- A new year. A blank slate. A chance to renew ourselves. To revisit our goals.
This time last year I revisited my goal to be a working nature writer and illustrator. I had had enough of just-scraping-by doing work that taxed me, rather than rewarding me—mentally, physically, monetarily, and emotionally. I admit, turning 40 had something to do with it. A birthday of introspection. “What have I done with my life thusfar? How much time might I have left? What will I do with it?” I realized that I spent the past two decades doing work that satisfied others’ needs, but not my own. I skipped over the path that I felt drawn to, and settled for the “easier” one. The one that would pay the bills. Well, it used to.
Staying on this lackluster path had taken a toll on my body. Structural issues in my cervical spine flared up beyond tolerance. It was becoming impossible to draw and paint just for fun when I wasn’t doing graphic design work, because the computer work forced my body into positions that pinched nerves and caused muscles to continuously spasm. It was too much. I reached my limit.
The path grew darker as I imagined myself unable to draw or paint for the next 40 years of my life. Art is not just a hobby for me—it is an essential aspect of my identity. Who I am. From the time I could hold a crayon, I have been an artist. Without art, I am… nothing. That’s how it felt. If I could not create art, life would have no meaning. I would be forced to give up my dream of illustrating books and articles for children. I would lose my connection to my child self.
No! I could not allow this to happen.
With the support of my partner, Brian, and a heart full of hope, I made the decision NOT to take on work that forced me to lose my Artist identity, no matter what the purse. You would think that giving myself freedom to realize my dreams head-on would be liberating, right? Wrong. It was terrifying.
“What if I finally put 100% of my self into being an Artist… and then fail?” asked my nervous mind.
Not trying is giving up before you even start, answered my heart.
I realized that I had dillydallied on the easy path for so long for fear of failure. That is forgivable enough.
Forgiveness—another difficult challenge. I blame myself for everything, all the time. I’m always seeking forgiveness from people outside myself for things I didn’t actually do. Who do I really need forgiveness from? Me.
Sometimes the best way to do something seemingly unattainable is to pretend. Pretend you are what you want to be. Act like someone who has mastered what you want to master. Get a little theatrical if you have to. Eventually, you won’t be acting anymore. You’ll be doing it.
So I did a little bit of acting like someone who forgives herself and stopped apologizing to everyone but me. I tried on some boundaries. I said “no” to some design projects. I took some risks. I signed up for another workshop at the Highlights Foundation, because that’s what someone who was taking their career as a writer/illustrator for children very seriously would do. I crawled off the easy path, put on my bushwhacking gear, and started forging a new path. My own.
The result? I AM a working writer and illustrator. Birding magazine paid to publish my illustrations of Passenger Pigeons. I received an unsolicited scholarship to another workshop. Mentors appeared. So did followers. An ornithologist approached me about illustrating a children’s book. I received an award in a juried art show with the Valley Forge Audubon Society, who then invited me to exhibit with a select few established artists at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. I was invited to show my original Passenger Pigeon art at the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, where it will hang through July 2015—alongside works by the great Don Eckelberry. I applied for the Eckelberry Fellowship. I submitted a book that I wrote and illustrated to publishers. I have more stories in progress. I’ve got a Philly Nerd Nite presentation to prepare for February 4th.
The more risks I take, the greater the rewards. More than I could imagine (and I can be pretty imaginative)!
Turning 40 was really hard, but yesterday, I turned 41. I am one year closer to achieving my goals, rather than avoiding them. I’ve got mentors at my back, and the life I intended before me. It’s going to be a big year.
End note: the pain in my neck and arm is still an issue I deal with every day. I’m working on resolving the pain, every way I can. It may require taking risks. But so does doing nothing.