Thursday, November 21, 2013

What's Holding You Back?

pencil drawing by Rosa Phoenix

In my work as an art instructor, I hear it all the time:

"I'm not an artist."

"I'm not good at art."

"I can't draw / paint / make art / be creative."

Recently an elderly lady told me that when she was a very young child, she had loved creating art! 

But when she got to kindergarten, she saw that many of the other kids there were much better at it than she was. 

As a result of comparing herself to others, she stopped drawing and making art.

I thought this was incredibly sad.  

The poor woman had stopped doing something that she enjoyed, and had deprived herself of this activity for more than 60 years, because her inner critic told her that she wasn't good enough, at the age of 5! 

Unfortunately, we got interrupted, just when I was about to tell her that drawing is a skill that anyone can learn and improve, at any age. 

The lady walked away, and I went to teach my class of people who (thankfully) know better than to let their inner critic stop them from doing what they want to do!


Life is short, and it goes by quickly.  

We make plans for a future "someday", but things often happen to thwart our plans.

What are you putting off for a future someday, that you could be doing today? 

 self portrait
ink drawing by Rosa Phoenix


Let me tell you about myself.

I was born an artist. As a child I drew and painted all the time. I dreamed of being an artist, and I was supported and encouraged by my family.

The voice of my inner critic was very strong, however. 

Although other people thought my art was good, to me it never measured up to the vision I had in my mind. The defects I saw in my art stood out and created a feeling of shame within me. 

I won prizes for my art when I was a teenager, but it wasn't enough to overcome my sense of inadequacy. 

I didn't think I was good enough to pursue art further, and so I stopped painting and drawing.

I moved to New York City to attend university, and there I found myself surrounded by many artists. I felt overwhelmed by the talent around me. 

Comparing myself to others, I felt like I was out of my league. I kept my artistic side hidden, and did other things. I studied writing and literature, but, just as with art, I lacked the confidence to pursue it.

After university, I ended up working in offices, working overtime to just get by. 

I frequently burned out, growing bored by the routines, drained by the long hours, irritated by office politics, meetings, and spending all my energy doing work that I cared little about.

I had the idea that I could "moonlight" and do my creative work during my free time, but at the end of the day I was so tired I just wanted to eat and sleep, and then I'd wake up and do the same thing all over again.

I watched my childhood dream of being an artist get crushed in the gears of the corporate machine. 

The combination of workaholism, lack of self-care, and grasping at various mind-numbing activities and substances to distract myself from feeling the pain of my existence . . . led to a crisis with my health. 

I became extremely weak and sick, and was diagnosed with autoimmune disease.

If I continued on this path, I would literally die.
I couldn't avoid any longer. I had to face my pain, my pushed-away dreams and my fears.

I began making art again because I had to.  

"I'm not good enough" didn't matter anymore. My spirit needed to do it. 

Making art helped to heal me when I was sick, sad, depressed, grieving and confused. 

I didn't care anymore that my drawings were bad, from having not practiced for 15 years. Drawing soothed me when I was nauseous from medication, when I was having anxiety attacks, and when my heart was racing and I was afraid I would die.

As I began to recover slowly from my illness, and re-discovered my love of art, my re-awakened creativity blossomed. Beautiful visions and ideas began to pour out of me like a fountain.

There was a person in my life who was very close to me, and often when I shared my dreams, ideas or art, he would criticize it, or he would say "You can't do it."

As I grew stronger, I began to believe in myself and have more confidence. 

Art became my passion once again. 

I created in spite of my inner critic, and in spite of my loved one who was a critic also.

My father died suddenly and unexpectedly, and this shock sent me the message that life is not meant to be taken for granted. Life is meant to be lived, and not wasted doing things that don't matter to me.

My father left me an inheritance. I spent this money to go back to school, to learn digital arts, and I taught myself graphic design from books. I bought a computer and art supplies, and rented a small private art studio where I could paint, design and make things.

I wanted to make art my life. I felt that I had already died in my life, when I got sick, and now I was being given the chance to start over. 

It was like a rebirth, and for this reason I re-named myself Rosa Phoenix -- for the bird who rises from its own ashes. 

As I was growing and changing so rapidly, I got feedback from other people in my life. Some positive, and some negative. Some people seemed uncomfortable, envious or threatened by the changes in me and the shift in my priorities and attention. 

These people didn't support my growth or my new vision of myself and what I wanted my life to be. Including my closest loved one.

I had to let my old life go. Even the people I loved, I had to let go, in order to grow.

It wasn't easy. It was the most difficult thing I've ever had to do.

I won't let anyone hold me back now, including myself. 

 dream of running
ink sketch by Rosa Phoenix

The rewards have been so great. Art is worth all the pain and difficulty I've been through.

Now I work as a teacher, helping others to discover and express their own creativity. I'm able to affect many lives in a healthy and positive way. I'm staying healthy myself. I'm being true to myself.

I'm proud of myself, for surviving, and for accomplishing many wonderful things. 

I'm incredibly grateful for the life I have today. It's my life, the one I've always dreamed of.

I feel like a lucky person. I am thankful to be alive and to have been given another chance to follow my dreams.

Believe in yourself. Follow your dreams. Live the life you yearn to live. 

Don't let anything, or anyone, hold you back.

Don't worry that you aren't good enough. 

There are people who need you to share your unique gifts. 

Teach them what you know, and they will go from there.



  1. Good for you! I can definitely relate to a number of things you have written here. In fact it's almost uncomfortable to read some of it - but I feel encouraged after reading it, so thank you. I am glad you are doing what you want to do and wish you good luck.

    1. Thanks Joe! Yeah, I feel a bit exposed to write such a personal blog post, but I want other people to know that insecurities aren't good enough reasons to stop doing what you love. I appreciate your kind comment! :)