Investing in myself and embracing authenticity

living authentically
Last year, I was asked by my coach at the time what I did to invest in myself.

Her coaching was in lieu of help I had been giving on a project and I was hard pressed to remember a time when I had really invested in myself. I went to the hairdresser only when my mane became particularly unruly, had never had my nails done professionally and had not received a massage or other such treatment in at least 5 years. Paying for coaching or spending money on mentoring or personal development that involved anything more than spending a few quid on Amazon was totally off the radar.

How then, she enquired, did I expect other people to invest in me and my offerings?

This conversation came around the time that I was working on content for my online courses. It took a few months before her words of wisdom finally sunk in, but eventually they did. Still, investing in myself when I had little money to my name felt like an enormous leap. Nevertheless, I was keen to make substantial changes in my life and on the last day of last year, I signed up with my mentor, committing to one year of working together. I have not regretted it for one moment. I had faith that if I invested in myself, other people would also invest in me. One month and a day later, I ran my first online course, with more participants than I had imagined possible for a first outing.

My major learning in the past few months, guided by my mentor, has been around authenticity. How can I build a business in a way that’s authentically me? The answer reflects back to the conversation with my coach around leading by example and living the life that I want to be living and sharing that authentic me… more joy, more gratitude, more creativity. So, here I am, six months in, blogging about my personal journey so far this year.

It may sound obvious, but I have noticed how, particularly as mothers, we too often neglect our own needs. We make sure our kids wear their coats on cold days, eat healthy, well balanced meals, go to bed early enough that they are well rested, attend clubs, see friends, but do you ever ask yourself what about me? I have lost count of the times I have left the house under-dressed or under-fed, stayed up way too late and neglected to spend time with my friends. Surely this too is behaviour we should be modelling… to care for (and speak to) ourselves as we would someone we love.

These past few weeks, I have been living more authentically. I am addressing my own needs and if I want to do something because it excites me and pushes me a little (such as horse riding), I will do it, knowing it will benefit me. I have invested in support to move through difficult issues. I have invested in a couple of items of clothing that my (self-designated) budget would not previously have stretched to. I dress up to stand out, not to fit in. I had my hair done before it got to the desperate stage; have taken time to clarify my feelings on certain subjects, allowed myself to really feel them and spoken my mind. I am finding my voice in more ways than one.

In finding my voice and being true to myself, I find that I have more to share and new ways of connecting. I feel more me. All of this comes from the more conscious, authentic living that I am working on. The knock on effect is that more people see what I am doing, are encouraged to consider making their own changes and subscriptions are increasing steadily. This keeps me going on my creative path and the more I commit to my path, the more I feel I want to share. I can feel it all growing… the business, the authenticity, the energy.

Other surprising things are happening; more opportunities are opening up day by day. So it is when you commit to your path and allow yourself to be open to change. The more I do of the things that excite me and bring joy to my life, the clearer I get about the path I want to follow and the closer I get to it day by day. What you focus on grows and in being grateful for all of the joys in my life already, there is more to be grateful for every day.

If you could do anything, how would you invest in yourself?
What single, small change can you make today from which you will benefit?
If there is any part of yourself that you are hiding, or if you feel that you have lost your way, think back to when you felt most you and most happy.
What can you do today to live more authentically?
Leave a comment below and tell me.

With my love,
Julia x

Setting intentions and doing what makes you come alive

My play map

As I work my way through the Screw Work Let’s Play Ignition programme, I find myself diving into Play Mapping. With additional coaching from Selina Barker, I am getting clearer on how I would like my working life to be and taking a step closer to that every day. I am fairly happy with my life as it is, but hey, there is always room for improvement and I could do with more work and income when small boy starts school in just 12 weeks time… I want to be sure that I love what I am doing and getting paid to play. Play Mapping involves dreaming big. It means creating a vision of what you really, really want and this involves getting to the very heart of the experiences you desire in your life. So, I have been dreaming big, but also getting very practical about the little steps I can take right now to get closer to that dream life on a day to day basis.

