My very first and only work of art, loosely speaking, was created in Mrs. Levine’s 5th grade class: a vase filled with springs flowers. I clearly remember sitting down at my desk, with the art book opened to the page with the picture, sharpened pencil in my hand, drawing what I saw in the book. I had no idea what I was doing, nor what I was supposed to do — after all, I was only 10 years old. I just looked at the vase filled with flowers and tried my best to draw what I saw in the book on the paper. If a line went astray I didn’t panic. I just made it into something that worked — a leaf maybe, or I just erased and started again. I just kept going, and when I was done no one was more shocked than I to see a vase and flowers on the page. Perhaps the flowers weren’t perfect bluebells or roses, and I wasn’t going to be the next Monet, but I was thrilled with what I’d done, and for the next few days that picture infused me with a passion to draw things and be an artist — at least until something new caught my eye.
As kids, we find passion and inspiration in so many things, and we don’t tie ourselves down to believing there is one and only one plan for how things are supposed to work out in our lives. Yet I watch so many adults struggle each day to discover passion in a life that doesn’t look like the one they planned. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone get ensnared in the world of “what should have been,” “could have,” and “was supposed to have been.” Gloomily, for many people, that struggle is something that dominates their adult life.
Why is it that as adults we find it so difficult to infuse our lives with passion when it doesn’t look like the life we originally planned?
For a lot of us it’s because as adults we believe that we know precisely how best to execute the strategy that will assure our happiness, success, and aspirations. In the end, it’s a simple exchange: we swap experimentation and learning for comfort and control. We falsely believe that if we don’t deviate from the strategy, then the conclusion is a certainty. And that all we have to do is play it safe, follow the strategy, and problem solve our way back to certainty when something goes awry and therein lies the trap.
Playing it safe is really like throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum, and trying to problem solve your way back to what you want by blaming outside forces — for not attaining what you wanted, other people for screwing it up, or even forces beyond your control for interceding — does no good for anyone. Whatever the justification, it keeps you trapped in guilt and uncertainty, never being able to let go of the past to see your way to the future. Playing the superhero and riding the adrenaline high of being the expert-problem-solver only leaves you temporarily feeling like you’re making forward progress. Problem solving and looking at what should have and could have been and what went wide of the mark will exhaust you and leave you chasing a false reality — that you can have what that strategy was supposed to deliver. The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter, it won’t ever matter again, and maybe it really never mattered at all in the first place.
Our plans were never meant to be a pledge of a certain ending — only the artist’s first drawing or a first pass at what we thought the picture might be. Infusing your life with zeal and passion, especially when it doesn’t look like the life you planned starts when you embrace the deviations and follow the lines that go awry with a sense of improvisation and openness. Seeing where the future takes you opens doors to prospects and passions that you never contemplated before. There is power and freedom in knowing you can always erase the sketch and dream grander. Or a sense of newfound excitement when what you see on the page inspires you to explore something, which at first might seem a bit abstract but ultimately ignites a new passion in you. As you do this, you should only care what could be because it is the only thing you have, and perhaps is what was intended for you all along.
Are you ready to take out your sketchbook and begin drawing a new plan for what comes next? You might be wondering what happened to the picture I drew. It still hangs framed in my home as a reminder that sometimes not knowing what you’re “supposed” to do in life may surprise you.