“How You do Anything…”


My drawing class follows a familiar pattern each week. We learn something new about drawing – proportion, perspective, line variation – and then practice putting it all together for the rest of the three-hour class. We warm up with 5 to 10 one-minute drawings, and then move to 1 to 3 five-minute drawings, and finish with a “long draw” of up to an hour or more. The subject can be the same, as in a still life, or as it was last week, a live model who assumed a different position for each time block.

As I progressed through the exercises and remembered to think about shapes and depth, my hand got more sure and the drawings seems to have more life in them. The minute blocks went by so quickly that I felt my competitive spirit surface each time to capture more – or better – what I was seeing. The 5-minute drawings challenged me to draw lightly and then continue to refine the lines but still wasn’t enough time to delve into detail. There’s something particularly confirming to one’s sense of artistic talent to have just enough time to capture the “feel” of something, to let one’s arm, hand and pencil freely move over the page, but not quite enough time to prove that sense wrong!

When we switched to the long draw, I noticed something very interesting about myself: I didn’t want to move past shapes and broad pencil strokes to a level of greater detail. My resistance was palpable. I could spend twice the time – 10 minutes – on the drawing and come to a complete halt when I needed to go to another level of seeing and drawing. In that moment, I realized, I was at the threshold of the next level of my skills development, and I was anxious about proceeding lest my development not bear fruit.

I was also faced with the grand expanse of the work needed to bring my drawing to a greater level of completion, the drawing equivalent of the writer’s blank page. I was forgetting, of course, that lines and words are the building blocks of more complete drawings or essays, and nothing comes to the fore full born. Both insights felt right, both also felt rooted in fear and a sense that I did not – in that moment – bring enough, or the right sort of something, to the task at hand. I also believe that I may be resisting the presence, stillness and mindfulness required to go deep, to see where ‘next’ leads me.

What I have loved about taking this drawing class, and writing this blog, and other experiments of this year away from a ‘day job,’ has been the opportunity to try new things. I have relished moving past a worry about being ‘not good enough’ at whatever task, and have enjoyed reminding myself that experimentation and fun are the ends I have in mind. Often, there is a moment where I have to step away from the stop, and have a little chat with myself about what is going on. The insight from all of this: my real challenge is always right between my ears!

“How you do anything is how you do everything,” is a quote attributed to Martha Beck, a life coach and author (well known for her monthly article in Oprah’s magazine). I often think about those words, and wonder how my resistance to moving to the next step in my drawing is like my ‘everything.’ Certainly, I recognize the vestige of a pattern from my childhood: moving every 2-3 years to a new country, I got very good a swiftly adapting and making fast connections. But I also had to move on quickly when my family relocated again, and so I learned to be fast if not deep. That pattern showed up in my career: in spite of working for one employer for 28 years, I had innumerable jobs and assignments in that time, feeding a constructive restlessness that I believe was planted in my youth.

I also see how I have been intrepid at times in my life, like leaving a perfectly good ‘day job’ and career to see what might be next for me. That’s a different ‘anything is everything’ equation than the one that has me halting at the next phase of my development; it is the one that says I move forward into my next phase, blank page and all.

As I think about these two observations — a fearful, halting posture or a brave forward-looking approach — they seem like contradictions; I now recognize them as parts of the same “everything.” I may choose a path and yet still be challenged by various or even many moments on the way, needing to stop and consider and re-calibrate. For instance, noticing my resistance to the next phase of my drawing demonstrates awareness and mindfulness, even if it is my resistance or my fear that I am inclined to notice and judge.

We have this next week off from drawing class due to the Memorial Day holiday. I will challenge myself to draw a little every day, including a long draw or two between now and next Tuesday. I will see if my resistance returns, and how I move through it.  Either way, I’ll remind myself that it is only an experiment, and that moving forward, one way or another, is everything.


I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes on Fridays (and like this post, sometimes later on the weekend!). Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

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3 thoughts on ““How You do Anything…”

  1. Great insights. I, too, share similar hardships when I try something new. I remember being in Bali and having the courage to try all of these new things and do stuff out of my comfort zone. I found a new rhythm with myself despite all of the fear, insecurity and fumbling that happened. I came to know this part of myself as my “vacation” self. When I was on vacation I was freed up from a lot of my own expectations of being competent and good at everything right away. Since moving to Philadelphia, I have made a real effort of living my life through “vacation self.” This has allows for a lot of exploring, getting lost, learning new things, connecting with a different set of people and having a tremendous amount of fun. Hurrah, Susan. I love you, babe. Thanks for sharing, as always.


  2. “…my real challenge is always right between my ears!…” Indeed, and that is only one of several gems of wisdom in this post. Nicely wrought!


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