To the sea

As expressed in my play map, I felt the need for wide open skies and sea air this weekend, so I took my best friend Laura, her youngest daughter and my boys on a day trip to Hastings. We had fish & chips, rode the rollercoaster (not in that order) and played hide and seek amongst the gorse bushes in Hastings Country Park. These are the things that make me come alive. I returned home with salty, tangled hair and a good feeling about things to come. The restorative effects of this day of play are still with me and the trip got Laura sketching again.

One of the most important things to me is sharing and connecting with like minded people. I have long known that in order to create a successful, sustainable business, it is necessary to grow my tribe, but this week I acknowledged that fact and started to take steps towards the goal of reaching out and connecting with more people. On Wednesday, I set the intention of finding a blog for which I could provide a guest post. I mentioned this to a few people and sent this desire out into the universe. Within 24 hours, my call was answered from the most unexpected of directions. I stumbled upon Paula, a like-minded blogger in Buenos Aires who was seeking guest posts and, as luck would have it, someone had dropped out leaving a spot for me right away. As Paula so sweetly put it, “The Universe was playing mix and match with us”. By Friday… less than 48 hours after setting my intention, my first guest blog post was up! You can read it here.

On Monday, I was Paula’s guest illustrator of the week and another of my images was being shared. Whilst I have been letting go of outcome in my art, the power of setting small, but clear intentions with a bigger goal in mind has been such a great lesson for me this week. My desire to connect led to another contact closer to home… the delightful Hatti of Parent Tribe. Parent Tribe is a new online magazine and website which aims to inspire and support parents to find ways to be together with their children more, living creative, holistic and fulfilling lives. I am so thrilled that some of my photographs will be used in the next issue and I am looking forward to connecting with other creative parents online.

And so, as the week progresses, I will be doing more of what makes me come alive. I will be going back to my play map and fitting more of these things into my daily life. I will be setting more intentions as well. Starting with the bigger dream, I will consider the next step I need to take in order to get closer to that bigger dream… I will set my intention and take the leap.

Have you tried Play Mapping?

How have you used the power of intentions to get closer to your big dream?

 

The breakthrough

Three days ago I wrote about The Slump… that dark moment, part-way in, when I question everything. Familiar with this heavy territory, I also acknowledged that “This is often the moment before the breakthroughs happen… when you ride the storm and come out the other side; brighter, stronger.” Last night I felt brighter and stronger than I have felt in a long time. The breakthrough came sooner than I thought.

On Thursday night, having raised my voice too loud, I was suffering from an anger hangover. The term references what Brené Brown calls “the vulnerability hangover”, a term that she coined when she needed a concept that captured that feeling of, “Oh my God! Why did I share that? What was I thinking?” My term “anger hangover” captures my feeling of, “Oh my God! Why did I just shout like that? What was I thinking?” It was one of those evenings when I was over-tired and going over old ground, asking nicely for things to be done to no response and being faced with yet another challenging episode of big boy picking on small boy, when the fuse blew. When all was finally quiet and boys were both in bed, I was still feeling the aftershock of being pushed to my limits and becoming a person I think (wish, hope against hope) I am not. I feel it in every inch of my body… the tension, the regret, the shrinking into myself, the desire to undo, the reality of what I become when I forget, for an instant, to discipline calmly or to walk away. It was eating me up and I had to get it out, so I turned to my art. I did not know where I was going, so I followed my instinct, went to the pen drawer and picked up the thickest, blackest pen I could find. It was how I was feeling. I rolled out a length of brown wrapping paper and taped it to the table. There is something about the shade and the texture of that paper that makes me feel happy and safe. It is comforting in a way that I cannot describe. I picked up a pencil, lay my head on the paper I traced my profile. It came naturally to me. I still had no idea what I was doing, just feeling my way. I traced another profile… my other side, making two faces staring blankly at each other. With the thick black marker I traced each profile. One appeared a little softer… the me I would like to be. The other I attacked with my pen, drawing in jagged lines, up and down, angry with sharp edges. I scribbled areas of black at the back of my neck where the tension lay and in my chest where I felt the embarrassing pain of the me I had been in that moment and the spikes and lines that came out from my throat were expressions of what I had done. It felt good, letting it all out. And when it was done, it was done. I had released the tension, expressed the feelings and the fear. 

