I often ask myself if what I’m doing is the right thing. I have only so much time and I want to use it wisely. Is art my way forwards, and if so what type of art? Would I do better leaving my job to become a full time artist? Is writing more my forte?
These are questions I regularly ask myself. I think we all do this, because we want to know if we’re just wasting time or are we on the path that leads to riches, love, fulfilment etc.
The trouble is how can we tell, worse still such questions can paralyse us.
Here are a few thoughts on how to face such uncertainty and doubt.
Life is not prescripted
To me, this sort of question is somewhat absurd because it makes the assumption there’s a right path, a correct one for us to adhere to. I don’t think our paths are a laid out in front of us, instead, we make it up as we go along.
Asking the question makes sense as we want security and certainty in our lives. We want answers about what to do and who we are. But I feel that life doesn’t work like that. It unfolds moment by moment.
To ask such a question runs the risk of overthinking the journey, something I’m guilty of a lot of the time.
The shape of our lives emerges as we live, it’s the same with an art style. We emerge as we create. What we are drawn to and paint reveals something about ourselves. We learn as we go, a life of perpetual becoming.
I guess what I’m saying is it’s better to let go of expectations and directions in life and art and instead follow your curiosity.
Our sense of direction comes from within, and we would do better to trust it more. Take curiosity, no one can tell you you’re curious, you either are or you’re not, and it can change.
We can find curiosity to solve a problem and then once the problem has been solved the curiosity fades. For me it was my health, I was unwell so I studied nutrition. Once my health improved my aim to become a therapist waned. To the point where I no longer study nutrition regularly.
Alternatively, once you start down a path it can be more interesting and grab you in a way you never expected. So you delve deeper into details and intricacies, keeping the adventure going. Horizons expand, possibilities and ideas multiply. Curiosity is what keeps us going forwards.
‘The more you learn the more you want to learn’ is a good indicator that you’re on the right path.
This is what you can find with success stories. For some they never intended to find success, they indulged in their curiosity and passion for a subject, shared what they discovered and without intention became a success. It’s the old self-help idea of ‘following your passion’ (but for me curiosity is a better guide).
It’s living by ‘the seat of your pants‘. The feeling of curiosity is the feedback that tells us if we learned enough or we want more.
Work and play
Our doubts are often a sign of impatience, our minds typically look towards the short term rewards. Our need for quick results and rewards can mean we don’t go for opportunities because we fail to see immediate benefits to them.
We’re too impatient, asking too much of our current situation. We forget success takes time.
The best thing to do is work out what skills are useful, and take jobs where we can learn them, building up our skills and expertise. Because many skills can still be of use years later and in other jobs.
‘Big things grow from small things’. Success is built up brick by brick. Instead have a goal to aim for, an vision of what you want life to be like. As long as you’re getting closer to that vague but compelling destination you know your doing the right thing.
The other issue here is we are lazy, we want life to be easy. We become victims of our own self-absorption, we expect even demand life should live up to our expectations, which are a life of success, but also comfort. We feel entitled to have what we want instead of working for it.
‘Hard work is the price we must pay for success’Vince Lombardi
Paradoxically we also seek hard work. We feel we have to punish ourselves with work, just as we look for the easy life. Such overwork leads us to ill health and unhappiness. Life is often easier than we think. It’s just that we have some wrongheaded ideas about how it should play out.
Life is work and play, not one or the other. It’s more about finding that happy medium.
Passion and meaning
Another thing about right and wrong paths is that you can’t know if you’re on the right or wrong path with reasoning or intellect. It’s an emotional, instinctual way, like painting and art itself.
How can we ever know if we’re on the right path by doing a cost-benefit analysis? Such rational thoughts may seem like a good idea and even provide an answer.
But it fails to take into account how we feel about our life. Our values, our hopes, dreams and fears.
Right or wrong can make us forget what we love to do, and what we don’t. To use rationality alone is to ignore the side of us that wants adventure, passion. The things that make life interesting and scary, the spice of life as it were.
This question comes down to meaning. We want to be certain we’re on the right path so that all the struggle was worth it.
Meaning is found where the rubber meets the road. Where we as a person face the world/reality. It’s the process of living, of being out in the world, and letting it unfold.
My advice is to follow your curiosity, to let go of knowing, of certainty because that’s what this question is about. Trust in the process, trust more yourself. There is a saying, ‘when the student is ready the teacher appears’. What you will need to know you will find out.
This is not an easy way to live, we are needy creatures. We want clarity, and we often grasp for it, even suffer trying to find it. We get distracted analysing instead of getting our hands dirty and finding out through direct experience.
You can’t be sure it’s the right decision until it’s been made and plays out in your life. So life has to be lived, not theorised to death.
This is the mistake of thinking life is a problem to be solved not an adventure to be lived. We let our heads rule too much, and our heart doesn’t get a say. It’s all so coldly analytical, not the passion that makes us feel alive.
‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.’Steve Jobs
We doubt because we fear making a mistake, taking an unsuitable job or project. Wasting more time.
This question also points to the poisonous idea of perfection, making life perfectly efficient, without any wrong turns, or mistakes. Trying to live up to some outside standard. But you can’t live like this, such a straight jacket means you will be too afraid to try new ventures, fearful of making a wrong move.
Accepting life is to let go of perfect, and know that you will make mistakes. Perfection is a deceptive and misleading notion. Some of the mistakes you make will end up costing you and others.
Maturity is about having learned the lessons your mistakes gave you. It’s where experience comes in as we often learn more from our mistakes than successes. In some cases our mistakes can take us on paths of greater growth and fulfilment, as what we learn can be taught to others.
The question I posed at the start is all about assuming there’s a perfect life out there waiting for us. We feel the burden of trying to twist or shape our lives to fit.
It’s not about having no goals or aims, but letting go of the idea they have to be fulfilled. Using goals as a compass, to help you move in the right direction. A goal as a guiding principle, not a shape to be completed.
‘A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.’Bruce Lee
One comforting truth is that we often forget skills and knowledge are often transferable. We may learn skills doing one job, and leave it only to find some of those skills can still be of use. For me and my art, I found a familiarity with colour theory and mixing from my days in youth painting miniatures.
We can lighten the burden about making a choice when we accept that even a misstep can still give us what we need: skills, confidence, memories, knowledge. Even if the knowledge is not to make that mistake again. Life is often more a process of elimination.
Another comfort can be found in the fact that most decisions are rarely final and irreversible. The alternatives you dismissed are often still there available if you make a mistake.
With all this, we can put aside our doubts and fears about being perfect, take each step and let life flow.
‘Am I on the right path’ and questions like it make a lot of assumptions and come with a lot of baggage. We’re impatient for success and want to reap the benefits of work sooner not later. We feel we have to live perfectly and avoid mistakes.
Further still, we expect a path to be laid out for us because it’s hard to create one for yourself and were lazy. It fails to accept that emotions and a zest for life are necessary to make life worth living. It’s a slave to idealistic notions about what life is about.
What I have learned is that excessive questions about life can lead to overthinking and are based more upon our fears and insecurities.
Direction and purpose come from within not without. Trust in yourself a little more and be mindful to the feelings you have, your intuition.
‘Am I on the right path’ is grasping towards a certainty that’s not there. We end up playing it safe and hide from the vicissitudes of life. Instead, we need to let go of certainty and embrace just a little more the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.
That’s what makes life it compelling, scary and most of all ours. The accomplishments will be ours, the obstacles our own, and through that our life is a story only we can tell.
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