What am I about?

For my studio opening I made a little gift for everyone who came, a sticker.

I love it very much. I adore it. And I keep coming back to a question posed in the great ‘Vision and Mission’ workshop by Christina the other day – what am I about?

What am I here to do? What do I believe? What message underlies all my work? This mad business I’m running where I use so many different skills – what thread links it all?

I hit exhaustion not long ago and I still have days where it bites at my heels, reminding me I can’t run on empty for too long. I’m turning my ideas on their head. The things at the periphery of my life need to be in the centre. Wildness is the wellspring of my art, not a treat I get to have every now and then if I finish all my tasks. Relationships are deeply important to me, and while I need some solitary and reflective time, I tend to recharge with people I love and feel safe with. I can find the courage to reach out to like-mind communities – I’m not the only person out there doing what I’m trying to do and I don’t have to be alone or do it all myself. I can ask for help and learn from others.

I’m giving great thought to my business model. What am I doing? What do I want to be doing? What are my skills, and how do I showcase them? Where do I thrive? What renews me? What do I want out of a career? What do I need to do to get there?

My business is amazing and there’s a lot about it that I love. This year has been brilliant for me, I’ve worked with many people I really respect and appreciate, on projects that I genuinely believe in, and have had a huge challenge to my perceptions of the value of what I do. I’ve been tango-ing with success and all that means! It has turned my world upside down, given me my first experiences of real income, and a sense of the tipping point that happens when enough people believe in you and enough projects – especially public projects – showcase your skills. I walked into an art shop a a little while ago and had to stop and catch my breath when I realised for the first time in my life I could buy any item in the store I wanted. So now what?

It’s also been exhausting, confusing, overwhelming, and stressful. I’ve found myself feeling incredibly exposed at developing my business in a public way – showing myself through this blog, my vulnerabilities and learning along the way. I’ve fought intensely with myself to hold my space and not tear down this blog and every other evidence of vulnerability that might make someone feel worried about hiring me. Vulnerability and authenticity are part of what I do. I can contextualise them. I can change my relationship to them. I don’t have to be afraid. Some days it feels like I’m running 20 different businesses and I’m so tired and confused I can’t get out of bed. I don’t really understand what I’ve done well to get to this point, so figuring out how to keep doing it is mind bending.

The challenge I have set myself this year is to use these successes to invest in my business. So I’m looking into different models and mentors and exploring how other people balance art and business. Where does the money come from, and where is the heart free to do what it needs? Businesses do not only need money, they also need all the ingredients that keep you thriving – they run on the things that meet emotional needs, the things that nurture inspiration or renew compassion. What works for me?

Artist and Consultant. It feels like an excellent fit in many ways. I had the amusing experience of catching up with a wonderful client earlier this year and telling them how excited I was to be reading about consultants and facilitators and seeing my own skills and passions – that I felt I’d finally found a thing I excelled at in business. What was amusing is they’d no idea I hadn’t already known this, it seemed so obvious to them. Consultancy allows me to showcase the skills I have, such as facilitation, in an environment that cares little for how I attained them – only the skills themselves are important. It’s perfect for someone like me who has walked a different road to competence than the usual.

Even more though, as I examine this question – what am I about – I realise that the informal way I’ve gathered my skills is part of the heart of this. It’s no accident I didn’t just get a degree like my peers. Each time higher education/formal education has threatened something deeply precious to me, I’ve pulled back. I adore learning and I’m passionate about good teaching but so often what I’ve encountered would have crushed the knowledge base I already had, instead of scaffolding it. I know things that are personal, and nebulous, and difficult to put into words. They are precious because they are part of how I view the world, part of how I live, part of my resilience, and my poetry, my love and spirit. I have had to work hard to keep them safe in educational contexts that have been aggressively dogmatic and intended to produce a standardised result in all the students. We all now make only this kind of art in this way and revere only these artists as ‘real artists’. We all now think of humans and psychology in this way, we revere these people as experts and those we decry without reading. We all think of ourselves this way and practice this way and it is impersonal, inflexible, lacking in doubt, adaptability, freedom, or wildness. It is everything I am not, and in the context of tragedy in my personal life, I’ve been unable to keep my heart safe enough to endure it. I’ve needed those skills daily.

I sat in my first welcome class for those of us who attained high enough results in year 12 to get into the bachelor of psychology with honors program. I sat at the back in my electric scooter, an anomaly in a space dedicated to the most able. They told us that we were the ‘cream of the crop’ in a lecture so reminiscent to the repulsive one given to the doctors in Patch Adams ‘you will not be men anymore you will be doctors’ that I laughed, thinking it was clever satire. It was not satire and I was the only one was laughed. I shut up. I struggled through the first year of the degree, getting high distinctions, dealing with the sense of shame I felt at being so visibly different, dealing with death in the family and homelessness, and PTSD, and not being able to sleep, and the student services shutting me out of the counselling program when I ‘confessed’ to having DID. And then I withdrew and went back to devouring libraries, thinking, reflecting, experiencing, and attaching myself to brilliance and competence wherever I found it in an unofficial apprenticeship. The formal education stopped and the learning continued.

So, what am I about? Who am I in the world? What is the heart that links all that I do?

Sometimes that’s easiest to see in shadow. What I am NOT about is the rote, impersonal, or dehumanised. I am not about reductionism or easy answers. I am not about dogma, violence, oppression, conformity, competition, or domination. I am not about the slick, deceptive, untrustworthy, or parasitic. I am not about disconnection, loneliness, isolation, and secrets. I am not about forcing people into roles, defining them, their lives, their self, their story.

I am relentlessly human. I am passionate about the intimate, the informal, personal knowledge and experience. I am about the idiosyncratic and diverse. I am about freedom and self-determination. Complexity and authenticity over certainty and being acceptable. I am about holding beliefs lightly and the capacity to doubt. I am about community, connection, friendships, and integrity. I am about holding spaces for things it is difficult to face, and finding ways of communicating about things it is difficult to name. I am about the heart, the subtle, the nebulous, the things that make life worth living. I am about speaking to pain, easing suffering and loneliness, and celebrating the hidden beauty in people. I am about the vastness of life, the simple pleasures, the deep anguish, the glorious sublime. I am about using courage and passion and honesty to help all us to really live.

Why? Because these are the things I value and the things I need too, the passing back and forth of wisdom and hope and inspiration and compassion as we warm our hands at each other’s fire. I am not about these things as the expert but as a passionate seeker. I have skills and competencies in listening, communication, connecting, creating, storytelling. But I do not stand on a platform above others, I share from a place among us. Here is a gift I have found in the desert, it is a shining star that I have followed out of loneliness and anguish – use it as you can. And when I am again lost, alone and in anguish, share it back with me. Remind me of the light. Our freedom is bound up in each other’s freedom. We are all human together, and everything we do makes each of us a little more, or a little less human.

There are only two languages, love and fear.

-Leunig

I welcome your thoughts too. You have a different perspective to me, looking from the outside in. What am I about?

And if you would like a sticker about diversity, let me know. ❤

I appreciate hearing from you

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