Life's greatest lessons
When I think back on 48 well-lived years, I find myself reflecting on the great lessons learned. Almost without exception, the lessons were veiled in disappointment, rejection, hurt and loss. Invariably, something seemingly bad had to happen to change my course, alter my approach, adjust my attitude. Nature has a way of shaking us up exactly when we think we need to be stirred.
I applied for the theatre design program at the UofA back in the 1980s. The process seemed simple, the steps to get registered, routine. I had to put together a portfolio of my work and go to Edmonton - I was living in Saskatoon at the time - for an interview. My entire being was focused on the anticipation of leaving Saskatchewan, finding a cool apartment on Whyte Avenue and beginning my new life as a Bohemian artist/designer. Even though acceptance seemed a foregone conclusion, I was denied entrance. My portfolio sucked. They didn't say that, but I know it did.
I can almost imagine the conversation that happened the moment I walked out the door.
"To think that kid came all the way from Saskatoon to show us that collection of garbage."
My level of self-absorption was so high, that I didn't see that I was completely missing the boat. I was so focused on the IDEA of moving away and starting a new life in the big city, that I completely neglected the THING that was going to make it happen.
LESSON LEARNED: If you're going to undertake something, give it everything you got. Take nothing for granted.
BUT, that lesson in humility led to broadcasting college, which eventually led to a 10-year career in the radio business and a move the Fort McMurray. Everything that has happened since was enabled by me being a dumbass in 1987.
I recently painted a portrait as a way of honouring the life of an amazing woman, wife, grandmother and great grandmother. I put everything I had into helping her emerge from the canvas and was very happy with the result.
There are some paintings that I can't wait to get out of the house; there are others that I secretly wish I could keep. This was one in the latter category. My mind shifted from being happy with the work to anticipating the reactions.
I did this a lot with my parents when I was growing up, particularly with my mother: imposing ideas on how they would respond to my latest drawing, performance or achievement. The reactions never seemed to measure up to my pre-conceived notion of how they should have reacted. I have learned, through many trials and errors, to take reactions from my parents as they come, not to anticipate or worry about them.
I was so focused on how family members would react to the painting, imagining instant tears and an immediate emotional connection to the piece, that I was setting myself up for disappointment and not even realizing it. Don't get me wrong, they liked the painting, but didn't react in the way that I thought they might.
LESSON LEARNED: Don't focus on the reaction to the work, rather on the work itself, and why you did it in the first place. The work is its own reward.