Category: Life

The Making of a Snowman

Seashore blanketed in snow. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

It’s been snowing steadily these past weeks, fluffy snowflakes dancing lazily in the air. And every time it happens, I run to the window, filled with the same wonder as when I was a kid. 

“It’s snowing!” I tell my husband. He looks out, smiles, and goes back to his book. “It’s snowing!” I tell Minette, and she stares back with that sphinx look that cats use to convey how silly humans are. You can almost see the shake of the head, the soft muttering, “Humans.”

I want to run out, make snow angels in the garden and build a snowman. I would have done it too, but for the lack of a carrot. A carrot! A carrot! My kingdom for a carrot! After all, what’s a snowman without a carrot for the nose? 

My husband tells me this snow is no good for building snowmen; it’s too fluffy and powdery. Pity. It would have been such a fine snowman. I have the perfect scarf for it, a mohair thing in bold blocks of color, bright red, buttery yellow, sky blue, green, and orange wool fireworks on a cold man. The orange block would have matched the nose—the one I don’t have.

Close up of plants against a snowy background. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

I shovel the snow around the entry and create a small path to the mailbox. I’m cautious not to step outside it. I love looking at all that pristine white blanket covering the ugliness of the world. 

Maybe that’s why I love freshly fallen snow. I love the purity of the world. I love the silence pierced only by the call of a blackbird or the rhythmic toc-toc-toc of the woodpecker in the back yard. The occasional passing car makes only a muffled sound, dying quickly away. Toc-toc-toc.

Close up of tracks in the snow. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

The snow continues to fall in a hypnotic rhythm. I’m thinking of marine snow. Such a poetic name for the aquatic detritus slowly falling from the sea surface to the seabed that can be visually likened to snowfall. I’ve read somewhere that fish can produce light in the eternal darkness of deep seas to defend themselves. They’d make this bright flash of light to blind their attackers, and they’d use the ensuing confusion to flee. Nature will find a way. It always does.

I walk to the window and look at the massive oak tree in the backyard. No squirrels. It’s probably too cold for them to venture out. Snow too deep.

I can see deer tracks in the garden, where they have trotted during the night. A hare’s too. They’re quickly fading, covered by white fluffiness. 

Two fawns in the grass. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

There are two fawns born in our backyard last spring. They were minutes old when I found them in the tall grass around the big birch tree, barely able to stand. The mother stood a few meters away, watching me anxiously. The little ones were so trustful, looking big-eyed at this new thing – the world. Imagine feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time. The low buzz of the insects in the grass. The calls of the birds.

I had gone there to check on the compost, and I almost stepped on them, well-hidden in the grass. I backed in surprise, not trusting what my eyes were telling me. I snapped a couple of pictures with my cell phone (the best camera is the one that you have with you) and then went back to the house, leaving the new mother to take care of her babies. They were gone in a few hours.

I guess they’re not fawns anymore; they’ve grown so much this past year! Last night they munched on the remaining pumpkins, leftovers from Halloween. They were completely hidden under the blanket of snow, of course, but they knew where they were and dig them out.

A doe in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A deer in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

And during the time it took me to write this post, they came again, going back and forth in the garden, looking for sunflower seeds. Life.

I return to my desk with a sigh. I have to get back to work. A new chapter awaits. The snowflakes swirl around, racing each other to the ground.

I make a mental note to buy carrots. And more sunflower seeds.

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Fight or Flight?

Close up of a a red squirrel. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Old hands in the garden

The usual squirrels haven’t visited for a couple of weeks now. I guess they’re all hiding in their dreys, munching on their nut provisions. It’s been very cold, and they must be as reluctant to go out in that frozen world as humans. 

A red squirrel in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
The new squirrel, so tiny in the deep snow.
A red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
She appreciated the nuts. Very much.

A new one came twice, much smaller and thinner than the others. She must have been desperate for food. The first time it was wary of me, darting away at my smallest move. The second time, still suspicious, she let me come much closer. I took a few pictures, but then I let her eat up the nuts and the sunflower seeds. 

Her eyes were continuously scanning everything around her. She took only a fraction of a second break to pick up a new nut; the rest of the time was spent munching on the nut at turbo speed and checking the perimeter. 

I saw a small squirrel once, chased by a large cat in our garden. The cat was very bold, indeed. I had to push her, physically, to get her away from the tree where the squirrel had climbed in panic. She came back as soon as I turned my back. You cannot be too careful.

Eurasian jay in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A jay who managed to steal some nuts from the squirrel. Squirrels and smaller birds have a healthy respect for jays.
A blackbird in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A blackbird, with own nuts. The only way to keep the peace in the backyard.

It’s the same with the birds. They have to if they want to survive. They fly into the trees at the hint of a movement. Flee first, check later.

This is the same fight or flight mechanism humans have as well. Our ancestors faced mostly physical dangers in their environment, like a lion. The hormones released by the response to the threat would ensure that the body was primed to deal with the threat, either fight the lion or run away as quickly as possible. A survival mechanism, simply put. The threat of lions is gone for modern humans, or most of them, in any case. The threats are now mental, but the body response is the same. 

An important presentation at work, speaking in public, being late for a critical meeting, and so on. All the perks of modern life. The brain perceives them as threats and instructs the body to prepare for fight as it did millennia ago on the savannah: you start breathing faster, the heartbeat quickens, and your entire body becomes tense and ready for action. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Reeds. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

It’s not so surprising. We’re not so much different from our ancestors, after all. We just have more technology; monkeys with smartphones.

What’s more, the brain only needs the thought of a threat. I.e., it will respond to imaginary threats as well. Hence, the phobias.

