Success is Relative

To be honest, the last few months have not been the easiest, creatively. I have had a whirlwind of ideas, concepts, next steps if you will, floating into my mind (some of which are better than others), and that just where they have stayed. In my mind. Personally, I can be intimidated by the sheer volume of other people creating things, it makes me not want to do anything ever. 

The allure and vision of becoming successful one day is slowing fading out of my mind and time just seems to go by: I’m standing still, slowly turning in a panoramic manner, and everything else seems to be moving in hyperlapse. Sound familiar? If not, let me paint you a better picture (complete with some sad piano music, a black and white filter, and all) : Standing Still.

I have to ask myself then: where am I getting this definition of success? Who is creating that for me? And why does that definition apply to my life? Long story short: it doesn’t.

34th Street, Manhattan

The world’s definition of success is actually so vague and purposeless that it makes me frustrated for actually falling for it. I didn’t even realize where I was feeding my soul information from until I started to dig deeper.

In the context example Google uses for its definition of success (meaning popularity and wealth), the sentence it gives is “the trappings of success.” I’m sure you know as well as I do that the feeling of entrapment can come hand and hand with success. But the definition I care to explore more about, the one I want to continue to meditate on is “the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose.”

We are all created for a purpose. Is that for us to know right away? Maybe. But at the very least, it is for us to figure out along the way . As we continue to grow more in our faith, we discover more about ourselves on a daily basis. This means trying on a daily basis. This means failing on a daily basis. But it also means one step closer to your own personal success on a daily basis.

Success does not look the same for a woman who was born to raise 3 children to be future leaders of the world as it does for me. It does not look the same for a woman who is a teacher during the day and attending night school so she can advance her research studies. It does not look the same for the lawyer working until 2AM in the high rise in Midtown Manhattan. It does not look the same for the athlete training 6 hours a day and making sure she gets 8 hours a sleep a night so her body can recuperate.

Success is setting reasonable goals for yourself within your own lane. Only you and God know your own limits; and you have to be honest with yourself. This is something I know I need to work on. I will be either all in or not at all. Lately, it has been a not at all mindset, which has left me feeling discouraged and left behind. If that’s you too, that’s okay. As you grow in your skills and abilities to become autonomous, your limit and capacity to tackle more responsibility increases.

That definition of success that I mentioned earlier (the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose)? I think I want to rewrite it to say “The accomplishment or aim of a purpose.” You may never been truly feel like you are “done.” But we continue aiming, because we will always be called to a Higher purpose.

Don’t look for the success that will entrap you. Look for the kinds of success that will propel you into your unique purpose. Own your own definition of success.

 

