A few years ago, I created a really cool piece of art that is installed in the local Starbucks store. It is pretty awesome to see my handiwork on display every time I grab coffee (which is rather often). However, I think that the lesson behind the art is more important than the piece itself.
Growing up, I didn’t consider myself to be an artist. I wasn’t extraordinary at drawing (like my cousin), or painting (like my aunt), or sculpting (like another cousin) — therefore, in my opinion, I was not an artist. I didn’t take art classes in high school (because doing so would have lowered my weighted GPA). I studied business and political science in college, hoping to land a conventional, grown-up, boring, standard, office job. Other than occasional crafting at home, I didn’t spend much time or thought in enhancing my creative capabilities – or so I thought.
Despite my lack of defined artistic talents, creative opportunities always seemed to creep into my life. I taught dance classes, substituted paintings for reflection papers in a few political science classes, mod-podged clippings from magazines on the covers of journals, did choreography for various community shows, spent time finding the “right angle” for taking pictures, meticulously scrap-booked memories of my high school career, etc. By my senior year of college (when I finally started owning my talents), I found time in my schedule to take a few art classes as electives; finally allowing myself to explore skills that I had previously overlooked.
Flash forward two years: I created the Starbucks art as a stress-relief project while spending a few months writing my master’s thesis. I designed and created the art because I enjoyed the process. I was far more concerned about the joy I felt while creating it than I was about achieving a perfect final product. When the piece was complete however, I realized it was rather extraordinary and probably deserved a fantastic wall to hang on. Given the thematic nature of the piece (it’s representative of the Starbucks logo), I needed to find a more suitable location than my parents’ living room for it to be displayed. However, despite the fact that I had created an awesome artwork, I still didn’t feel like an artist, and I really struggled with the idea of promoting the piece.
Fortunately, one book that I read during the research phase of my master’s work, Start Something that Matters, written by founder of TOMS shoe company, Blake Mycoskie, helped me to reconsider my perceptions of my talents. As a young entrepreneur, Blake quickly learned that he needed to confidently claim his passion and his work in order to be taken seriously. Throughout the book, he encouraged creatives to pick a job title that described what they did – regardless of whether they felt qualified to do it or not. His point was to inspire young leaders to take a step forward, toward their dreams, with authentic confidence, and then back it up with a passionate willingness to learn, improve, expand, and grow along the way.
Feeling inspired from reading Start Something that Matters and deciding that I had nothing to lose (except my pride), I mustered up the courage to inquire about hanging my art in the local Starbucks store. I introduced myself to the manager as a “local artist” and showed her photos of the art. Fortunately, she loved the piece and allowed me to semi-permanently install it in the store. To date, it has hung proudly for 4 years, garnering many kind compliments from customers and visiting corporate management.
Taking that small step toward owning my talent was the catalyst for embracing a life full of artistic ventures. While I’m not currently a full-time artist, claiming the title of artist also gave me the confidence to eventually embrace the titles of dancer, writer, yoga instructor, and barista, all of which have given me some incredible opportunities to creatively engage with friends, family, community members, and strangers through a variety of media.
This past weekend, I hosted a painting party, where I gave step-by-step instructions to do an acrylic painting. I encouraged the participants to find their own sparks of creativity throughout the process: asking them to consider colors and shapes that they preferred and emphasizing that there is no wrong way to create. The people who walked in the door belittling their own talents walked out with a beautiful painting that they were proud of.
Six years ago, I never would have offered to host such an event. At the time, I felt far too inadequate to lead other people in an artistic adventure. However, six years ago, I started to invest time, energy, and resources in honing my skills in art. I started to own my creative talents and look for casual and formal opportunities to expand my knowledge and understanding of painting – not so that I could become good enough to copy the work of painters that I admired, but so I could literally create my own unique artistic identity.
If I had permanently accepted my adolescent perception of my artistic abilities, I am positive that my life (and my home decor) would be pretty bland. While I have taken a few university-level art classes, I still have so much technical knowledge to learn about art. However, I will continue to claim the title of artist and continue to create things that spark joy – and hopefully inspire other people to do the same. I am confident that as I continue to own and invest in my talents, I will continue to grow – and probably create art that is even more interesting than the piece hanging in the coffee shop.
Significant challenge: Don’t wait until you achieve perfection in a particular skill to use it to positively impact other people’s lives, and bring joy to your own. Own your capabilities, embrace your skills and passions, and continue to seek out opportunities to both enhance and utilize the unique talents that make you you.