I then turned my attention to the other face. I felt calmer; my edges softer and that came out in the pen, the fluid lines, the flowing, curling waves of the me I wanted to be. It was that simple. I was redressing the balance. I drew out the me I wanted to be and in doing so I became calmer in the moment.

Redressing the balance: how it was and how it should have been

Late Friday afternoon, I listened to an audio recording by Laura Hollick in which she explained how she had discovered a technique which had enabled her to heal her skin and grow in confidence; a technique which she herself had created, just by feeling her way and going deeply into her art. Hearing her describe the technique and listening as she shared this way of working, I realised that I had to share what I had done the previous night for myself. So, last night, when two friends arrived for my evening workshop, we first went through a few tried and tested techniques… playful ways to step out of your comfort zone and let go of the idea of making perfect art; ways to immerse yourself in the creative process and enjoy the pure pleasure of simply making art. And then, I took the leap of sharing what I had tried the night before. We traced our profiles onto paper and I asked each of my friends to think of something that was a challenge for them right now… to go deeply into that feeling and let it out on the paper. I did the same.

In creating my negative head, I could feel myself scratching away with pastel on paper, rubbing and smudging, blurring and spilling every ounce of negative feeling into the dark-edged drawing that was my fearful self. There were glimmers in there too… fighting the dark, but overall this image represented the fear of a beige existence, tied to a job I do not love, a reality that is far from my own right now, but a possibility that seems to be raising its head from time to time. I resist and resist and even thinking about it I feel the darkness descend, starting right in my eyes and moving up over my head and down my neck, into my back, shoulders and beyond. It comes from the fact that I do not have a steady, stable income. I am not in reliable employment, I am feeling my way, just getting by, and how does that equate with a life in which I have a mortgage and two children depending on me? But I trust in the process. I believe wholeheartedly (and some might say naively, but they may never experience) that this exciting and terrifying ride will lead to freedom. And when I say “freedom”, I mean freedom from the cage of other people’s expectations. I mean freedom from being chained to a life that is not your own. I mean the freedom to be me… the me I am yearning to be.

And so, in the other head, I created my colourful life. I filled it with layers of greens and blues and let the brightness of all that I wish for and all I am working towards shine, and it felt good and it flowed freely and easily and I rose above my shadow and felt liberated and ready to take on the world. All of the negativity had slipped away and I was left with a feeling that this was the way forward and I only wished that we had more time.

We shared our stories… the challenges and the desired outcomes and described how we had represented these feelings and how it felt to be creating and sharing amongst friends.

It was a powerful releasing and allowing…a shedding… a letting go… a way of tapping into our emotions and creating a new reality… a brighter future being mapped out right there and then on paper with our own hands. And in sharing we were connecting.

My immediate thought was that a whole day of doing this kind of thing could be so worthwhile… encouraging and allowing people to make imperfect art for the sheer joy of creating and using art as a way of tapping into our emotions and letting go and sharing the story with new friends.

So this is my path. For now, I will continue to map out my own emotions. I will empty the negative into my art and create the positive new. This is my breakthrough. This is my path out of The Slump and not only this one, but any more that await me just over the horizon too.

Letting go: the fear and the brighter path

I would love to know what big breakthroughs you have experienced following a slump. Have you used your art as a path out of the darkness and into the light?
Please feel free to share your experiences here…

With love,
Julia x

 

The slump

I’m there. I am there in the place I always arrive at, but choose to forget: the slump. It is a place that is part of the challenge and I am right back in the thick of it. By the the time I get here, it is too late to turn back. Day 12. I am not even half way through. I have made it this far, why stop now? Because now, the challenges outweigh my energy to deal with them. But I can’t stop. I am in too deep. This is the point at which the easy option is to give up, but then I would be right back where I started and that’s not the point of all this. The point is to push on through. The point it to come face to face with the challenges and keep going regardless… keep going even though I have no clue which direction I will take next or where all this is leading me or even why I am even doing it at all. I get here when I have been burning the candle at both ends, getting up too early, staying up too late, trying to squeeze a little something into a tiny window of time and then getting caught up in the flow and not wanting to stop. Those are the moments when I come alive… the moments I feel happiest, the moments when the creativity is just spilling out and I never want to stop. And then life kicks in and reality hits and I need to sleep, but I just want to keep going, and the house is a tip and we have no milk or bread and have work still to do, but it’s time for the school run and I am late again and I feel like a hamster on a wheel and that’s not the point of this.

