Thursday, September 27, 2012

Break the Limits of Impossibility

“Impossible” one of the cross-country guys said, “Girls speed peaks around 17-19, if you haven’t hit your marks you won’t get any faster.”

When Seal was in high school, she was in the cross-country club. Her school ranked top ten in Southern California. During senior year, at every race, her buddies in the team would beat their record time. They were getting faster while she plateaued. She asked her friends who were the record holders in the men’s team, how she could improve her running time during a race. What are good habits, form, nutrition, breathing, or extra information that can help her run better?

“Yeah, hate to say it, but boys and girls are made differently. You don’t have the lung capacity or build” they chimed.

During the next race, she came near last. It wasn’t because of an injury, or that she was out of breath, or lacked any previous practices. It was because no one believed in her. No one believed that she could improve, that she could change, that she could blossom. Even she had abandoned herself. “Why bother?” Became the mantra.

That day, Seal learned “limits.” She learned the word: “impossible.”

When she is vending at craft fairs, she sadly often hears this word:
-“Me? Be an artist?”: impossible
-Art school is too expensive: impossible
-There are no jobs, let alone creative jobs, in this recession: impossible
-“Yeah, but doesn’t that mean I’ll have to work a dayjob and create at night?”

Other labels come close to it: weird, stupid, can’t, no, don’t

And whenever she brings up the possibility of them being a potential artist, they counterattack with anger. “No, not for me.” They shrug furiously, “no, no,no. Maybe for you, sure.”  Or “It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?” As if she shook some dust off them, revealing a bright gem inside, but they try quickly to hide it again, because it hurts to think about the possibility. It hurts to think of the potential disappointment. It hurts to think of the lost years. Perhaps that they, too, once held a dream that they have had to give up on. It hurts that no one rooted for them. Or perhaps someone did, but circumstances didn’t play out. Or worse, that at the very heart of it, they had given up on themselves. That they no longer cared. They checked out years ago. They appear as paupers on the outside, but little did they know, that inside they were waiting to explode, inside they are kings and queens.

If this is you- Seal was also this way.

When she wanted to study art: “impossible,” was the retort.
When she wanted to go mountain climbing: “weird” and “stupid,” became the standard reply.
When she thought about going to a four-year university: “can’t afford that” was another favorite.

There is a reason for why people are blocked. For why people are not at their full potential. For why artists hide themselves. For why we “don’t care much.” For why we think things are “impossible.” We have perfectly logical reasons. We are trying desperately to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. From the look of disappointment from our parents/ teachers/ etc. The rejection from our peers, loved ones, or respected people. The heartache of going for a dream is familiar. We don’t want to go through any more of that. We shut the doors. Wall ourselves in. So that the parts that really matter will be so “small inside of us” that it cannot be touched by other people, it can never be doubted or insulted or be dragged out into the open to be laughed at.

Your block is your last ditch attempt to save yourself for a later date, when it is safe to come out. But some of us have forgotten, some of us think it is safer for our artist self to be inside. But your life is like a salamander in a cave who is content with the immediate moss next to him. Little does the salamander know, that life outside of the cave is so rich, filled with sights yet to be seen, adventures yet to be walked, and an abundance beyond his imagination.

So you can make a choice right now. At this very minute. To be with what is familiar, to continue your life as you are with the block, the frustration of not being your full potential, the safety of not having to reach deeper  . . .

Or you can choose to finally affirm that you have a right to be here. That you care about yourself, enough to give yourself another chance. To go for your dreams. That your dreams have always been with you. That when you reach down, you can trust that it is still there. That there is a part of you, even if it is ever so tiny, that had kept your dreams safe for you, and this tiny voice of yours would be really be ecstatic to see you give yourself another try. That you have everything you ever need right here and now.

If you don’t know what your dreams are, you have the best compass to your dreams. It is ironically the voice that kept you safe “Mr/Ms. Impossible.” Ask yourself, what is impossible?

