My manifesto for 2018: searching for freedom

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I love January. Other than September, it’s my favourite month. This might be surprising considering there’s only 7 hours of daylight, the temperature is well below zero (Celsius) and there’s a good chance of suffering from holiday hangover. 

But I love it because of the bright, shiny fresh start that it offers. Arbitrary though it may be, January 1st feels like a giant, sparkling reset button that makes the world spring into sharper focus. I always enjoy the lightness of relief when the holiday season is over and life offers up a sense of stillness. I feel ridiculously hopeful and ready to let my biggest dreams and desires loose upon the world. 

This year, I feel even better than most since I was able to spend the better part of a week extricating myself from the thicket of stress that I fell into for most of the fall. I spent hours listening to soothing music on my new noise-cancelling headphones (best invention ever!) reviewing what went right and what went wrong, and dreaming about how to make things better this year. 

I realized that while I accomplished a lot more than I had expected in the past 12 months, the overarching theme for the year was constriction -- a feeling of being caught in a prison of my own making. I weighed myself down heavily with unnecessary obligations, adding more and more tasks to an unstable pile. While this definitely  helped me take my art business further than it’s ever been before, it also left me with a sour taste in my mouth. This - burned out, worried, stressed, exhausted - is NOT how I want to feel

And so, I thought about what I DO want to feel. And the answer floated up like a feather on the breeze: freedom. 

I want to break free my imaginary prison. I want my mind to be full of “I get to do this?!” instead of “I have to do this.” I want to be free from expectations, constraints, worrying about what everyone will think, comparisons, pointless burdens, responsibility that is not mine, and needing all the answers. I want to be free to explore, adventure, connect, create, and feel everything. 

Last year I pushed myself really hard and though it was painful, I’m glad I did it. Now I know what too far feels like. And I have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.

This year I will be making some changes: 

  • I will not pack in as many things as I possibly can. I will leave some space for the unexpected. 
  • I will not rigidly cling to an idea of where I need to be in 12 months. I will hold my dreams closely, but loosely. 
  • I will not throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I will put my energy into projects and plans that light me up the most and have the greatest potential for impact. 
  • I will not keep pushing myself to do just one more thing. I will stop before I get to my breaking point. 
  • I will not attempt to do battle with my fear, hide from it or ignore it. I will hold it gently, show it kindness and compassion. 
  • I will not accept that the future is closed, decided, or determined. I will remember that I am creating it moment by moment. 

I also have plans to overcome some more practical challenges: 

A lot of fear and stress this year came from my lack of building skill. I want large-scale installations to be a core part of my artistic practice, but I’m getting stuck in my limited experience. This year I’m going to actively pursue knowledge and develop skill in two ways. First, by attending my very first artist residency (!!!), during which I will spend two weeks working with a group to build a wood pavilion. And second, by designing and building six small projects to help me learn different sets of skills. The first - a birdhouse to hang outside the studio window - is almost finished! 

Despite all the progress I’ve made in terms of finding my voice and building connections, I still feel like there’s a big piece of the puzzle missing when it comes to community and networking. I burned out in 2017 partially because I was trying to do everything by myself and didn’t have the particular support that comes from people who’ve been there. This year I’m making a focused, strategic (but also introvert-friendly!) networking plan to help me get more connected. 

Most of last year’s art-making was reactive, meaning that I produced it for specific events. This year, I want to take a more generative approach by experimenting a little more and seeing what bubbles up naturally. I’m still not really sure how to do this, since I tend to get hemmed in by deadlines, but I’m excited to work on figuring it out. 

This year I will continue to take risks, to push my boundaries, to do scary things every day. But I will also focus on connection and learning and make play a priority. And I will continue to deepen my mindfulness practice in order to spend more time in the present. 

No dream is worth getting crushed by. I still want to be a full-time artist, but I want to enjoy the journey to get there. Because all we really have is the journey. And I want my journey to feel like freedom. 

What are you dreaming about for 2018? Have you chosen a word for the year? Leave a comment below!