Stop.

It’s OK.

It’s all part of the process.

I don’t have to change my life in one hit.

Patience.

Look at what I have achieved. This is not about beating myself up about what I haven’t done, or can’t do. This is the moment to step back and evaluate.

This is day 12. Less than 2 weeks in and I am back in flow. I am doing things that make me come alive. This is often the moment before the breakthroughs happen… when you ride the storm and come out the other side; brighter, stronger. This was about finding my direction again and I have already learned so much about letting go and I have already moved two people to re-commit to their creativity. Is that not progress enough? Patience. Time for a little self-care. Time to talk to myself kindly. Time to give myself space. Time to say that it’s OK just to post a little doodle I did whilst listening to a lecture on an artist last night. Time to breathe. Time to re-commit. Time to remind myself that this is worthwhile. Time to tame the voices in my head.

What about the fact that I am feeling like I have no direction?
What about the new pieces of art that are being created… more stuff to find a home for when I am trying to clear the clutter?
What about the fact that I need more work; need to make more money?
What about the fact that I don’t have a defined style and all the artists whose work I admire do?

I don’t even have to answer those questions right now. They are not important. They come ffrom the part of me that puts the brakes on. Acknowledge that they exist and move on through.

This is natural. It’s part of the process. Embrace the unknown. Push. On. Through.

What do you do when you hit the slump? I would love to know what you do when the slump hits you?

It’s launch day!

For the past 30 days, I have been part of a closed community of 200 people, each working away on a personal passion or goal. The 30 Day Challenge is an online programme, run by John Williams, author of Screw Work Let’s Play and coach extraordinaire Selina Barker.

This was my third 30 Day Challenge.

I return year after year as the format, of the programme, the support on offer and the results I achieve always make me feel good. This year, I set out on a mission to Share JOY through ART. My original idea for doing this was through an e-course. It soon became clear that this was not going to happen within the 30 days as I went off on a deep journey of self-discovery, pushing personal boundaries to express myself more fully and gaining a wonderful sense of clarity in so many areas of my life.

Through face to face workshops, I was able to share my own joy in the process of art-making and I am now pleased to offer both group workshops and one to one sessions for anyone keen to explore their creative side. Would you like to join me?

I continued to push forward with my own creative practice and after years of promoting the work of other artists, I am finally offering my own art through an Etsy shop.

Keen for everyone to benefit from the delights of living a creative life, I am now offering a free downloadable PDF of simple ways to invite creativity into your everyday life to everyone who subscribes to the Be Creative Daily mailing list. If you are already a subscriber, yours will soon be arriving by e-mail. If you would like to sign up, just click here and you will soon be a step closer to welcoming more joy and creativity into your daily life.

Right, I am off to launch my project over on the 30 Day Challenge and then it’s time to put my feet up.
Much love,
Julia x

Share JOY through ART

Share JOY through ART

Working through emotions

Dissolving emotions from Be Creative Daily on Vimeo.

After making the last film which expressed all that I was going through over the weekend, I felt cleansed, I felt stronger.

It was a very vulnerable experience sharing such raw emotions, but the responses I received confirmed that I was doing the right thing in sharing… opening doors for others to express how they feel.

This morning I felt compelled to experiment further with the film, cut it, reverse it, speed it up, to express the fact that sharing the emotions had been a healing experience and had enabled me to confront them, make friends with them, conquer them and move on. (This new film can be seen above.)

It is a long and winding path we travel, but if we acknowledge our feelings and allow ourselves to feel them deeply, we can learn from them also and in doing this, we enable ourselves to feel JOY more deeply too.

This morning, I created a piece of art (see below) which, I hope, illustrates the transformation we make when we embrace our darker, more difficult emotions, work through them and come out the other side shining.

I would love to hear of your own experiences if you feel like sharing.
With love,
Julia x

To be Lonely / To be Loved

I embarked on the 30 Day Challenge on March 1. My mission was to Share JOY through ART. As often happens, the path took unexpected twists and turns. I had not expected this so soon. All sorts of deep-seated feelings and emotions have been unearthed. I am learning to embrace them, feel them, learn from them. 

