Climbing Stairs

My word for 2018 has been “Expand”. For the past four years, I have selected a word of intention to focus on. Each year I carefully determine one word that I will give attention to in my daily life. My word is an area I want to grow in, learn about, challenge myself with. It may be a need I have, it may be a desire for my life or an acknowledgement of something that is missing. As 2018 is wrapping up, I have found myself reflecting on my word more and more.

I chose “Expand” because I wanted to see what I was capable of - could I do more? Could I expand myself to go beyond my own limitations, could I handle more than I thought I could? Could I grow my mind in areas deeper than I have previously? Could I love more, give more, do more, be more? Could I expand beyond my tired, my doubt, my fear?

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When we were in Santorini last month, I had a moment with my word “Expand” while climbing stairs. It felt like a majority of our time in Greece was spent climbing stairs. Once we got to Santorini, this remnant of a volcanic caldera, this land quickly informed me that traveling up and down staircase after staircase would become our new normal while navigating this seaside town. One day we made the walk from Fira to Oia and added on the short side trip out to Skaros Rock. After spending some time out at the rock, we had massive stairs to climb to get back to the path. It was twisty and steep - the kind of stairs that when you look up from your endless climb, you can’t see the top of the stairs. And in that moment that I looked up, I felt so defeated. Wasn’t I closer than that? Shouldn’t I be able to see the end of these stairs by now? How much more will I have to climb?

I started thinking about the goals we set for ourselves. How much harder is it to keep going when you can’t see the finish line? What challenges are presented in the moments that all you feel like you are doing is climbing and you can’t see your goals any clearer? Sometimes it feels like you are just taking steps of faith hoping you are moving in the right direction, but you are tired and frustrated. Would the climb up those stairs that day have been easier if I could have seen the top stair? If I knew how much further I had to go, would that have made a difference in my mindset? And then I thought about my word for the year, ‘‘Expand”.

I realized in that moment, the point was (and is) to prove to myself that I can do more than I think I am capable of. I can keep focused even in times of exhaustion or doubt and take the next step. One foot in front of the other, just keep moving. It didn’t matter if I could see the finish line, or even if there was a finish line, the point was to keep that momentum going. So what if it took me longer than I thought it would and was more physically taxing than anticipated. I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to stop in the middle of the stairs and dwell there for the rest of our trip, I had too many things I wanted to see and explore.

So why would we do that in our lives? Why would we stop mid staircase when it isn’t going how we want it to go? Why would we stop when we feel tired? Why would we stop just because we couldn’t see what outcome lays before us? Why would we stop when there is so much to do and see in this magical world? Why would we stop when we have the capacity to expand? We are incredible creations that are sadly limited by issues in our own minds. But those limitations don’t often exist in reality. We look up and we don’t see what we want right in front of us and we stop in a pile of exhaustion and defeat. But we have huge hearts and strong spirits that can propel us onward with an inner power. We don’t have to create this power, we only need to access it because it is already within each one of us. But we do need to practice it. It becomes easier and easier to stop once you do. So don’t stop. Rest if you have to, but never quit. Put one foot in front of the other and continue that energy forward. Expand beyond what you believe you are capable of doing. Visualize that goal at the top, even in the times that you can’t see it and never let anything or anyone keep you from climbing those stairs. Because once you do, the view from the top is so much more rewarding than the one back where you stood when wanted to give up. And the journey of the climb prepares you and fills you up for that moment shortly after, when you’ve reached your goal, to turn and take the next step up a brand new staircase that awaits you.

Onward into 2019 with great courage, creativity and a grateful heart for our ability to expand.

My First #the100DayProject Experience

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Around the end of March, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across #the100dayproject. Led by Elle Luna and Lindsay Jean Thomson, this project was about to start its fifth year. It is a call for all people to do something creative for 100 days in a row and then share it on Instagram. That sounded so exciting to me! What a wonderful idea - a global art project that anyone can share in by using the same hashtag #the100dayproject to connect us all.  Right away, I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. I was hooked. I felt energized and happy... and then, that ugly little fellow named Fear and his sidekick Doubt crept in. And soon enough, I started giving myself all the reasons I wouldn't be able to do it. 

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Back in March, I was about a month away from retiring from my 15-year career as a dance coach. We were going to be putting on our final Spring Show, our final banquet and to top all that off, I knew that I would be an emotional mess as I closed this huge chapter in my life. So I let Doubt win this discussion and decided not to do it. Maybe next year. Maybe.

