Imagine, if you will, a ravine. On one side of the ravine is Acceptance, who sits comfortably on the earth, a sense of calm in their bones. On the other side of the ravine, waving across the gap, is Improvement, who is pacing excitedly.
In terms of how we see ourselves, both Acceptance and Improvement are important. Acceptance so that we can recognise we cannot be perfect, and yet still find peace. Improvement so that we recognise that change is possible and can attempt to pivot when we need to.
The reason there is a ravine in between them - at least in my head - is because sometimes I am stuck on one side, trying my best to achieve both, but not building a very good bridge.
For me, this analogy very much sums up the to and fro of art practise in general, and while most of the blogs on this website will zone in on creative things, this one is going to broaden out a little. If you are up for it, you are welcome to come see the back-end of my brain for a moment, where it can get a bit knotty sometimes...
Recently I was invited to an IRL networking-type event. When the invite arrived in my inbox, I immediately felt the fear. My Acceptance understands this and also knows I am a thinker, a planner, a worrier, and a creator-of-scenarios-in-my-head. But I also felt the prickle of wanting to try it. Improvement, after all, is always cheering for me, pushing me to re-frame myself because it doesn’t see why I shouldn’t.
IRL networking - just the very words themselves - make me feel very unsettled. I have never liked walking into rooms, full of people, on my own - even when I know there are people inside who I know - but when it’s a room full of people I don’t know at all, I feel scared. There are many times when I have pushed through the worry and gotten myself into the room, but it has never gotten easier. And just getting in doesn’t mean I know what to do when I’m inside. Cue the awkward clinging to walls, automatically finding quieter nooks and feeling generally a bit rubbish and out of place.
Inevitably, therefore, I couldn’t make the decision whether to attend right then and there. I needed time for my brain and my heart to sync up, and to figure out whether I would Accept my previous knowledge of myself, or seek to Improve and create myself anew.
A couple of weeks later, in a moment of positivity, I responded to the invite and accepted. I have been trying to be more confident in my direction, in my “brand”, in who I am and why I am doing what I’m doing. I had a moment of “heck, I know some stuff, I do belong, I can do this”. And from that point I pictured myself smiling, making friends, chatting and swapping contacts. I pictured myself being so very grown-up about the whole thing.
But it can be hard to change our inner cogs, no matter how intentional we are to do so. Even with the full thrust of positivity behind me, and a sunny day to boot, I still found myself, on the day, in a situation where I suddenly felt lesser. While I started to gain confidence when chatting to just one or two people, once it morphed into a group situation I automatically fell to the edges. When someone in that group turned to include me, but in the act of doing so drew everyone else’s attention to me, I collapsed into myself. All of those eyes turning to me, wanting me to be interesting…I had nothing for them…and so they turned away again.
For myself and my own Acceptance, I did have a lot of wins that day - I actually went, I made it into the room, I talked to a couple of people, I smiled, I did the activities, I listened to the panel. All of these were things I could have just nipped in the bud early on and refused by declining the invite - so my having done them was a win. The part I beat myself up about for though was the ending, because that’s the part where I let myself, and my intention to Improve, down. The event ended with “mingling” and that’s when I bolted. I just could not find the ability inside me to push myself into these groups of people, already all chatting - to me it felt rude, like I was inserting myself where I had not been invited. I absolutely understand of course, in my rational brain, that this was precisely the point of that event - but it’s just not me.
And that’s the Messy Middle of the ravine, isn’t it? Because knowing something isn’t me is a form of accepting who I am, but going to the event anyway was me trying so hard to cross the ravine, and not quite reaching the other side.
I accept, deep down, that the core of me finds those things hard - that I do much better if I meet people one-on-one, or in a small group. I accept that I am a quieter person, who functions on a quieter level, and I am no less valid for it. It doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could be braver, be louder, overcome the fears, and become the version of me that it feels like the world would value more.
*sigh* It is weird to feel both disappointed in and proud of myself in the same breath.
I know we are supposed to brand ourselves as confident and capable, but I just wanted to share and let you know that if you have ever felt something similar, you’re not alone. I always want to be learning, growing and pushing myself - but I also realise that, sometimes, my core self will become weirdly assertive and abort the situation, and that’s ok too.
Human beings are complicated. We’re not failing by feeling confused, by not being finished works of art. We’re always working through things, we’re most always somewhere in the Messy Middle. We’re just living, in whichever way we know how.
Thanks for reading 💛
Keep making to make happy!
Love Gem x