Monthly Newsletter

January Newsletter v2: Shifting Focus From The Whole Big Thing To The Work

Abstract Acrylic on Birch Chunks of Ocean Painting

Last month I talked about having greater clarity. Greater clarity is necessary, but it’s also complicated.

As soon as I have clarity about something, my natural tendency is to begin worrying about the future. I start thinking about how everything needs to fit into some grand vision. Initially that vision can seem exciting, but it’s also anxiety inducing. We’re not in the future. We’re in the today. I’ve talked about it before and I like to call it The Whole Big Thing.

The Whole Big Thing is dangerous because it either stops progress or makes it impossible to get started. The dark side of thinking about the future is that it can lead to worry. I start questioning what I’m doing and if I should be doing it. It feels like I need to have everything figured out now and I can assure you that I don’t. That uncertainty causes me to want to latch onto anything that seems certain. It leads to decisions that look practical, but are just fear based.

I’m learning to accept that things like abstract painting have a reputation for uncertainty. I’m also learning to embrace that uncertainty because it’s the only way to show the universe that it’s what I really want.

Embracing uncertainty might sound a little theoretical, but it’s grounded in practice. Some years back I wrote an options trading site. I lived in a small ski town in Idaho, worked as a CPA, and wanted to become a professional trader. I struggled for years trying to figure out The Whole Big Thing and I never did. Eventually, I sold my house to live on the equity for a bit and focused on becoming a professional trader.

When I started out, I didn’t have enough clarity. Professional trader was too broad. I succeeded when I focused specifically on becoming a professional options trader. However, getting specific required shutting out everything else. I had interviews where people told me they could tell my real interest was somewhere else (and they were right).

The path was really discouraging at times. I applied to hundreds of jobs that lead nowhere. It didn’t happen overnight, but I worked towards it every day and eventually it led to finding a job as an options trader. Ultimately, the work led to greater clarity and that clarity led to success.

I would not have become an options trader if I had focused on the whole big thing. It would have been totally impossible to come up with a plan in advance or predict at the start. The only thing that worked was consistent focus on something and clarity through doing the work.

Now, back to painting . . .

As it relates to art, I know that I want to focus on abstract painting. Interestingly, it’s not because I made some big decision about the whole big thing. I know it because I wake up every morning and paint. It’s what I’m currently doing and, more importantly, want to be doing.

The only way I’ve found to stop worrying about the future is to show up every day and do some type of work. As long as the work feels good and like what I want to do, it tends to lead interesting places. In my experience, getting to interesting places requires not worrying about the specifics or knowing everything in advance.

Note about the painting for this post:

The painting for this post is part of a series called Chunks of Ocean. It’s a small study (5.5″ square) that’s Acrylic on Birch Plywood. The idea for the series came from a generative art accident.


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