Loving thyself and why this matters to your work

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I read an interesting blog post that argued that in order to be an artist- whether it be through visual arts, or writing, or music, etc- you need a healthy dose of narcissism.

This concept struck as curious because we often associate narcissism with ugliness: quite the opposite from the more socially acceptable character of self-doubt (which many confuse for humility). But as I thought deeper about this, the more I realized that we all have the ability to create, but we don’t, because we are often the victims of our own ideals of perfection. I can’t tell you how many times I have shamed myself into not writing because I think that I am not good enough, or that the sentences that I write are pathetic compared to others. I create excuses of not having enough time, or not being inspired, or being too tired to think when in reality, it’s nothing but my self doubt taking over the show.

When I first started living with my husband, Anwar, I was taken aback by how self-assured he was. A keen hobbyist in taarab music, he loves nothing better than to sing for an online audience through Facebook live and Youtube and then to re-watch his videos and smile with himself.  I often joke that he is his biggest fan-boy.   Anwar’s father-Juma Bhalo- a well known musician in Kenya,  was the epitome of musical excellence in the taarab genre. My husband was profoundly influenced by his father and although he emulates his music, he will be the first one to tell you that he will never be as good as his father.

Anwar makes beautiful music but sometimes he sings off key and sometimes he doesn’t get the notes right on the keyboard. Sometimes people tell him that “your father, Juma Bhalo is better”. And rarely does his daily work schedule allow for enough time to practice and perfect his technique.  Does this realization temper his enthusiasm for singing? No. If anything, it releases him from the angst of perfection that afflicts so many artists, thus allowing him to express himself with the joyful authenticity often associated with children at play.

There is a particular video on his Youtube channel that I used to find highly amusing in the beginning of our relationship. In it, he is smartly suited up, fingers resting lightly on the keyboard, hair gelled up, and his mega-watt smile ready to dazzle his audience. Before he starts singing, he says (in Kiswahili), with an cheeky expression on his face:

“Asalaam Aleikum. My name is Anwar Bhalo. I know that I am not really a singer but I sing to make myself happy. As long as singing makes me happy, why shouldn’t I sing? Maybe someone out there will feel as happy as I do listening to my singing. For me, this is enough.”

We will never be smart enough, skinny enough, good enough, …etc as long as we compare ourselves with others. In the race to out-do each other, especially in this Instagram world of perfection, we have lost our authentic voices.

In a frank article about originality vs. authenticity, Elizabeth Gilbert asserts that “whatever it is that you dream of doing (creating, traveling, loving, inventing, transforming) just do it. Don’t worry if you’re the 100th person to do it. Just do it, anyhow, and be sure that you bring the highest purity of intention to your pursuit. Act from a place of your deepest authenticity, and the rest of it will take care of itself.”

What are your fears when it comes to creating art? What’s holding you back back from authentic self-expression? What would you do if you believed that you are enough as you are?

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The Realist Guide to Finding Your Dream Job

For years, throughout my college and grad school days, I  struggled to find a career; the one true job that would truly encompass all my skills, education, passion, and creativity. Till today, I still cannot answer the age-old question of ‘who do you want to be when you grow up?’ I want to be so many things!
Perhaps this is why I was so excited to find this TedTalk video recently when I googled resources on finding your dream job, this one diverged so sharply from other career advise articles and videos that fall under the generic summary of ‘follow your passion’. The thing about following your passion is this: it requires you to know what your passion is and if you are anything like me, passion is a plural. How is anyone supposed to make a career out of multiple interests?

What Laura Berman Fortgang attempts to dispel in this talk is the notion that there is only one career choice that fits your passions. She gives a wonderful example of a friend who was a magician, then an architect, then a marketing and advertising executive, and who later came to her because he felt stuck professionally. He wanted to change his job once again to pursue a new career doing something outdoors-y, but he couldn’t reconcile how this new calling fit in with the rest of his life. To Laura, however, his new career interest made perfect sense.  She could see her friend’s common work theme throughout multiple careers; his magic tricks, his architecture, and his city billboards were all based on eliciting a universal human reaction of wonderment across humans of different cultures, languages, and age. Laura’s friend may have held different jobs but who he was as a person was the same throughout his different job titles.  He was someone who inspired awe from others.

You are not your job and your job is not you. For many of us, there is not only one dream job but many dream jobs. You can work in different capacities across different industries because you do not have to do just one thing for life. As long as you are able to express your core essence, it doesn’t matter how many times you change jobs or how much they differ from each other.

“Career satisfaction doesn’t come from what you do, it comes from who you get to be while doing it.”

What do you think of this career advice? How has it impacted you?

 

“I used to feel bad when women weren’t given their rights in court”…

I so admire women who never let age or circumstances define them; who use the negative experiences they’ve face to make life better for others, and who go on to leave a legacy of hope and triumph over adversity.