-learn the piano
-be president of the United States
-have a million dollars
-be an artist

Who said it was impossible? Does the voice sound familiar? Was it your mom/dad/teacher/sibling/friend? Maybe you think it is your own voice (thought I doubt it, the inner you, no matter how painful it is, actually wants you to go after your creative voice, but you might have taken the critic voice on to protect yourself).

Once you know who the voice belongs to, what did they want from you? Ok, now what did they really want? (This can be perceived, or real said desires).

I had legitimate reasons to believe that growing up, my relatives didn’t want me to be an artist. They thought it wouldn't make money. They wanted me to marry and settle down. To work hard in the home but not outside of it. They wanted to live next door and be taken care of. They wanted me to preserve our cultural heritage (I was too “American”). They would have been VERY VERY HAPPY if I took on being a lawyer or a doctor, because that was considered “prestigious” and “secure.” (Now some of these things were never actually said, but I definitely got the hint. At Christmas parties, Little Billy who studied medicine and finished his BFA within three years always got the praise while my mother shoots me a look: “see?! You should be more like this.”

Though unproductively and albeit the misguided way - they wanted to protect me. They wanted me to succeed financially. But they didn’t know then. And I didn’t either. That art can be very creatively rewarding and commercially viable job options, if you so choose. A concept artist can make anywhere from $25,000-$120,000 /yr + benefits. A local gallery artist can make about $50-5,000 in a night’s showing. While notorious artists can make $100k+

The other stuff about cultural heritage and expectations, well – they’ll just have to accept me as I am, or not.

Another relative didn’t want me to pursue art because they felt threatened by me following my dreams. Let me tell you a secret, when you start following your dreams, there will be people who will cheer you on and there will be people who won’t. Stay with the camp that wants to see you reach your dreams. This is an unfortunate reality. When you start following your dreams, it is a threat to a lot of people and a stark reminder to them that they need to go for their dreams too. Well – my answer to that is – you cannot make a jealous friend love you or approve of you. Nor should you stop and hide your light under a bushel. You cannot expect that the “people you left behind” will and can free you, even if they might want to. You will have to grieve and give yourself permission to move forward. And lead by example.

Remember when I thought art, mountain climbing, and a four-year university were impossible? Completed all three from scratch. It took me 23 years to come back to art, 10 days to backpack and summit 14,000 ft. Mt. Henry in the Pacific Northwest, and my English teacher at Long Beach City College made it a part of her assignment for everyone to submit an application to a four-year university. At that time, I didn’t believe I could go beyond city college education. The next spring, I received full tuition and scholarships for UC Berkeley to study film and narrative. Seal is also starting marathon training again.

Move towards the realm of possibilities. You can do it.

“Impossible” is just a state of mind, a limiting belief. And a belief is only a theory. At some point people believed the earth was flat. If the only difference between belief in yourself and not belief in yourself is simply a shift in mental attitude, why not choose the more productive stance? Sure your odds might not as perfect in some instances, like being the Best of the Bands if you’ve never played the guitar, but just because chances might be slim now doesn’t mean that it might not open up in the future, or that you shouldn’t try now.

The sizes of our "limits" are only as big or as small as our mind creates them to be.

I was able to “go so far” because of the people who did believe in me, especially when I had given up on myself. But for a majority of my life, I didn’t have this support network, and in that case, you’ll have to believe in yourself first.

If your inner voice is hijacked by Mr/Ms. Impossible, it’s time to replace them with your favorite teacher, you loving relative, your ideal mentor, your unwavering friend. Post all their wonderful comments about how they see you.

Sometimes you have no one else’s permission or care, but yourself. So in that case, it will be hard, but you’ll have to be your best cheerleader and coach. Perhaps you can even write comments about your future self: “Seal has a great eye for cinematography and a steady speed for a marathon”

You have to give yourself permission. You have to care. You’ll have to give to yourself the way you’ve been waiting for someone to give to you.

No matter how hard you or others have tried to stifle your dreams - believe that your true self, even if it only has a tiny voice, knows that “you’re more than enough as you are now.”