Do you ever wonder what hidden abilities you don’t know you have? I know I do. Recent months have raised this question strongly in my mind — “what undiscovered potential lies within me?”. During lockdown, I decided to try something new, and to see what happened if I started doing something I didn’t believe I could do.
In this case I chose drawing. I have always had a story about this which has been ‘I can’t even draw a stick figure’. When the subject of art comes up this is the narrative that comes out. Kind of like another narrative I have about numbers, which is that ‘I suck at numbers’.
Pick Up a Pencil & Draw
So, in the name of testing myself I decided to pick up a pencil and draw a picture. I chose to draw a picture of a woman, something I have always secretly wished I could do well. I spent about an hour doing my best, and this is what I drew.
I was reasonably satisfied and surprised by what I managed to achieve, but as you can see, this is by no means a sign of great artistry. As I looked at the picture that old story crept back into my mind, but this time, it became a slightly different thought process.
The line ‘I cant even draw a stick figure’ changed into ‘I can draw a person, but clearly I am not an artist’. It was here that I thought I would give up, and my thinking was that what I had done proved that I wasn’t good at this. But then, as I thought about it, I reminded myself that anything takes some time and practice.
Being good at something doesn’t mean you just get it strait away. Maybe you have an interest, and some inherent tendencies towards certain things, but mostly it is the effort and practice we put into that thing that makes it something you are good at. Regardless of who it is or what it is, there is no doubt that time spent and effort on pushing through the early phases of resistance are key to mastery of anything.
With this in mind I decided that I would put some decent time into testing to see what happens if I do a number of pictures over a month. What would happen? So I started. These are some of the early examples of the process, shown through pictures:
A New Kind of Satisfaction
After the first few I really started to notice two very distinct things:
- I can do this. I am not great but I can do this
- I feel good when I do it, which is something I could never have imagined feeling
So, I pushed on with the effort. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I felt like giving up, and sometimes I couldn’t face another drawing, but, this feeling would always pass and be replaced by the thought ‘I wonder how far this could go’? Even the things we love doing, and are vert good at, can feel like a drag at times. So I pushed on:
After about 30 drawings I started to feel a complete change in my perspective about my ability to draw. It wasn’t just me who saw this. Other people did as well. They started to send me pictures. Why don’t you try to draw this they said.
So, having realised this was something I was actually good at, I pressed on:
It became like a daily meditation. It feel good to draw, it felt very rewarding. I became committed to it. Before I knew it a few months had passed and I had completely 200 hrs of sketching. By this time I was really starting to ask myself honestly ‘maybe I could become an artist’? This is a far cry from the life-long story of ‘I cant even draw a stick figure’.
So I continued:
It was when I drew this picture that I felt I had taken a step up. This was when I realised I really could become an artist, and I also realised I really wanted to. This was when I decided to put in more hours, focus on technique, and really take things to a new level.
And so the hours and days went by, and before I knew it, I was dreaming about what to draw next. I was experiencing what I can only call creative flow, a feeling of true connection. Soon I had reached almost 500 hrs of sketching time, and this was when I again stepped it up.
My First Commissioned Work
One day I received a call from a colleague who had been looking at some of my art. He asked me if I would mind doing a picture for him of ‘Freddie Mercury’. He wanted to hang it in his den. He would pay me for it. And there it was, my first commissioned work. This made me very excited and nervous at the same time, and for a brief moment, that old narrative popped into my head that told me ‘you are not an artist’. Amazing how these self-depreciating stories can hang about. Luckily I managed to push it aside, and replace it quickly with ‘I can do this!’.
So, I decided to put a few more good hours of practice in before I attempted the commissioned work:
I tried to do something completely different to step out of my comfort zone:
I really started to practice my detail work and shading:
And after many more hours and used pencils, I decided I needed to try some more:
Eventually I realised I was simply putting off the inevitable, but why? Was a fearful of doing my best effort and it not being good enough? Was I worried that this guy wouldn’t like what I had done? I realised it was fear holding me back. So, I decided to step into the fear and do it anyway.
From this point to actually sitting down to do the commissioned piece took me about a month and 30 more pictures. But then the day came when I sat down and gave it my best shot. This meant spending 3 times longer on the piece, moving to a bigger piece of paper, and it meant being able to stand by my best effort, and be able to face the fact that It might not be good enough.
So, after 15 hrs and a lot of effort, I produced the picture of Freddy Mercury:
This was the result. This was the culmination of the last 6 months. I showed it to the guy who had asked for it and he loved it. And so it was done, my first commissioned work!
What’s it all about?
So, what is this article really about? It is not about art. It is about challenging the stories we have about ourselves, and being able to test to see what we are really capable of. This is what has made me really wonder what other self-limiting stories I have? Like the one that says ‘I suck at numbers’ or the one that says ‘I am not good at detail’. This is another story the ‘art project’ has dispelled. Clearly I can do detail.
So, how many undiscovered abilities, interests, skills, and competencies do you have that you don’t know about? Perhaps you are stuck doing something you believe is all you can do? Perhaps you are sitting on a mountain of undiscovered ability and you simply haven’t tried to find it?
We are all limited by ourselves in some way or another. This is called fixed thinking. When we begin to challenge these fixed mindsets we find that there is a lot of opportunity to grow, to find out that we can do things we never thought we could do. This is where we start to find out about our true potential.
- What do you wish you could do but have told yourself you cant?
- How hard will you work to develop new interests and skills?
- What experiments are you going to try to break free from self-imposed limitations?