Every part of me wishes that I had learned it earlier, but it took me the better part of my conscious existence to really understand that humans can learn just about any skill imaginable. All of us have friends, relatives, heroes and even individuals we passionately dislike who are very, very good at something – so good they can’t be ignored – or have accomplished astronomic heights. And I can’t justify how long it took me to acknowledge that, no matter how unbelievable the gap is between me and Mozart or Monet or Bill Gates or Tiger Woods or Elon Musk, it was just a bunch of consistent, smart, hard work... way more than I’ve done in those areas. Ugh. No prodigies? No born talent? No differences in DNA? No privileged circumstances? Well, almost negligibly some of those and definitely the last of those, but even with the uneven playing field in mind, I consciously remind myself that my day is a collection of choices, and nothing in life has ever been so delicious to know! What freer way to live than with the certainty that we are supremely trainable animals?
My dad is an amazing artist, and he put his brushes away a long time ago to get good at math and computers. So I grew up in a house filled with art and always drawing with the adults crunching numbers (my also creative mom is an accountant). I put art away years ago – somehow I figured that not taking a high school art class was the way to go. I was afraid of color, afraid of new mediums, afraid of failing at it, so I just quit altogether. Certainly doing nothing was better than being embarrassed about making ugly stuff, right? That didn’t feel good at the end of the day, though. Years went by. I made nothing. I didn’t get better at it. I felt bad.
Speaking of difficult, I’ve mentioned before that I do jiu jitsu (looks a bit like high school wrestling, sometimes in a bathrobe) and that it’s really hard to get good. Our guy who joined in 2007 just got his black belt this years, and he took few breaks, had some kids and kept up a full-time teaching position. It was something about getting the mat cleaned with my face night after night that finally renewed by belief that getting good at something complicated is really hard (REALLY hard) and takes time. Obvious, right? And so on June 24, 2017, taking a night off nine months into practice, I lay in bed staring at the house spiders on the ceiling thinking about how I wasn’t making art. I’d skipped practice because, although I loved it, it was also painful and really defeating if I let it be. I failed a LOT but I never let my ego defeat my wish to keep practicing – those are the people who quit in the long run. I counted down from five, got up and found my art supplies under the bed. Once I started painting (deciding I’d keep going even if I was failing), I didn’t stop for a couple of hours. And that process, although I giggle about it now, was so satisfying to me that I haven’t put my paints down yet! I now have a tiny company (Worth the Paint, LLC) and a website to showcase my joy. I wouldn’t have believed it was possible a year ago!
Studying both martial and visual arts has changed my life profoundly and led me down a path to trying to understand how the brain works. Why do we hesitate? Why do procrastinate? Why do we do the same things repeatedly? How do we learn? Why do we stop learning? How do we develop grit to persevere despite failure?
I am learning the answers, and I should know a thing or two in another twelve years or so, seeing as I don’t intend on stopping for any reason.