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On April 2nd, I was over at my Sister's house and told her about #the100dayproject - obviously still thinking about it. I really wanted to do it, but I was allowing Doubt to win. My sister told me to go for it! I told her I felt nervous that I wouldn't have the time to make something everyday with the schedule we (she and I coached together) had ahead of us. Not to mention Doubt had found a couple of other excuses like "Aren't you going to be traveling this summer? How could you possibly do this when you will be gone so much?" Another good point, Doubt. Knowing myself, if I started the challenge, I was going to complete it. I wanted to be sure I could see it through to the end. I had no intention of being the girl that quits at day 36. 

I left my sister's house that night with her telling me "Just do it. Just make time for it." And me saying "I just don't know if I can." 

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The next day was April 3, the first day of the challenge. I hadn't made a final decision yet but I was leaning towards the "sensible decision" of NO. I was so conflicted - could I do it? Why did I want to participate so badly? I was back over at my sister's babysitting her youngest that morning when my nephew wanted to do some watercolor painting with me. So we pulled out paper and paints and began creating. A couple of abstract watercolors later, I realized... I had just completed my first day.

The challenge was to create something everyday, it wasn't to create a masterpiece everyday.

That was all I had to do - just CREATE SOMETHING. I had to be willing to make something and share it. I had to be open to take whatever amount of time and energy I had that day and create. In that moment, as I looked at the watercolor papers drying on my sister's kitchen table, I knew I had just completed day one of #the100daychallenge and I was going to make it to the end. 

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So I began. I decided to share each of my daily creations on my Instagram Stories and save them as a highlight all together. This way, I and anyone else who wanted, could see them as a collection from start to finish. Not that the progression is about improvement, but rather about seeing the journey of creating daily. I started creating on separate pieces of paper at first, different sizes and types. But soon enough I found an empty sketchbook and decided to dedicate it as my space to create in for the remainder of the challenge. 

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The beginning had some growing pains. I found myself needing to schedule something completely new into my day. I was committed to doing this, but I hadn't figured out where the time was coming from yet. I would get started with a great idea for a drawing and then realize I was taking twice as long to complete it as I had anticipated. Or I would go down the rabbit hole of watching artists on YouTube for inspiration and realize hours had passed. I may have felt inspired and wonderful watching them create - but I hadn't created anything of my own yet. The thing is, I really wanted to do this challenge for myself. I love to draw and create, I always have. The desire was genuinely there. But I hadn't made the daily habit of it a discipline in my life, so the adjustments I needed to make to my time was something I was still figuring out. 

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Then came the challenge of the accountability piece. I needed to post my daily creations on my Instagram Story and use #the100dayproject. I love Instagram, but I wasn't someone who posted everyday. I would go in spurts - post a lot when Husband and I were traveling, post during a creative streak I may have had for a while or maybe post a few other significant moments throughout the calendar year. But now I had to do this EVERY DAY. Even if I wasn't proud of what I made that day I had to share myself. And that part was really hard for me. There were a lot of days that I found myself cringing with eyes closed as I added my photo of that day's creation. I didn't like sharing things I didn't like. I am a seeker of all things beautiful and it wasn't sitting right with me to post things I didn't find beauty in. 

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As the days went on, I found myself learning from the challenges that presented themselves. I learned to always have a small collection of art supplies with me just in case I had any time to create. I learned to be more comfortable drawing in restaurants, coffee shops, outside and while in conversation with people. I learned how to create in different spaces when I was out of town. I would draw in cars, trains, airplanes, even in the hospital waiting room. I learned to take my creativity with me and allow it to be more a part of me.

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As I mentioned before, my sister and I were going to be putting on our final Spring Show in the first month of this challenge. I did pretty good in the weeks leading up to our show day on Sunday, April 29th, but during that final weekend - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - I extended myself some grace. I was so fully present with my team and the 15 years worth of alumni that returned. During those three days, I realized that what I was creating were moments with the young women on stage. We would circle up, arms around each other, and exchange stories and memories. We would cry and laugh and be fully present with one another in those moments. Those moments, captured in photographs, were what I created that day and were what I shared in my Instagram Story. And I don't regret that choice one bit.  Those are treasures that live beyond a page and are permanently painted on my heart. After 15 years, those three days are exactly what I hoped to create. 

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As in most situations where you expand beyond the limitations we place on ourselves, the positives drown out the challenges. I am so grateful for #the100dayproject and what it taught me about myself, about creativity, and about making time for what fills your soul.

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I learned that I feel more in balance with myself when I make time for creating each day. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I have been an artist since I was a child designing on Kleenex tissues with my markers to make my Barbie a couture dress. I have painted and photographed and art journaled all through my life but it hadn't been something that I honored with time every day since college. This daily action became something that I started looking forward to. I liked that it was a part of my day just like brushing my teeth. I carved out time for it. I stayed up late for it. I made sure it happened because it was now a non-negotiable priority and my personal creative time hadn't been traveling first-class like that for a while. It felt good to share who I am and what I love.

