Art is not a Competition

Dave and I just got back from Art Unraveled in Phoenix, where we had a great time connecting to people and teaching a few things about our process, but there have been several things that have come up that have me thinking. I want to share.

Life is not a race.

Art is not a competition.

So often we get tangled up in our thoughts about our lives and about our art, that we get lost inside of them building up stories and scenarios in our minds. We run the scripts through our heads so often that we begin to really believe in them. We begin to spiral uncontrollably in them, and we can’t escape them.

These are stories of lack and comparison. Over and over, I have heard these stories from others and from myself, and they are stories that keep us stuck as we look for someone or something to blame.

When we step out of the present moment, when we start to think about where we’ve been and where we’d like to be, we quickly fill our thoughts with all the things that we don’t have and all the people who have it better. We waste energy thinking that if we just had more money, or lived in a different area, or if we just had the breaks that others had, then our lives would be different - our art would be different. We waste our energy spinning these stories around in our heads, and we go nowhere. We stay stuck spinning our wheels.

I have been experiencing such thoughts myself. For years now, I’ve been dreaming of making it as an artist. By making it, I mean making a living off of my art. I would like to step away from being a public school teacher, and live my dream of making and selling work, traveling and teaching classes, and writing books and articles. I do a little of all of those things, but not to the extent I would really like. I do sell a little of my art. I do travel a little to teach, and I have co-written a couple of books. But in order to keep paying the mortgage, in order to keep paying the bills, I have to keep working a full time job that can be demanding and draining. And all the while, I think about all the things that I don’t have, all the things that I have to do and put up with, all the people who I think have it easier than I do, and I continually get lost inside of these thoughts. I compare myself to others and think about all that I don’t have. I tear myself down and bury myself under the weight of these ideas.

What if I let go of my stories? What if every time I began to think of what I don’t have, I let it go and thought about what I do have? What if every time I began to compare myself to others, I let it go, and thought about who I am? This would mean that I would get present with myself. If I focus on where I am right now and what I can offer right here, there is no room for those old and tired scripts.

And so that is what I am working on - staying present and knowing that I lack nothing and that life is not a competition.

When we tell ourselves stories of comparison and lack, we diminish ourselves and our art, and we make ourselves small. We can only do what we can do, but we must do it with an eye on growing, connecting, and inspiring. I shared a bit of advice with someone recently, and I think that I need to heed it as well.

Never diminish what you do, and never make yourself small. Make and create boldly.