2015: Two Gains & A Lesson Learned

Long exposure self portrait lake erie ohio
“Self Portrait On Bench” Ohio, 2015

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. By nature I am very introspective and analytical so when I discover a need for transformation in my life, I immediately begin revising my habits toward that end. I don’t wait for a specific mark in time to begin, and I usually don’t advertise it. Still, with everyone discussing personal improvement goals at this time of year, I can’t help but reflect on my experiences to see what lessons 2015 taught me. First, I thought it would be in good spirit to recognize two positive changes that came out of 2015.

I had a rough year at my job in the 2014-2015 school year. I was experiencing burnout and could feel stress taking its toll on me as negative feelings of anger, resentment and discontent crept in. These feelings affected my interaction with people, shortening my temper and causing me to withdraw in my relationships. At first glance, the situation seemed paradoxical; a catch-22, if you will. On one hand, I knew I was burned out because my job demanded so much time and focus that I wasn’t making time for activities that are fulfilling and enjoyable. On the other, I felt guilty about making the time to do those things as if I was somehow taking away from potential work time. I was falling victim to the American work ethic which seems to suggest that if you aren’t killing yourself you aren’t working hard enough. In reality I know this is absurd. Your best work is done when your mental, physical and spiritual health are tended to. Besides, life is too short to make it all about work.

I made the decision to find a way to incorporate a consistent routine of leisure activity. I knew that it needed to be a meaningful, fulfilling activity, not just sitting around at home watching Netflix. Two solutions emerged: make more art, and get out to see more art. So, I began making more time in the evenings and on weekends to focus on my photography. I created more images last year than in any year previous. I also saw my work begin to emerge with stronger focus because of this intentional concentration. Soon after my efforts were rewarded when my work began to get attention: I had several opportunities to exhibit my work, I won several awards, and my work was published for the first time, twice in one year. The real reward, however, was in the fulfilling act of creating.

My second solution was to get out and see more art. I did this by setting aside one night a month to go gallery hopping in downtown Phoenix, something I stopped doing about ten years ago for some unknown reason. I chose the third Friday of the month because most of the galleries are open but the atmosphere is less carnivalesque than the first Friday scene. I called an acquaintance who I had not been in contact with for a few years, but who I knew enjoyed art, and I invited him along with me. We now have a standing engagement each month. Not only did I get out to see more art, but a new friendship was kindled and our time spent together has been equally as gratifying as the regular exposure to new art. So those are my two gains; two positive changes made in 2015 that led to overall better mental and spiritual health.

2015 also taught me a lesson. I learned that I need to be careful with expectation. Not just my own expectations, but how the expectations of others covertly shape my own. This lesson came primarily in reflecting on my first solo photography exhibition in October 2015. It was a wonderful experience, full of excitement and energy. However, when it was all over I felt an overwhelming emptiness. I struggled to figure out what was causing this and eventually identified it as disappointment. It crept in slowly throughout the month, unknown to me. In the beginning I was just excited to share my art with people. I had no other expectations. But each time someone brought up the exhibit in conversation, their first question was often “Did you sell anything yet?” After answering “No” so many times I began to feel like I had somehow failed. I don’t begrudge the people who asked because I know there was nothing malicious in their intent. They were just excited for me and trying to make conversation, which I appreciate. Anyhow, the show closed and I had not sold any pieces. I found myself disappointed to not have met a goal that I never even made for myself. It’s silly, really. Thankfully I was eventually able to identify this and free myself from it. I move forward with a new awareness of how expectation can taint experience if not carefully managed.

As I enter into 2016 I expect nothing but the inevitable passing of time. I am mindful that I have a choice in how I spend this passing time, and I want to continue being proactive about making time for things that are fulfilling. I would say “Happy New Year” but that feels empty and insincere to me. Instead, I’ll say: Be well. Be happy.