With time looking both more precious due to the pandemic and more endless during the recent lockdown, I decided to take up a new activity: oil painting. It was actually round three for me.
Once upon a time I dabbled with acrylics while studying fine arts. A decade ago I took an oil painting class offered by a local artist who I admired. Pleased with my progress in her eight-week class, I stalled when on my own. At the end of long workdays I just didn’t find the energy or feel the fun.
I know I quit painting because I’m not a natural and I didn’t want to invest in learning after a hard week at work. I wanted a hobby that would transport me, not something difficult. I packed things up and convinced myself that this would be my retirement activity.
So, when we retired in Spain, I made sure to pack my art supplies. Then, three years into retirement I still hadn’t picked up a paintbrush. This was in spite of the fact that when I wrote my annual New Year’s goals, painting was always at the top of the list.
I had a good excuse. I’d stumbled and cried my way through a few downward spirals as a beginning Spanish language learner. While I always got back in the saddle, language study proved taxing enough. I repeatedly shelved painting.
During Spain’s draconian Covid-19 lockdown I needed a new activity. I pulled out the paint box and said, “Painting, it’s your turn.” Because I didn’t remember much of my training, I started by watching YouTube videos. For days. And more days. Then even more, more days.
Something was holding me back. It took another week of quiet meditation to address my fears honestly.
The turning point
I have a little problem. I spent my entire working career trying to meet my internal idea of perfection. I was an obsessive over-achiever. It sucked the energy out of my life.
Retirement has damped my hyperactivity and taught me to take pleasure in long periods of doing absolutely nothing at all. I’m still fussy about practically everything except my passwords and computer files (the only things that Jamie is super fussy about). No room for conflict there!
I pinned all my hopes on the belief that a retired state of mind was all I needed to enjoy paining. It wasn’t.
If I was going to paint during the lockdown, I had to reframe my perfectionism. I had to be willing to crank out junk and be okay with that. I came up with a few good old Ground Rules that worked for me and some version of them might work for those of you who struggle with never being good enough.
My Painting Ground Rules
Rule 1: Don’t worry about outcomes. I can throw it in the trash, paint over it, or never show it to anyone but my cats.
Rule 2: Take all the time needed. There are absolutely no deadlines.
Rule 3: Joy is all that matters. Spend a half hour. If it’s fun…continue. If not, stop.
This approach has given me the freedom to paint. I’ve even produced a jewel or two along with a lot of ”good efforts” and a bit of sheer junk. Furthermore, it has boosted my level of JOY in all my daily activities -- cooking, yoga, Spanish language study, and blog writing. That was a tall order during a lockdown.
What an epiphany. This is how it feels to be free of self-judgment. It’s high time. I’ve finally realized joy is good enough.