections, mistakes, blunders, slipped brush strokes, badly blended colors, drips or drops would grind that motivation to a screeching halt. My self-critical, negative tunnel vision in the task stripped my joy and enthusiasm for the project and a half-finished feature ended up in the back of a closet or bottom drawer. My destinations remained in the distance as I evaded the integral journey required. My personal discontent with the unappealing idea of imperfections along the way constructed complete creative roadblocks from what should have been simple detours. I couldn’t deal with the bumps along with way, so I gave up, turned around and went home. Back to the safety of tangible outcomes and well-defined expectations of my own performance.

Over the years and with patience, painting has come to be an amazingly calming and peaceful practice in my self-care. It started with paint and wine nights with girlfriends. I gave it my best shot, and usually with a pre-sketched outline and step-by-step directions from the instructor, I ended up with a decent representation of the display painting. I clearly remember one painting instructor giving the class a clear directive to step away from our paintings, let that layer dry and give our eyes a rest before we moved on to the next endeavor of the project. At the conclusion of the paint night came another insight. “If you feel the need to keep adding to the painting, take a few steps back and look from another angle. We don’t look at a piece of art from only inches away when it’s displayed.”

Those few words shifted my perspective creatively at that point in life. Moving away from the lines and layers, the feathered strokes, the stippled and splattered spots gave a new element to the details in front of me. Colors blended and lines softened. With that little bit of distance, my eyes saw the canvas in its entirety and in turn, my brain mitigated the harshness of imperfections that were so blinding when I was only inches from the paint. Each imperfection united together and I stood before a fascinating, captivating, and enchanting masterpiece. Visualizing the collective scene by widening my perspective changed my perception of what I saw in front of me. The negativity I previously associated with my painting skills because of a fixation on detailed deficiencies dissipated to a grateful acceptance of and excitement about this showpiece. My tunnel vision hindered a greater appreciation for the big picture.

That paint night realization sparked a restoration of joy in my creative journey. Instead of giving up because of one or many mishaps, I can now step back from a project, adjust my thought process or vision, and persevere. Sometimes that looks like remixing colors, sometimes adding glitter, and sometimes pushing pause for a day or two before returning with the motivation to continue.

During a recent home painting session, I contemplated my creative epiphany that stemmed from that one instructor’s statement. The habit of negativity and tunnel vision attitudes can apply to life as well. As humans, I feel we get into a cyclic mode of focusing on and replaying negative situations or encounters in life. I know I am guilty of this. Whether it is the nagging guilt associated with fussing at my son and losing my patience when he doesn’t listen, critically evaluating a conversation or argument with my significant other, or worrying about what my parents, bosses or friends think of me, I go through periods and patterns of detrimental self-talk and energy-wasting apprehension.

What a time suck! Hours upon hours and days upon days I’ve spent over the course of my life focusing on these momentary, negligible (and sometimes nonexistent) worries and flurries of negative thoughts. Assessing the situations, replaying details in my mind, wishing I would have said this or that, done this or that, assuming the other person’s perspective, and preparing myself for future warfare that may never come to fruition. Ugh! I’ve wallowed in mistakes and regrets only to be left battered by my own exhausting ruminations. During these periods, my energy was focused solely on the short comings and weaknesses of life.

Looking back over these long hours of exasperating mental spirals, I wish I had the vision to broaden my view and give more situations and people the benefit of the doubt. Instead of focusing on misbehavior or strained interactions or short term irritations, I would have chosen to step back, take a deep breath and see how those imperfect scenarios are part of a much greater scheme. Instead of scolding my rambunctious son, I would have appreciated and marveled at his energy and imagination. Instead of silently criticizing my partner’s lack of consideration, I would have considered the back story leading up to the interaction and been more approachable. Instead of rigorously rehashing my poor decisions and life mistakes, I would have elevated my outlook to a bird’s eye view of the beautiful life with which I am blessed, despite those blemishes. A mental version of Google Earth. Zoom in when it’s necessary, zoom out to see the whole picture.

It is too easy to get stuck in a tunnel vision mentality, to stay zoomed in on negativity. The day-to-day routines and stresses leave us unfulfilled at times, frazzled and weary. It can be difficult to consciously break that vortex of negative internal thoughts and we tend go much easier on others because we are not intertwined in their struggles. We see their presented life display but their blunders are cushioned with distance, while we are undeniably and intricately entrenched in our own. We cannot become accustomed to this narrow field of vision or we lose the potential to experience so much of the joy and beauty that life has to offer.

Self-care and down time is key. Finding a restorative and invigorating form of self-care that works for you pushes the pause button and gives an opportunity for awareness and contemplation. Art, music, exercise, cooking, reading, volunteering, writing or journaling – Whatever eases your mind and soothes your soul, even if it’s only for five minutes at a time. Experiment to find what works for you so your brain has time to soften the scrutiny and imperfections that have been layered on the outline of life and can translate them into a big picture perspective. Intentionally take a few steps back from your mindset and see your life, past and present, as if it were displayed in a gallery. You’ll know the mistakes, failures and frustrations are there, but allowing those experiences to harmonize as you step back with consideration and gratefulness will give the opportunity to view your life’s unique masterpiece with appreciation.



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