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As moms, we spend so much time nurturing others that sometimes we forget to nurture our own passions and talents and it feels like they’ve been lost. Below is an excerpt how are you really by Jenna Kutcher, and it’s about finding an identity that she thought was dead. Jenna is an author, digital marketer, educator, dreamer, mom and host of the hit podcast Goal Digger.
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Lined floor to ceiling with artist’s supplies, this basement was a handyman’s paradise. Although the whole family joked about “the room with the puffy colors,” I found myself grateful for my mother-in-law’s tendency to hold on to things. As we looked around the room, we both thought a hobby might offer a welcome respite to my tired eyes and overworked soul. Something creative to hold on to while I rest from my busiest wedding season yet and prepare for next year’s (even busier) calendar. As I rummaged through her boxes in search of a creative outlet for fun, my fingers grazed a watercolor palette.
This was the time of watercolor art everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. The logo I designed for my business was watercolor, watercolor calligraphy quotes exploded on Instagram, and watercolor wedding invitations were the gold standard. You couldn’t log into Pinterest without seeing watercolor work pop up under almost every search you’d hurl.
I loved the idea that a fun activity I tried as a kid could be turned into something meaningful with a little paint, a squirt of water, and the right weight of paper. My mother-in-law was of course willing to support my latest curiosity. She dug out tubes of watercolor paint and a handful of brushes, and stocked me with all the tools I could need to get started. I wanted to experiment and relearn how to watercolor with full expectation of completing between four and five sad looking flowers before discovering I had the talent of the back half of an earthworm.
When I got home, I threw all my gift art supplies on the dining table, and this is how my painting station was christened. Twenty minutes a day I made a mental note to sit down at this table and draw whatever came to my mind. Overlooking the Wisconsin cornfield that was our backyard, I sat in an uncomfortable chair I got from Target, closed my laptop, and grabbed a brush while waiting for inspiration. Each page slowly took shape with words, flowers, abstract designs, my dog, and my coffee mug. Some days were easier than others, but I was slowly starting to look forward to my watercolor breaks. My creativity was slowly seeping in again.
A few weeks later I was in a huge, beautiful auditorium with my mother-in-law waiting to see the play Evil. While the room was still full of people taking their seats, I opened my camera roll to show her what became of her art supplies. I was pretty shocked by her reaction…she loved them!
She pushed her glasses up the tip of her nose to get a closer look and turned to smile broadly at me. “Jenna, these are beautiful. Have you shown it to anyone else?” The truth was, I hadn’t. I painted for none other than myself, my feeble attempt (which worked) to feel creative again. She encouraged me to post a picture of my images online and stop keeping them all to myself to let people participate in what I was doing, just as I brought my colleague Cathy into my photography dream. She handed the phone back to me and I felt a faint tingle in my nerves.
This wasn’t my first rodeo showing the world my imperfect art, but she was right. I was already in the habit of sharing everything from my morning toast to my throw pillows on social media, so what was up with my watercolors? Maybe it is did actually means a lot to me. Maybe that’s why I kept it closed. I stared at a picture of me holding one of my paintings that Drew had made, a wreath of flowers with the words “Let’s be adventurers” written in the middle (long before that phrase was, shall we say, an exaggeration). Just before the lights went out in the theater, I decided to give it a try. I posted it to Instagram, immediately put my phone on airplane mode, and sat back for (arguably) one of the best Broadway performances I’ve ever seen in my life.
During the break, I pulled my phone out of habit, turned the service back on, and watched the notifications flood the screen. There were comments like, “Wait, can I buy this?” and “Please tell me you’re going to sell this! I want it!” I quickly turned my phone off completely, not knowing what to make of those questions because, to be honest, I hadn’t even considered it. Also, we were next in line for the bathroom and I have the smallest bladder in the world.
Later, as I gratefully responded to the comments below the post, I began to think about what this hobby might mean in a broader sense: was my art worth anything? Would anyone really pay for these creative explorations? I had originally turned to watercolor painting to break away from my business and all its pressures. No more, no less. But what if that creative spark could actually grow into something more? What if I had sold the painting? What if I sold more paintings – enough to treat myself to a date night with Drew? What if I sold enough paintings to take a weekend off in the middle of my next wedding season? Heck, what if I sold enough paintings to sustain me for the entire wedding off-season, those meager six months I experienced every year?
Over the coming months, I would pull up to my painting spot and produce a growing variety of moods, quotes, and floral arrangements, slowly building my inventory of watercolor designs. With a little research I discovered a site where I could run my own little printing business and all I had to do was upload the art and they would take care of the rest! My prints can be applied to things like mugs, pillowcases, phone cases, t-shirts, etc. My digital printing shop was up and running within a month.
A few hundred dollars the first month turned into a thousand dollars the next, and before long my watercolor hobby was paying the monthly mortgage on our house. I was checking my latest sales for the week and sipping coffee from a mug with my own art on it when my phone rang. Another handful of sales had come in. I thought, Wow, am I really doing this? Does it actually work? The watercolor stains on my shirt replied, “Yes.”
When I first picked up a paintbrush, I had no plans, ambitions, or even the insight to believe it could become a business. That was never the goal or the why. But these little pansies and peonies I drew had other ideas! As sales grew at my print shop, my newfound passive income meant I could book fewer weddings and watch more reality TV with Drew on the weekends. As my overworked body and mind regained their vitality, I learned this invaluable lesson: short-term play reaps long-term rewards.
The reward is in the process itself, that flow you can achieve when you lose yourself in a state of momentary, fruitless bliss. “One way to think about gaming is as an action that gives you a lot of pleasure without achieving a specific outcome,” writes Jeff Harry, a positive gaming coach. “Many of us do everything in the hope of an outcome. It’s always: ‘What’s in it for me?’ Play has no result.”
The lesson here isn’t to turn your watercolors into your work. It is designed to turn your work into watercolors. It’s about taking the hard edges of your day, your commitments, or your responsibilities and making the decision to make them into something playful. Invite joy wherever you can. Inviting play whenever you can. Invite creativity in any way you can.
Maybe “creative” is not a word you would use to classify yourself, or a title you would claim. But creative is more of an adjective or adverb than something you do. Whether you’re a mom trying to create a meal plan for a decidedly picky child, a newlywed couple trying to make ends meet, or an accountant squirming in the chair of a cramped cubicle, me believe we are all creative beings. But time and time again we lose the title or claim of the creator. We forget these hands were once covered in finger paint.
Maybe you lost your creativity like I did – on the fast track to burnout. Or it disappeared when you started learning how to “paint inside the lines” to collect grades in art class. Or maybe you’ve silenced the creative voice within you with a digital pacifier and spent hours scrolling through a total stranger’s creative passions and dreams instead of scraping together your own.
Perhaps your most playful muscles have atrophied so much from leaning on the guides, guides, and best practices that you’ve begun to doubt your ability to return to the attitude of creating just for fun.
However you think you lost it, the good news is: it’s still there. It has always been there. it is in you Creativity is inherent and ready to be unearthed at any moment. It doesn’t require a basement full of watercolor supplies, a supportive mother-in-law, or even a moment of career burnout. It only needs an outlet. A reason. An invitation.
How are you really?: Living your truth, one answer at a time
Out of HOW ARE YOU REALLY? by Jenna Kutcher. Copyright © 2022 Jenna Kutcher. Reprinted with permission from Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.