Monday, April 28, 2014

The Right Way to Quit

Most of us have heard the phrases, "Don't give up!" "You can do it!" "Keep trying!" It rings as an encouraging anthem to keep us on that bike, that diet, that career path. Done in the right way, it's inspiring and stirring. Done wrong, it's bullying and guilting and miserable. We want to believe "Yes, I can!" but what if it's the wrong bike, the wrong diet, the wrong career path? Do we have to "Keep trying"?
Know When to Quit

I admit, I feel guilty when I quit something, even something as inconsequential as an online challenge. I feel like I've somehow let someone down somewhere, hurt someone's feelings, not lived up to my potential, been a bad example. The list goes on. It's been hammered into my generation and those before me since we were kids. It echoes in our heads whether our family says a peep. And it's not always right.

I'm learning that sometimes quitting is the best thing you could do for yourself. Whether it's a habit, a behavior, a relationship, or a job. It doesn't serve its purpose in your life anymore, it doesn't make you happy, and, in some instances, it's actually hurting you.

There are things you're allowed to quit. And no one should guilt you or bully you or make you miserable about them. Big things like relationships, jobs, political parties, religious beliefs. You're allowed to quit them, change your mind about them, think of them in new ways, and take unconventional paths.

Life is not mindlessly chugging away at one profession, or using one method against a problem, or one tool to do a job. It has many ways and many avenues. Sometimes what you're trying to do can't be approached from the angle you're at. Sometimes you need a new perspective. Sometimes you need to walk around the building and find that backdoor that's already open.

If you've written a novel and have come to the point where you recognize it's not going to be published, no matter how long you've worked on it, or taken a job you realize you're never going to receive a promotion in, it's okay to cut your losses. Find a new job, write a new novel. You don't need to stop writing or stop being a banker/architect/artist/etc. You just need a new approach to your goal.

If it's not working, quit. Do something else.

I say this to myself, giving myself permission to quit the 100 Happy Days Challenge - a challenge, which, in its very essence, guilts me over giving it up. But I don't have to post images online to prove I'm happy. I don't have to share all my personal moments. I don't have to draw one thing when I'd rather draw another.

The point of the challenge (for me) was to get myself to draw every day. The happiness aspect was just a jumping off point, a theme to follow if I didn't know what to draw. But I got tired of drawing myself and tired of working on things I knew I wouldn't put in my portfolio. I got behind and felt guilty, then I'd catch up, only to get behind again. Finally I worked on something that had nothing to do with the challenge, and that made me incredibly happy.

So, goodbye happiness challenge. You served your purpose. You got me to draw for 22 days and now I'm going to try it on my own. I'm feeling happier already!

If you want to see the sketches I did for the challenge, you can find them on my Tumblr. The 22nd one isn't a happy moment sketch, it's a colored novsketch from last November. I'm happy I finally finished it.

Bonus: Here's a wonderful article I found on quitting from The Self-Compassion Project.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Perfectionism: The Assassin of Creativity

It's bad for an illustrator to be a perfectionist. It's bad for anyone to be a perfectionist. Perfectionism kills motivation and the momentum of imagination. It's like tying a big rock to the leg of a beautiful bird. You can soar - but, wait, what's that you forgot to do? You really should do that before you continue. It won't look right if you don't. People will point at it and see the glaring mistake you made because you forgot to do that thing. You need to plan ahead and foresee the problems you might face. Let's take a minute and do that. Then a few more just to be really sure. On second thought, if you wait til tomorrow maybe you'll be in a better frame of mind to draw this picture. (This is when procrastination kicks in. It tags along with perfectionism a lot. I think they carpool.) You need reference pictures and you can't find the right pose. Let's just wait and do that later.

And you know what? You never do, and then you proceed to kick yourself for it for days. This is why perfectionism and its cohort procrastination are bad for creative people. There's always something  you could do better, wait for, improve upon. And if you wait to do it 'right', you might never do it at all.

We learn by doing, and by making mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes become 'happy accidents' and turn out to be the best part of a piece. Sometimes they take a story in a different direction. Embrace them. They are not out to get you.

Perfectionism is a boogeyman. It paralyzes you with fear, and when you're paralyzed you don't try new things, you don't experiment, you don't innovate. You don't step out of your comfort zone, because your comfort zone is what you know you're already good at. Heaven knows what would happen if you tried something you've never done before!

This brings me to the concept of newbism, the state of being a newbie. (Not to be confused with n00b, which is derogatory. N00bs purposefully annoy people and mess things up.) It's okay to be a newb.

I was insulted with that term recently while playing a new game online. I stared at the chat screen for a minute, made a face, and thought, "Well, duh! How else am I supposed to become a veteran?" Elite gamers, artists, writers, musicians, and anyone who's ever tried anything, are not instant. Everyone is a newbie at the beginning.

You won't become a veteran by being a perfectionist, unless your perfectionism allows you to better yourself without criticizing yourself. Self-criticism is a beast and tells you you just aren't good enough. Ever. Coupled with perfectionism, you might as well be wearing a straitjacket.

So if you're an artist, be an artist. Play with media, concepts, other styles, and don't be afraid to make work that isn't perfect. The best art isn't perfect. It's expressive, it's alive, and should reflect the artist who made it. Don't be perfect. Be yourself, because no one else can be you. Your work will follow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What's Wrong With Being a Cat Lady?

I don't understand the stigma against cat ownership for single women in this country. I just don't. This is coming from a person who, besides being single and owning a cat, is also a library clerk. I vaguely fit a number of stereotypes. I even wear glasses.

Stereotypes never encompass a whole person. That's why I'm glad the 'cat lady' stereotype is getting turned on its head by a number of single businesswomen. These women choose to be single and to own cats, because cats are independent animals. I've known this for years. That's why I have two of my own.

I like dogs. I think they're sweet and affectionate, and they're always at your side. Always. Which is why I own cats. Unlike dogs, who require a lot more attention and energy, cats often would be just fine without you. They don't need you as much (except at meal times) and don't hesitate to let you know it. They choose to be with you, and that's what makes a relationship with them so special.

Not all cats are the same, either. Just like with dogs, it depends on the breed and the personality. Cats have a name for being aloof, unloving, arrogant creatures, and women who own them have to be the same, right? After all, they don't need men. They don't own dogs. (I'm not going to compare the two. I'll let you make that leap yourself.)

It's a choice and its ours to make. So why does society (or men) have such a problem with it?

I have a theory. They're jealous. They feel unneeded. We no longer require their validation. We're beyond their reach and their influence because we've made the choice of an independent pet while we decide the route of our lives. (if you think that sounds ridiculous, we're on the same page) They suggest we're replacing men with pets to make us feel bad... as if there's something wrong with it.

Figaro guarding my purse
Since I've had my cats, and an on-again-off-again dating life, I've been so happy.

My cats never argue with me, never patronize me, never insult my appearance, never feel inferior because of my paycheck, never expect me to change. They only hurt me when their claws are out, and my oldest cat even withdraws his when they contact flesh. He literally pulls his punches. How many people do that in relationships?

So if society and men tease us because they're bitter and resentful, what can we do about it? Well, we can beat it. We can change it. We can rise above it. Let them stew in the juices of their sour hearts, because we're not giving them attention. And we'll continue not giving them attention until they treat us with respect again.

What would it prove if I got into a relationship I didn't want just to no longer be a single 'cat lady' library clerk? What would it benefit me or the poor guy I was leading on? Why do men need to see a woman with a man to prove she's worth something? I think that's the bigger question here. Not the type of pet a woman has.

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