How will this decision affect me? How will it affect others? What will people think if I do this? Will it make them happy? Will it make me happy? Is this a good idea? What are all the possible ways this could go wrong and how do I keep myself safe if it does?
Ok, a bit of a hyperbole (for example, I can decide what to eat for breakfast without any major conundrums), but you get the idea. I think the last question is most significant. How can I keep myself safe?
For me safety means a variety of things, from literal physical well being to long term financial security, but more often than not, it means comfort. I am a creature of habit (for example, I love having a routine) and when that gets disrupted I sometimes like to burrow deeper into my den of safety. But how many times am I missing out on something awesome because of my desire for predictability? The answer: a lot.
Growing up, I did not take chances and it has shaped my life. I like my life, a lot, so I don't look at my past with regret, but there are unanswered questions: who would I be if I'd gone away to college instead of commuting? If I went to an art school instead of state college? If I pursued my passions on a whim instead of worrying so much about choosing the best, most secure time to follow them?
The point is there is no best time, an idea that stood out to me most this morning listening to Love and Sequins #2 (highly recommended, go buy it now!!). The best time to do what you want is at the moment and to put your energy into making it happen. This makes most sense to me with regards to my art. My life has been lived according to the (false) ideas that I should do art on the side, and work a serious job during the day. Additionally, I held on to the notion that everyone else out there was better at art than me, which has a degree of truth in any field there will always be people who are better than you, BUT the important thing is that I used this notion as an excuse to not even try. On the days where I would try to create something, I would dismiss my efforts as lame or ugly and continue to fritter away time. I began to believe that art ability was inherent and that no effort on my part would change that.
A turning point in my thinking came when I read The Talent Code (TTC) by Daniel Coyle. His argument is that what we think of as "talent" is actually focused hard work on a given skill (art, sports, even socializing) and that anytime we perform deep practice, we are actually changing our brains in a way that reinforces and strengthens the skill. And the best way to learn something? Make a mistake. To me, this was a revolutionary concept. As someone who had always been so careful, the idea that I should actively make mistakes would have been scary if not for the fact that by virtue of making the mistake your brain is learning and eventually will no longer make the same mistake. There will be tangible neurological outcomes for our efforts. Therefore, if I want to enter the realm of "talented" artists, I need to do the work and make the mistakes; choose the wrong color, make the eyes too big, use the wrong paper. (It is worth nothing that my mom knew this concept without having read TTC; as children she always encouraged us to "draw, draw, draw!")
And truly, the more I study people who are successful or have built their own identities, the more I realize that they are not different from the masses, EXCEPT that they are willing to take the risks and do the work. They will talk to that stranger on the bus to build a contact, stay up the extra hour past bedtime to complete an image, or cancel plans with that friend to edit their work so that it is pristine. I want to join this league of hard workers and risk takers and moreover, I want to teach my students that they too can do this. The American Dream is "You can have whatever you want" but the addendum needs to be "As long as you do the work." Don't be afraid to make mistakes. It is all part of being successful.