I’m inspired by Safiyo and I hope you are too.

I Love You. I Don’t Care.

Have you ever had one of those emotional tug-of-war episodes with people that you love dearly? You know; the kind where a desired outcome is the very reason why an argument takes place in the first place.  The love is still alive between the concerned parties but the need to be understood is just so strong, it makes you feel like you are caught in a trial with no end in sight, each person hammering out personal opinions and peeling back the relationship’s hiccup history for the mere sake of providing ‘evidence’.  “If only person x could see my point then I’d feel happier/beautiful/appreciated/fill in your word here______”….

The thing is when ‘if-then’ statements are applied to relationships, love ceases to be liberating.  It becomes imprisoning.  When your loved one becomes stifled by your presence, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start from the basics.  Why do you love that person? Is to fulfill your own personal version of happiness or to fulfill theirs?

In my opinion there is one word that summarizes the human experience best: IMPERFECT. We are not perfect beings and our words and actions, despite our best intentions, are bound to hurt someone else’s feelings and alter their core selves.  That’s why people fall in love when they are at their most vulnerable (and authentic), but the love fades away after a series of condition-induced alterations. The more the ‘if-then’s’, the less the vulnerability, the less the love, etc….I hope you get the gist here. However when we stop fixating on what our loved ones should or shouldn’t do, we are offering them the greatest and most unselfish gift of all-unconditional love.

The commitment to love people despite of their human flaws not only gives them permission to flourish in being their most authentic selves, it releases you from the burden of carrying the world on your shoulders as well.  When you stop controlling the actions of your loved ones, you are in turn giving yourself the permission to be the driver of your own life.  You know what they say: the more you teach something, the more you master it

Next time your dear ones want to change a circumstance (career, appearance, relationship) in their life, let them.  The less you care what they do, the more you allow yourself to love them unconditionally.  The inner peace that comes with a sense of personal autonomy is priceless and it’s often in these ‘I don’t care’ moments that we nurture the most authentic and liberating relationships of all.

 

The Messy Business of Marriage

It’s a prickly subject, this whole business of marriage. Bring it up and you will get varied responses and visuals…

“I wish I never got married”

“I wish we got married sooner”

“I could kill him”

“I know it’s till death us part for us”

Star crossed in love, holding hands and labeling a ballad as “our song” OR

Eyes rolling at each other, screams and rants, or worse, pockets of deep silence and chilling indifference.

With the often intense drama that accompanies two people who agree to share their lives with each other, it’s no wonder marriage is a huge money maker world-wide: wedding planners, divorce laywers, books on how to make or break a marriage, movies, etc. You get it.  Marriage is a huge deal.

I liken the start of a marriage (well, at least most marriages) to a magnificent statue, the type that is featured beautifully in art books on the coffee table and is given all flowery adjectives known to man. Then take a chisel to that statue and with each disappointment/expectations not fulfilled/argument, make a chip.  The scenario goes like this:

“Honey, did you get me item x from the Value Store like I told you to?”

“Oops, sorry love. I forgot”-Chip!

“How could you forget? You know how much x means to me.  I need it now”-Chip! chip!

(Thinking how ridiculous dear spouse is being) “I don’t get you.  Can’t you see how tired I am?  How can you be so insensitive? (voice rising to a crescendo) I never liked x anyway!”-Chip! chip! chip!

(Thinking why she got married to this idiot)”It’s all about you, isn’t it? It’s always been about you. (sneers well within dear spouse’s field of vision)-Chip!chip!chip!chip!

Repeat similar scenarios for months and years and before too long, the masterpiece is reduced to a horribly disfigured piece of stone that isn’t even worthy of a landfill.  And what on earth do you do with a tired looking piece of art?  Do you throw it away? Throw some varnish over it and hope that the massive dents won’t show through? Completely ignore it and put it in an unused corner of your house? Or do you put it on your mantlepiece and celebrate it?

In alot of ways I think that the survival of the marriage just depends on what both partners put into it.  Notice I said both.  It’s alot like cooking.  If you start out with a recipe and you both know and respect the common narrative of the instructions, the dish will most likely turn out edible, if not fabulous.  On the other hand if the cooking involves throwing in senseless proportions of salt, sugar, and mis-matched spices, well, you’ll get a dish called “Pandemonium”.  I guess Pandemonium isn’t so bad if that’s your thing but if it’s not, then into the trash it goes.  Oh and those dishes that look so yummy on the outside but taste like mud once you bite into them? In my book, those also qualify as Pandemonium.  I call them the Silent Noise.

Anyway, back to the statue.  Everytime I see those wizened old couples holding hands or bickering over who said what, I see a severely disfigured statue.  A statue that is almost reduced to a pebble yet proudly showcased on the mantlepiece.  With many, many, many chips.