A long time ago, I was a little kid who drew unicorns, houses with triangle suns in the corner, and horses . . . oh, so many horses.
But my dream was to be a ballerina.
Like unicorns, some dreams aren't meant to survive, so I did not become a ballerina, although I did take dance for 14 years.
In high school, I discovered art class and made a painting. It was nothing special, but it was the first time I realized I could represent my world in paintings and drawings.
The problem, for many years, was that I lacked any drop of self confidence. I was told for many years that people went to college and got practical jobs that paid a steady income. So I went to college as Undeclared my first semester because how do you pick The Rest of Your Life at age 18?
Side Note: I don't know if anyone reading now has been Undeclared or had a friend who was, but here's what happens: sometime in your first semester, your friendly academic advisor asks you to come to his office, sits you down, and explains that you need to pick a major like, right now, or you'll be here for 5 years and pay boatloads more money for your degree. At this point, if you're me, you panic and go back to your room with the entire course catalog and go through it page by page, hoping something will pick you.
I ended up choosing teaching, since I had taught as an assistant dance instructor in high school and liked kids. This method is a sort of dartboard career picker. I snuck in a 2-D Art minor just so I could have some art classes, but I also took my major seriously and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Child Development.
I am the type of person who, once I say I will do something, will hang on to that sucker for all it's worth, long past the time when I should have gracefully let go. I won't say I hated teaching. I was actually a pretty good teacher. I devoted nights, weekends, and summers to it. I went to conferences, agonized over certain children, and tried above all to be a professional. I stuck with teaching, in some form or another, for 11 years.
But my heart wasn't in it.
Finally, I admitted to myself that I was burned out. Stressed out. Maxed out. I needed a break and I knew teaching "because I said I would" was looking less and less like a good idea. I quit in the summer of 2011, when my preschool decided that they were going to let go of all of their staff so we could re-interview and be rehired at lower salaries. After working there for 5 years, I'll admit it, I was pissed! And- it gave me the push I needed to leave.
I had no job to fall back on. When I quit that July, I did so without a safety net. All I had was a small freelance writing gig. It wasn't until 4 months later - November- that I lucked into a part-time position at a local non-profit agency. It was a perfect fit: it had nothing to do with teaching, my schedule allowed me as a single parent to drop off and pick up my daughter from school, and I had time when I wasn't working to do things I wanted to do, like write and make art.
Now was the time for that second hurdle to land squarely in my path. I loved making art, but I suffered from extreme self-doubt and lack of skills. So, it might not be a surprise to learn that I started a lot of projects but rarely finished them.
From 2012-2015, I struggled against my biggest opponent. Myself. I had been raised to believe that art was not a practical thing. That I had no business being an independent, confident person. "Who I was" was not worthy, so then by extension, neither was my art. In 2015, I made a difficult and devastating decision to cut off contact with the people who instilled those negative beliefs in me and were trying to do something similar with my young daughter. I had finally had enough and said, "No thanks, I think we will get off this de-railing train right here."
Since then, I have done a ton of work on my outlook on myself, on life, and on my ability to be more than what I was. I worked to change my self talk and finally rid myself of that endless negative feedback loop. I had no idea how much damage that little voice had been doing. I started to put myself out there, I completed a large commissioned painting, and I launched a challenge to myself to complete 50 paintings in 50 days. Then, I invested in my art with the right supplies and a dedicated creative space, and in myself with classes that taught me the skills I had been lacking.
I'm still the little six-year-old who drew saggy-bellied unicorns in the bright sunshine. Only now, I am giving her permission to create what she wants to create, without limits.