It felt like I was being who I was created to be.
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I also learned to play again in my creative time. Too much emphasis had been placed on perfection and the final product. But this challenge reminded me to delight in art supplies and what they can do together. It reminded me to go back to the basics of drawing and to just create for myself without judgment. It was an opportunity to try new things. I dove deeper into the inspirations I found in the creative community online. I exposed myself to new styles and new artists and I used each day to allow inspiration to push me into unknown areas. I tried to create freely, with new materials and with a new sense of acceptance. After all, this was just for fun. I didn't need to be so serious about this - I just needed to create each day. To an artist, that's the dream. 

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Creativity is a funny thing though. And sometimes I think the perception of "Creative People" is that we can call up our creativity on demand and it pours out of us without end. Speaking for myself, that isn't the case. During this time, I had nights where I was convinced that blank page in my sketch book and I were in the midst of the greatest staring contest of all time. It can feel awful to be surrounded by gorgeous art supplies and a clean sheet of paper and not have any idea what you feel like creating. But what #the100dayproject taught me was that we must begin. We must start. Sometimes we don't know where we are going or where we will end up but we need to put pen to paper and go. Creativity will join us but we have to do the work. Some days are going to feel magical - like the Disney animals are helping you paint your life's masterpiece in the same way they made Cinderella's dress for the ball. But on other days, we will need to start doodling circles over and over again and see where that takes us as we silently call out to Creativity "Anyday now! Do you see me drowning in a bunch of circles over here?" 

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Sometimes I would seek out inspiration from others. I would challenge myself to recreate something of theirs that I loved or better yet, something of theirs that scared me a bit to push myself and to stretch my mindset. I even had some days where I let other people pick an inspiration piece for me to try and recreate. That was another way for me to not only practice unfamiliar skills, but to cultivate new forms of creativity. I created things I never would have before and I tried things my mind wouldn't have come up with on my own.

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I learned through this challenge that Creativity is grateful for the daily practice. She thanks us for carving out time and space for her to thrive in. Creativity is your partner, not your master and definitely not your servant. We need to work in tandem. This experience taught me that making time and space for each other {YOU + CREATIVITY} everyday will result in the most harmonious existence. There is value in what we do daily. Those habits become a part of us. Where you place your energy and your focus in life matters. And if you are a creative soul, then you know the unsettling feeling you get when you haven't expressed that artistic part of you - whatever it is - painting, sewing, gardening, writing, music, photography - whatever you do to share your creative voice with the world has value and making time for it is important. 

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And I did it.

#the100dayproject ended July 11 and I am so very thankful that I participated. I still continue to create and play with my art supplies almost everyday. I'm also learning to share myself more and to allow the process of creating to be whatever it is going to be that day. No rules and no judgment. I am so proud that I proved to myself that I can create in imperfect circumstances because that's what life is. Life isn't perfect but it is ours to create and often times our lives are a result of what we do daily. So I encourage you to make time each day for something that warms your heart and makes you feel a little more alive. I don't believe we will ever regret time spent on something we love. 

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If I were to share my biggest takeaways from my first experience with #the100dayproject, I would do so in "life lesson bullet points". This is a list that I need to continue reading and reminding myself of from time to time. I share it with the hopes that it can be of help to you in any way you may need right now.

  • When something awakens your soul and excites you - pay attention to it. 
  • Say YES. Even if you think you will fail. Our capacity to expand is greater than we know. 
  • Just start. Don't expect to be perfect in the beginning. You don't have to have it all figured out. But you do need to start in order to grow.
  • Artistic expression takes on all forms and is all around us - be fully present to experience it.
  • Be open and grateful to those who inspire your journey.  None of us succeed alone. 
  • When you feel like you can't, be sure you have people around you who remind you that you can.
  • Creativity needs your attention just as much as you need hers. Form a partnership and honor it with your time and talent.
  • Be mindful about what you do daily. Those activities form the building blocks of our life.
  • Try new things. Push yourself. Be willing to make beautiful mistakes.
  • Remain flexible when circumstances aren't perfect. 
  • Carve out time for things that matter to you.
  • Be brave enough to share yourself.

Thanks for the inspiration along my journey! James Burke • Jane Davenport • Courtney Diaz  • Pamela Gillespie • Lisa Oxley 

Couldn't have done it without my amazing art supplies! James Luke Burke Creative • Jane Davenport Mixed Media • Papermate • Pilot •  Prismacolor • Sharpie • Uni-ball Signo • Prang

Biggest thanks goes to my Family. You guys believe in me every single day! Thank you for your love and encouragement. You always make me feel like I can do it! Love you all.