Earlier this year, I pushed past my comfort zone, my fear of rejection, and my vulnerabilities and applied to be a Juried-In Artist in the 2018 Finger Lakes Plein Air Festival.
This was a leap for me. Though I’d been awarded an Honorable Mention during the 2017 Community Paint Out at the same Plein Air Festival, I hadn’t been accepted as an artist despite having been on the roster in the past. It was a setback that took a while to overcome.
As I muddled over the idea of applying again, I knew I was putting myself in a precarious situation: I could be rejected. I could be submitting myself to another year of wondering why I wasn’t accepted. I could be asking for yet another heavy dose of lingering imposter syndrome.
Or, even worse (though I didn’t realize it at the time)...I could be accepted.
Spoiler alert: I was.
Enter: A new starting line in building confidence.
The elation that came with being accepted as a painter amongst an elite, experienced, and well-traveled group of artists wasn’t lost on me, but it was quickly overshadowed by my next thoughts:
I’ll be judged against the best of plein air painters.
Am I really good enough to measure up against these professionals?
Can I truly be ready for this again?
Yes, I’d gotten in. I’d reached the finish line I initially set out to achieve when I decided to take the leap and apply. But...maybe I just fooled everyone.
I was facing yet another starting line in perpetuating self-confidence.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” —Theodore Roosevelt
Amidst the rollercoaster of emotions that accompanied this acceptance, my mentor and friend Lori Putnam sent me the quote above, which promptly made its way onto my blackboard.
The key to stepping into my creativity and embracing my talent wasn’t going to come from comparing; from trying to measure up; from judging myself against others. I had to come out the other side -- my side.
So I did. I continued to go to my Wednesday evening classes. I scoped out both old favorites and new-to-me locations around Ontario County at different times of day to witness the light. I put brush to easel nearly every day, embracing persistence and slowly letting go of fear.
I felt like I’d crossed yet another finish line: I believed in myself. I was painting how I wanted to paint. I was pushing myself further than I ever had before. Yet there was still another hurdle to overcome: The Festival, itself.
Starting line #3: The Plein Air Festival
Morning, noon, and night for nearly a week in June, my mind, body, and soul were dedicated to painting. It was simultaneously exhausting and re-energizing.
I was at yet another starting line. Was I nervous? Absolutely. Did I have doubts? Of course. Was I wondering if I’d fooled everyone? Oh, yes. It seemed every moment came with a new hurdle.
Yet once in the zone, nothing else mattered. I was doing what I love. I was surrounded by others doing the same. There was no win or lose here -- there was joy, growth, and gratitude.
Despite the tiredness that seeped into my bones, I saw how the artists who travel these circuits are persistently building their self-esteem, their confidence, and their skill. By putting themselves out there. By doing the work. By continuing to put one foot in front of the other at each and every new starting line, no matter the critiques, rejections, or imposter syndrome they encounter.
It’s up to me to do the same.
Every finish line is a new starting line
In this experience alone, it’s so clear to see why persistence matters so, so much. We need to celebrate our wins -- then we need to lean into what’s next, understanding that life doesn’t have a single finish line; only a perpetual journey ahead. It’s up to us to embrace it, and the persistence necessary to not just survive, but to thrive.