on being successful

I have always been attracted to fairytales, magic and metaphor. I relate much better to Jung than Freud, Joseph Campbell is my hero and I prefer to see myself as a greek goddess than a child of one God. I am trying to get over being a product of the 80’s and 90’s psychological mantra that says that the subconscious (and by extension and relation, the conscious) drives all the bad things that happen to you. Self sabotage, unconscious desires of failure and sickness ruled my view on life, even when I was given proof that it was a false supposition. I used it daily to castigate myself, to remind myself that even if I consciously thought I could succeed, there was a part of me that would take care of that and lead me to failure or worse. If something went wrong, I could say that I had subconsciously willed it. In a way it meant I didn’t have to take responsibility for my actions. In a weird way it meant that all negative stuff happened to me because deep down I wanted it to.

I am slowly letting go of this philosophy. I now work harder on my conscious thoughts, my conscious actions and conscious relationships with people. Ironically, this requires much more introspection and identification than I am used to. In order to succeed it is imperative to know what your limitations are and to ask for help when you need it. Not so easy for the stoic person who was taught (by my amazing mother) that showing your vulnerabilities and your weaknesses opens you up to a plethora of possible negative encounters. Hide it, take care of it yourself and you will become stronger. Make it look like you know what you are doing, don’t ask questions, learn by observing…those were my mantras. You can probably see how this led to a series of failures on my part, not to mention huge anxieties and panic attacks when I thought someone would see through my veneer. Now I can see that these thoughts, and not my subconscious, were responsible for my lack of success.

One thing I have learned from this personal transformation is that magic doesn’t work by itself. Magic works with a degree of collusion from the audience. You can only make someone believe you are better, talented, successful if they want to believe it. It is easy to create the smoke and mirrors that can make something look amazing. Ask anyone in theater about that. All you need is the set, the costumes and the lighting to transform a person into a character in a story. But if the audience member is not willing to go along with the magic, they will understand that the set is one sided, the costumes are put together with tape and stitches and the lighting is ephemeral. I grew up in the theater and was trained in how to put on the face of a happy, successful person. But I always knew better.

Now, funnily enough, I can say I am successful. I am able define my abilities, limitations and goals in a different light. I can say that, while my definition of success is much different than the traditional American one, I am successful. I am mastering the ability to create form, emotion and story using steel, fibers and (sometimes) polymer clay. I have found a way to share my talents and my stories with my community in a way that brings me pleasure. Of course I still have my mother’s voice in my head saying “tooting your own horn is vulgar” to which I would respond (if she were still here) “Tooting my own horn is a part of claiming myself as a person, a woman and an artist.”

So here I am, a middle aged woman who is finally coming into her own. It’s been painfully hard work sometimes but surprising, exhilarating and rewarding in the end. I think how different my life could have been if I had known how to stand up for myself, how to admit my lack of knowledge and how to ask for help when I was younger. But those years are over and I am grateful that I am learning these things now. I still have a ways to go, old lessons die a difficult death, but I am still young, I have time to perfect myself.

Besides, I just helped my dad celebrate his 95th birthday. That gives me 40 more years to figure out how the hell to play this game of life. And if this selfie is right, the lesson is that it is more important to be excited about chocolate cake that got put in front of you than it is to smile at the camera…

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