To know where you’re going, you first need to get lost

When I was ten, I remember spending an entire afternoon working meticulously on a painting for a school assignment. The topic was the May Day holiday. An important holiday during communism in Poland, celebrating work and labor. The whole nation celebrated, down to the school children. And few lucky students even got the chance to walk in a big parade, carrying white and red flags, dressed in bright white shirts and navy pants or skirts.

Although that year our class did not walk in the May Day parade, we still needed to mark the holiday somehow. So we were assigned to paint our own version of the celebration. As soon as our art teacher announced the assignment, the vision of what I was going to paint popped into my head. That afternoon, as soon as I got home, I took out my “bambino” crayons and lined them up from yellow to orange, then red, and purple, and blue, all the way to green, putting the brown and black colors at the very end. I took out a crisp white sheet of paper, the nice heavy weight stock. And I was all set to draw out my vision. I drew the most beautiful girls, with red lips, sparkly eyes and long eyelashes, dressed in traditional Krakowian costumes. They were dancing with boys wearing black boots and peacock feathers in their hats. The girls had long braids swinging in the air with ribbons and flowers woven into their hair. There was motion, energy, and everyone looked so happy. I even filled in the background so that there wouldn’t be any white spaces on the sheet. Color was beaming everywhere.

Sometimes one kind word or recognition can have immeasurable impact on our destination

But what I remember most about this day is the way my mom and my grandmother reacted to my picture when they saw it. Their eyes got bigger, and I saw them looking with amazement at my masterpiece. My mom congratulated me on the beautiful job, and my grandmother actually sat with me and looked at every person in the picture, describing how energetically they were dancing and how she saw the motion in the scene. I was overjoyed. As a child I rarely got praised. I was expected to behave and do what children were supposed to do. Praise was reserved only for special accomplishments. Something extraordinary. So getting such a reaction was rare and I held my picture close to me with pride and stared and stared at it until I fell asleep that night.

The next morning I woke up excited to show the picture to my teacher. She liked it and awarded me “a five”, the highest grade at that time. Other students in the class also liked my picture and they said that I was a good artist. When I went home that day I decided that when I grow up I was going to become an artist.

Knowing what you want requires first understanding of what we don’t want

At least that’s what I thought then. As it turns out, eight years later, when I applied to the Ontario College of Art, my portfolio got rejected, and my big plans of becoming a famous artist one day came crashing down. What was even tougher to swallow was that my friend who—at least on the surface—did not appear that passionate about art, ended up getting in with no problem. To make matters worse, two years later when I applied to work at an animation studio in Toronto, my portfolio and application also got rejected. So I put my dream of becoming an artist on a shelf and went to study languages instead at University of Toronto, and eventually got an MBA instead of an art degree.

However, I have never abandoned my passion for art. In fact several years later I did participate in an art exhibition at the Toronto City Hall, and even sold my art at couple of galleries. But at this stage it was more of a hobby than an art career.

Experiencing rejection can be one of the hardest lessons, but also a catalyst for progress

As difficult as it was to be rejected, the experience has taught me a great deal. It was a wakeup call that I needed to mature as an artist. Because up until this point, my parents, friends, and even teachers kept telling me that I was a great artist. And I am not saying that they were wrong. But what I needed was someone who has seen thousands of artists’ work, to tell me objectively that I simply did not have what it takes at this stage of my life to be an artist. And they did me a favor. Because it was still early enough in my life when I could easily pick a different path. Study other subjects, develop other interests and work on my other skills that would push me to become a well-rounded person. And in the end, the education I gained helped me land a great job that gave me great satisfaction.

And just because I was rejected by an art school, and have not chosen my first career to be in art, does not mean that I stopped being an artist. An artist is who I am because I feel it within me. I feel the desire to paint, and I paint and draw almost daily. I create because it’s what I feel I must do. Not because someone pays me to do it or because someone asks me to, but because without art my life would have a big empty hole. Each time I create art, that hole gets smaller and smaller and I feel happier.

To appreciate highs, we need to understand the lows

Once a year my family and I drive to Toronto. It’s at least a ten hour drive. Having done this drive for many years I noticed that once we get to the flat part of the journey, after passing Pittsburgh and heading towards Erie, each mile feels like ten. When we drive through the Appalachians, the trip moves faster. There are valleys, mountains, and interesting rocks to look at. The terrain goes up and down, and the landscape constantly changes. At that stage of the drive everything seems to be moving quicker. But the moment the terrain gets flat, the journey feels slow and weariness starts to hit me. And what is the smallest section of our trip, starts feeling like the longest.

Similarly, without the valleys in our own life, it is difficult to appreciate the peaks. Our successes feel bigger because of the lows we first go through to get there.

Sometimes what we think we want is not what we need.

And as I look back, I recognize that without experiencing rejection, I would not appreciate acceptance. I wouldn’t have become the artist that I am today. Not being accepted to the Ontario College of Art, pushed me to experiment more with art. To try different media, test various color combinations, and keep trying to reinvent my style.

Being turned down, also helped me become bolder and open to try different approaches because I no longer felt fear of being rejected. I had nothing to lose at that stage, but only to gain. With nothing to lose, I felt free to try whatever I wanted, and that’s when I unleashed my creativity and found the style that reflected the world within me. The style I paint in today.

About the Illustration: Lifted

Girl with a red baloon_Rokita

This is how I imagine the moment of letting go. The moment when you’re no longer weighted down by the heaviness of all that keeps you down from being free to explore the essence of who you are.

The red balloon symbolizes the heart. The heart is what gives us lift. Without air, the balloon can’t float. And it wouldn’t lift the little girl in the picture above the valleys and the peaks either. Similarly to a balloon needing air to float upwards, the heart needs freedom to be lifted. The heart is fragile, like the balloon. Even the smallest sharp object can prick the thin surface of the balloon and it will pop and drop down. The heart too needs gentle handling.

As children, we naturally follow our hearts because there are no filters nor walls to block us from following it’s free flowing current.  Then we enter school and learn to use our minds and how to be sensible in order to function within our societies and cultures. Developing our mind is just as important as letting our heart be free. But both need to be nurtured. Neglecting one or the other eventually leads to imbalance and then pain. As we mature, our strength resides in our ability to find harmony between sensibility and our own heart. Finding an accord between the two is the strength we need to carry us over the valleys, and experience the highest of peaks. The girl in this picture has found harmony between her heart and her mind and therefore in this moment she is lifted.

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