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The Cost of Impressionism

Impressionist Paintings at Met

As someone who calls herself an artist, the idea of creating scenes, capturing moments, and sketching beautiful architecture came from my love for the Impressionist period of art. I love the way that Impressionists leave little interpretation to the viewer: the paintings from this era evoke an “impression” the artist carefully curated specifically in that moment, tailored for that viewer.
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Upon hearing the word Impressionism, most think of the artistic and historical definition of the word. Perhaps the lesser known term is the following (as defined by Webster’s): “the depiction of scene, emotion, or character by details intended to achieve a vividness or effectiveness more by evoking subjective and sensory impressions than by recreating an objective reality.”
This leaves me thinking: what impression am I trying to give people to leave no interpretation as to the reality I am trying to portray? In other words, am I sacrificing who I am to make sure that I impress others? To make a perfectly curated “moment,” a tailored view to seem like I am more vivid or more effective (if we are still following Webster’s definition)? At the end of the day, I may be impressing people, but at what cost?
I remember first moving to New York City in college. The magic of New York was soon traded for the need to keep up with the Jones’s. I remember coming back from my first semester during Christmas time and someone would tell me “omgsh… look who is living their best Gossip Girl life xoxo.” At the time, I had not yet seen the show,  but I knew it was about Manhattan Socialites of the Upper East Side being invited to parties and soirees and galas wearing the latest fashions off the runway. Truthfully, it felt sooooo good to hear someone say that. I felt accepted. I felt like I got the “seal of approval” from the world, something I didn’t really “get” when I was in high school. So I continued this lifestyle and persona of giving others the impression that I was always living this vibrant fabulous life (according to world, Hollywood, and socialite standards of course).
$11,000 in credit card debt later, I was struggling to really make ends meet. I worked more than 3 jobs just to keep my head above water. I felt so overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. Overwhelmed by the burden I had placed on myself, yet underwhelmed and unimpressed with the gap between how my life actually looked and how I had expected it to look. I would even throw in the word “hustlin” to justify the fact that I had more than one job to even make rent, just to seem busy and important. Unfortunately, our society, especially New York, prides itself on the 14-hour work day and the phrase “everyday I’m hustlin” (which, is a song I still love, thanks Rick Ross). Trying to keep up the pace with someone I wasn’t was exhausting. It was a mistake that cost me money, time, real relationships, and honesty with myself & with God.
With every decision comes an opportunity cost. By choosing to engage in something, I am inherently choosing to say no to another opportunity. When I was choosing to buy into the words the world was telling me, I was giving up who I was. Why on EARTH was I giving up who God has called me to be and what plans God has for my life because I was worried about maintaining an impression that was chosen for me by the world and not by God’s design?! I was impressing people who’s density was not relevant to mine, people who weren’t encouraging, people who didn’t have my best interest at heart. And what’s worse – I was afraid to tell the people I actually cared about becuase I feel that they would think less of me, not respect me, and judge me.
Our actual reality, not the objective one we curate for other people, gives us peace and honesty in all areas of our life. I know that I never have to pretend and I never have to compromise what makes me unique. You know who is impressed with me? God. You know who’s approval I don’t have to strive for? God. And I can rest and live my life knowing that that to continue to walk in truth is the only impression I ever have to make.
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Life-Giving Life

When your mind, body, and soul are operating on the same page, meaning, there is a common goal, beautiful things happen. If you put your mind into a cause or a project where your heart is and your actions follow, passion ignites and things actually start to get done.
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What’s more, when you are operating within God’s will, you are on an accelerated path for the Kingdom, and you become an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. When your goals align with kingdom destiny, your goals become on a fast-track.

Philippians 1:21 says “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I paused for a moment to meditate on the “to live is Christ” portion. “Is” in this context is a direct metaphor for life. Nothing you do can separate you from God, so why would you try? I am reminded of that Steven Curtis Chapman song, Jesus is Life. “The air I’m breathing, Why my heart is beating, Everything I’m needing, Jesus is life, Jesus is life.”

Jesus IS life. All encompassing, ever-dependent life. The goal is to operate as one mind, one body, and one spirit: totally and completely in sync with your God-planned purpose. “Be no longer conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test God’s will. His good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2. Just rest in those thoughts, knowing that God WANTS you to know His perfect and pleasing will for your life and He WANTS to be involved. 

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Are We There Yet?

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The waiting and timing of promises can be frustrating, especially when there are many unknown factors. I was reading through Isaiah this morning when it hit me that God is an artist, a creative, and a creator. (Something you always know but you see it differently some days).

He formed each and every one of us uniquely and with love. He has painted and fashioned a beautiful life for us; and all of His promises for us are ours when we choose Him and let the Holy Spirit guide us every day. Imagine an art studio, where understudies watch a seasoned master paint. The artist isn’t finished, but the students don’t know that. The artist begins to pack up for the day, clean his brushes and the students say, “so that’s it? Are you done?” The artist then replies “My work is not yet finished, and I will be back tomorrow to paint again.” Unlike the artist, the creator, the students cannot see the end vision, they cannot see the complete and beautiful painting.

How is that different when we question God’s artistry and orchestration of our lives? Isaiah 45:9 says “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter ‘what are you making?’…” (NIV).

