Logging on today, I realized just how long it has been since I published my last post.
There are a million reasons why it’s been so long. Some good, some completely grounded in procrastination, some connected to the fact that December and January have been a struggle to find my voice, my words.
And it’s not like I haven’t been writing, I have. A ton. I write daily in the classroom with my students. I’m currently writing daily as part of Michelle Haseltine’s #100daysof notebooking community. I keep a sentence-a-day journal to make sure that there is never a day without a line.
But writing, just like life lately – life amid a raging pandemic, civil unrest, the question of whether we would have a peaceful transfer of power, and fear and outrage with how fear and outrage are being dealt with at every level – has not felt good. It has felt forced. Like I was just going through the motions.
None of this is really what I’m trying to write about here, though.
Today, I want to nudge you toward something that, if you’ve been feeling like I have, might help you escape all of it, even for short periods of time.
Find a way to be a beginner.
In any way.
For me, though reading, writing, cooking, and baking are all activities, that historically, help me to relax and unwind. They weren’t cutting it when the world around me felt like it was on fire.
They were places where expectations were hiding. Where frustrations were playing out when I couldn’t get from Point A to Point B, even though I’m “good” at these things. Nothing sounded, connected, or tasted quite right.
Some of that, I think, was because I was on autopilot.
I was mailing it in.
I wasn’t present because I didn’t really need to be. Over the years I’ve developed muscle memory for these activities. Even when the idea or story or dish is different, the motions play out in much the same way every single time…and they let me stay deeply rooted to the dangerous country that can be my own mind.
I’ve developed the skills to make it “look good,” but truth be told, it wasn’t feeling good.
Enter a new hobby: watercolor painting.
I have never, in my life, considered myself an artist. I didn’t think I had it in me.
It started as a way to create a couple Christmas gifts for family members.
Then, a friend sent me a link to a company that posts free watercolor tutorials each week. I tried the first one, and I was hooked.
Not because I was good at it. I wasn’t. I’m not.
But for the first time in recent memory, being “good” at it didn’t matter to me.
It didn’t matter because being “good” at it was an unrealistic expectation. To date, I’ve only painted with watercolors 13 times.
Who the heck is good at anything after 13 times?
And I needed that.
I needed a space to grow, to try new things, to step completely out of the role of expert or teacher.
Painting has made me realize that in most of my life, even the non-school moments, I live in that zone. Living in that space for so many of my hours each day is not healthy.
There is so much pressure to be polished and get it right all of the time when you live in that expert zone. It’s not sustainable.
It’s not real.
Painting has reminded me why art exists, why the simple act of creating art (YES, even “bad” art) is something that has endured through all of human existence.
Yes, so much art is beautiful. But more than that, the process of creating art is beautiful. It’s meditative, it’s release, it’s escape.
And it is joy. Even when it is a struggle. Even when my painting doesn’t go quite as planned, each time I sit down, I’m doing something new. Until I started painting, I’m not sure I could even tell you the last time I actually did something completely new.
It breaks through my patterns and lets my whole soul take a deep breath.
I don’t watch the clock. I don’t pay attention to the news. I don’t pick up my phone and scroll through social media.
When I paint, I go somewhere else.
We all need escape, and until I started painting, I might have said that, but I’m almost positive that I wouldn’t have meant it…or maybe it’s that I wouldn’t have truly understood it.
But now, I get it. I am a beginner. I mess up. I try new techniques. My paintings are not polished. They are not professional. Each is an opportunity to learn and grow with zero expectations.
That can be both deeply fulfilling and immensely frustrating, but mostly, it feels like liberation.
When you break the chains of expectation, you set yourself free.
If you can find your way to that beginner space, it will change your approach to everything, even the stuff you’ve done forever. You will be more likely to try new things, give yourself grace, live in the messy middle, let go of the drive toward perfection.
You will finally see that allowing yourself to be a beginner might just be the breakthrough you didn’t know you needed.
Find something new. Give it a try. Be a beginner.