It seems so strange to be sharing these emotions and feelings when my challenge was to share JOY, but this is part of the process and I firmly believe it will come full circle as I do here. Already, having explored those feelings, I am stronger, they have less power.

In my attempts to share JOY, I have also been reconsidering how important it is to examine the way in which we experience other, darker emotions and rather than hide them, just be with them and let them do their work.

Today, I was moved by the work of Marina Abramovic. I feel am in a very important period of transition and transformation. Discovering her performance art inspired me to make this video.

To Be Lonely / To Be Loved from Be Creative Daily on Vimeo.

“In the deeper sense, it’s about hospitality. It’s that you actually open yourself to the public and show your vulnerability, your contradictions and be there in the full sense for them.”
Marina Abramovic

Breaking through creative blocks to finish what I started

Birds in flight

Birds in flight

Last week I started playing… painting with my hands, expressing myself freely, seeing what came out. I loved it… the freedom of movement, the new ways in which I was applying paint, with paper, cardboard, sticks, fingers, even the side of my hand. I liked what I created… the textures, the layers of colour, the freedom of allowing myself to create freely without a goal or even an image in mind was liberating and fun.

However, when it came to moving on to the next stage… attempting to assemble it into some kind of finished work, something changed. I no longer liked it. I felt frustrated, incompetent, restrained.

So I stopped.

Then I looked around… and in doing so, I noticed several abandoned projects. I saw the empty frames asking to be filled. I saw the half-finished paintings, waiting for me to go back to them. I saw the little sculptures that I intended to paint. One day.

And something happened. I realised that this is the point at which I always abandon. This is the moment, when the fear and the feeling of not being good enough take over and I stop. I identified my pattern… my stumbling block.

So I made a conscious decision to continue. I decided to keep working and push through the creative block to see what would happen if I just kept on creating. I tore up my textures and began layering them again. I cut out shapes and pieced them together and added more layers and within the space of just ten minutes, I was happy again. I had created something I loved and wanted to stay up all night just to get it finished.

Common sense (and fatigue) got the better of me and I went to sleep work unfinished, but today I went back to the piece again.

I layered more. I painted more. I cut new images, pasted them on… and frustration set in again. Doubts crept in… I felt like walking away. So I did for a while, but instead of walking away from my art, I painted through the frustration, I cut more shapes, tried new techniques and went back to the original piece.

It took a while to arrive at the finished piece, but I made it. With persistence and determination I managed to create something I rather like. I needed patience to reach this place, but it sits in a big square box frame now, grass flapping forward as if bowing in the breeze, birds wings curling as though in flight and I have positioned it, pride of place, in the living room, just to remind me that if I just keep on going I will get there… even if I don’t know exactly where I am headed when I start.

Flock of birds painting framed

Flock of birds painting framed

Shifting sheds and recycling doors to create a gorgeous communal space in the garden

Ready for action!

Ready for action!

Yesterday, I wrote about what I have achieved here at home recently. What I did not mention was that the work indoors was preceded by some serious changes out of doors. The text below was written last night as part of the previous blogpost, but I decided to save it for today to enable me to also share some images with you. 

This was where all of the de-cluttering and space changing really began…

Our first task was to knock down a shed. Contents were removed and B (with some help from big boy) took the shed apart. Piece by piece we took it out front, loaded the car, dumped the lot. The contents were next. A big job to sort through, but liberating. Easier to do outside than inside for some reason. Everything that was still required had to find a space in shed #2 and this meant emptying and sorting shed #2. A major task, we got stuck in, took more stuff to the dump and B built shelves to organise only the things I still wanted. The rest was gone. This, I learned, was an important part of the clearing out process… if it doesn’t have a home, it has to go. So, we made homes for the things I wanted and lost a whole lot of stuff that had been hanging around too long.