While we are on this journey called life, trying to fulfill His purpose for the Kingdom, we need to have faith in His timing. I had this vision, where I find myself on this road trip, in the back seat of a car (probably a G-Wagon becuase this is, after-all, my daydream); and God is driving. We are in the middle of the desert, and I find myself asking God “Are we there yet?” “Have we close to our destination?” “Are we out of the desert?” “Have we reached The Promised Land?” Meanwhile, He’s driving the car, turns around and says “We will get there in time, trust me.”

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God’s timing is not our timing. When you feel yourself unfulfilled by the promises of God, know that you aren’t finished with your journey yet. Trust God on the windiest of roads, and know that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” (Philippians 1:6). Don’t be weary in your well doing.

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Time to Get Un-Funky

I’ll admit it – the last few years of my life I feel like I’ve been in a funk. Like I’ve been caught up in a routine of life, that I haven’t been living out my purpose. I feel lost and confused, like walking through a maze with a blindfold on.
For me, trying to spark up creativity can be a trying and frustrating process. Especially when everything I am drawing, painting, and writing is just a bit off, but I can’t put my finger on why. What I find is that the most passion comes from your projects, is when your work comes FROM joy, not for it. You don’t have to prove your talent to anyone, you are already so incredibly gifted. Create art from your happy heart, and your work will show your joy.
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Create because you see beauty that gives you joy, and you want to capture the moment and share it with someone else because you want them to feel the same way. It is easy to spot when someone’s work is not for themselves, and the best way to counter that and to be authentic is to find pure unfiltered and joy in what you are creating.
I was walking around one of my favorite New York neighborhoods on a cool rainy Sunday morning and snapped a photo of some Gramercy townhouses (I mean… house goals right there). I absolutely love line drawings and I wanted to share this serene moment because it reminded me why I fell in love with New York almost 10 years ago.
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You can watch a full time-lapse of the drawing here.
So ask yourself: what are the things you like to do? And more importantly, what brings you happiness in both good times and bad? Someone once said to me, “what do you love to do so much that you would do it for free?” If you are still trying to figure it out like I am, that’s okay. Answering those questions is a good place to start.
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Finding Purpose in Everything

To be frank, I reflect on my life and sometimes feel underwhelmed with my accomplishments. I feel like my life is at a stand still, nothing is happening and the world can just move on without missing what I have to offer.

As I read more of other’s success stories, learn more about how thought leaders have overcome challenges, and study the lives of entrepreneurs; I find that it is the spirit of resilience that has carried them through seasons of stillness. They are resilient, knowing that endurance is a direct byproduct of challenge. One of my favorite speakers, Bianca Juarez Olthoff, states it beautifully in her new book, Play With Fire (which, I totally recommend buying and reading immediately if you want to learn anything about dealing with frustration). “We all go through desert seasons and have the opportunity to determine how we will respond.” It is in our hands how we react to stillness and frustrations in our lives. One of my favorite excerpts in Romans to recite when I feel like I’m losing my nerve comes from Chapter 5. “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (NIV). 

In my mind I know I want to impact lives in some way, but I don’t know what that looks like just yet and it is beyond frustrating at times. Be on the lookout (or, as my mother likes to say “BOLO”) for areas where there is room for growth, and areas where you already have grown. Having the ability to identify what skills you gain as a result of being tried and tested is of upmost importance. Plus, it is a source of encouragement.

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New York is more than just a place I live. It is a place that lives me energy in times of exhaustion, it gives me hope when I feel burnt out. Just exploring the streets gives me peace. As I walk through the city in the snow, I am reminded that every season of life, no matter how bleak or how bitter cold it is, can and will come to an end. “There is a time for everything: and He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiasties 3, Kylie Translation).

With every trial and frustration, comes strength. With strength, responsibility. With responsibility, wisdom. (And…. probably more trials). The key is to find the challenge in everyday, and turn it into a learning experience that you can leverage as you move onto your next season in life. Capitalize on these trials: know that what you are going through will absolutely prepare you for what is coming next. Everyone, everything, and every day has value and a purpose. You just have to look for it.

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