We already had a plan for the space where the shed had been, but this morphed as we set to work. It had always been our intention to create a small seating area where shed #1 had been. During one of our lunch breaks, we created a makeshift table by placing the old shed door on old Singer sewing machine legs which had been doing nothing outside the back door for too long. Sitting at our makeshift table, we were struck with how lovely it was to be sat there, up on the little raised area at the end of the garden, sharing a meal in the sun. Talking our ideas through with big boy, he revealed that he was quite happy with his little wooden house where it was and so our plans to move his house up to the back of the new seating area were set aside. This meant that we had more room for the seating area. With this in mind, we went on a little skip-trawling mission. A few minutes into our adventure and we discovered a big wooden door looking unwanted in a front garden. B knocked on the door and asked if we could take it away. Happy for us to do so, the friendly chap even helped carry it to the car. We strapped it to the roof with a couple of bunjies and after some deliberation over dimensions, B cut it down to a more manageable size. It was then sanded and primed, painted and re-painted and fixed firmly to the Singer base. I know have a fabulous table in my garden around which I can comfortably seat eight people; ten at a squeeze.

And the best part? B used his woodworking skills to built me a beautiful pergola. I created a little bird template and he cut this gorgeous detail into the ends of each beam. Wisteria is already beginning to wind its way over it, and most meals have been eaten at the table under it on sunny days since it was completed. Big boy and I even enjoyed a game of Monopoly out there one morning. It has meant that I am now much happier using my outdoor space and can’t wait to invite friends to share a meal there and light some candles as the evening closes in.

Come on over…

A conclusion, but not an end… let’s play

The 30 Day Challenge concludes today.
The journey of those 30 days is documented here.
When I look at what I have created over this period of 30 days, I see me. I see an artist. I see colour, life and joy. And that is only half of it. What I see here does not include the hearts in the woods that will, by now, have shifted shape, maybe vanished entirely, but hopefully brought a smile to the faces of passers-by. It does not include the photographs of flowers and trees, my word pictures, my first video interview, my unfinished experiments or the painting I left out in the rain to see what happened. I notice, from what I do have here, that I spent roughly half my time making tangible works of art… and the rest was play, but in a different way.

As those of you who have been following or making this journey along with me will know, this past month has been one of transformation. I have broken down some of the barriers I had put up for myself over many years… fears of making bad art, fears of not living up to my own (often unreasonable) expectations, the pressure (put on by none other than me) to produce something good, something original, something worthwhile. I have been reminded of the great joy and sense of inner peace I used to experience from simply putting pen to paper, from letting words and images flow, from looking at the little details in life and in sharing.

I feel liberated and refreshed, invigorated and inspired.

And I feel lucky.
Lucky to have had this amazing experience… to have grasped an opportunity that was offered to me and to have been part of a safe and incredibly supportive community of people, each taking small steps to make big changes in their lives, spurring each other on, offering encouragement on difficult days and celebrating successes together.

And I am grateful.
Grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read these words, look at these pictures, share their thoughts here. I am grateful to all those who have offered advice and ideas. To Selina and John for creating the space to make such change to happen. Thank you. You have all made this experience such a pleasure.

This evening, I will earn my first playcheque, for inviting people into my home to make art with me. How amazing is that? To get paid to do what I love and share that joy with others. My desire is to inspire and I hope that those who attend the workshop this evening will take pleasure in expressing themselves visually and sharing that experience with others.

Creativity has, once again, become an intuitive and joyful expression of who I am.

Creative play is, after all, only natural. It is the one of the first activities we engage in as children and at that stage, it comes without thinking, it is all in the moment, all about exploring, learning, enjoying life. Surely this is something we all need to re-capture and re-live. Today, without thinking, I found myself singing, improvising with my small son… he led, I followed. I made little films of his innocent and amusing games, photographed his funny little experiments with food on his face, then handed him the camera to document the day in his own way.

What if each one of us took every available opportunity to play…?
What if, whenever we were sad or stuck, we tried to play our way out of the situation…? What if, when faced with a difficult decision or awkward situation, we played it out… thought to ourselves, “what would be the most fun way of dealing with this?” and tried that option out…?
My guess is that it may not work in every situation, but I do believe that in many, it would.

So, as the 30 Day Challenge draws to a close, rather than being an end, this was just the beginning… a little introduction, a prelude to what’s to come… the start of a new, playful chapter in what I hope will become a long and adventurous story in which I hope you will also play a part.