Luckily, this works the other way around, too. This is why visualization and affirmations work.

The fight or flight response is a fine-tuned survival mechanism, but we have to learn to handle it when the mental stressors trigger it. If you’re in a car accident, it’s a great way for the body to increase your survival chances. If you’re in a meeting you dread, not so much.

For my part, I learned the hard way (including a trip to the ER with a panic attack that felt like an infarct) that breathing and calming my mind helped. But that’s another story to be told, maybe, in a future post.

For now, I’m happy watching the little squirrel and hoping she’ll make it through the winter.

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Time Cannot Exist in the Zone

A little more than one year ago, my life was a frenzy of conference calls, online meetings, e-mails, projects, and what have you. It felt like being on a bullet train, the landscape whooshing by at such speed that all you could see was a blur. Time was speeding up more and more every day. It was Monday morning; then I blinked, and it was Friday again. I was barely aware I was living. Weeks and months flew by, growing into years faster than I wanted to admit. 

And I was wondering whether this was how my life would continue, years and years flying by faster and faster, and me barely able to tell them apart.

I managed to jump off the hamster wheel of my corporate job eventually. I had realized I couldn’t continue living at lightspeed. 

And you know what? Life slowed down. I slowed down. Time slowed down.

It did take a while, and a lot of soul searching. But once I’ve done that soul work, looking at my values, thinking about what was important for me, and deciding on a course of action, everything changed.

Living intentionally, with a purpose, based on values that were important to me, slowed down time. 

I’m in my bubble every morning, writing my morning pages as soon as I’ve completed my morning ritual (I’ll write a separate post on my ritual). The outside world ceases to exist. It’s only me and the sound of the pen moving across the paper. I lose all track of time. Time ceases to exist. Time cannot exist in the zone

I lift my eyes to the oak tree I see from my window. A woodpecker stares back at me. The little red squirrel that comes by every few days flies graciously from branch to branch. This irritates the woodpecker, and it flies away. 

I go out and put out walnuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds for the squirrel who was waiting for me. She’s stopped raiding the bird feeders. She waits for me. The camera is irritating, I know, so I try to give her time to eat before I start clicking. I toss her a few nuts, and she walks, ever so cautiously, closer. No more than 1.5 meters for now, but my 300mm lens gets the job done at that distance. I didn’t invest in a wildlife telelens; I’m not a wildlife photographer. But there’s magic happening in my backyard, and I’m trying to catch these ephemeral moments.

Another bubble wraps around me. I forget the time when I’m taking photos. I have to set the timer on my Apple watch to remind me to get back for lunch.

Writing (morning pages, blog posts, poems, my book), taking or editing photos, gardening, reading, watching the birds and small animals in my backyard – this is my new life.

Marveling at this amazing world makes time disappear. Time doesn’t speed up; we do.

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First Anniversary and Some Reflections on 2020

Happy Birthday, an anniversary watercolor

Happy Birthday! Today is my birthday, and the blog celebrates its first anniversary. A few reflections on this first year of creative freedom may be in order.

2020 was not what I expected, and it’s not what you think. Yes, Covid-19 wreaked havoc with our lives and certainly with mine too. But it’s more than that.

I had resigned from my corporate job at Microsoft to do one thing: create. Finally, I would focus on my art and do all the things I was dreaming of when stuck in endless conference calls (I lived quarantine life before Covid-19 imposed it on the rest of the world).

It sounded simple, and I can see now that how deceptive this simplicity was. Hindsight makes things easy to see for what they are. This simple one word, create, encapsulated so many things that I was lost. By trying to do too much, I did nothing in the end. It’s not an excuse, just a late epiphany. Here’s a passage from one of my blog posts in late 2020.

My To-Do list had over 200 items on it (properly categorized, of course). The length was not, in fact, the issue, but the prioritization. What would be the best use of my time? Write every morning, then work on photo projects in the afternoon and read in the evening? What about the blog? I loved blogging and wanted to make room for it. And social media? And I don’t mean watching cat videos on YouTube (even though this may happen more often than I’d admit), but my Facebook photo page and Instagram (posting well-curated photos, of course). 

Where would I then fit drawing/painting/making music/going to art galleries/reading New York Review of Books/going to yoga/making tasty-yet-healthy smoothies/creating a new garden/gardening/listening to thought-provoking and inspirational podcasts/watching interesting and motivational TED talks/learning more about astrophysics, or 19th-century explorations, or psychology, or fractals – to say nothing about the mundane things like cooking (healthy, mostly vegetarian and locally sourced), or nurturing relationships, or just having plain, old fun?

Well, Covid-19 did take care of the art galleries or yoga (although the devil’s advocate could argue that you could manage both online), but the rest? The paradox of choice. So many things to do, so little time … no wonder I was anguished.

Fear played a role, too. Of course. I was afraid to finish anything because that would expose the big fraud that I was to the world, and I realize now that I was just hiding behind that huge to-do-list.

Follow your dreams watercolor

The way I choose to look at it is that 2020 was my learning curve—a year of discovery. I had to be honest with myself and face my fears. Revisit my values, review my goals, and decide what mattered and where my focus should be. Less social media and news, more arts and culture.

Post less, create more.

My 2021 mantra is, “I don’t have time for that.” No time for fear, no time for distractions. Ars longa, vita brevis.

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Hindsight Is the Cruelest Adviser

My head hurts. I’m not awake yet, not really. I fight to stay asleep, my throbbing head a harbinger of the day ahead; no deeds will be done today. Not with a jackhammer drilling the top of my head.

It doesn’t work, of course. I know that but hope does die last.

I go about my business in slow motion. I know better than to try to do something important. Years of excruciating headaches taught me that there weren’t many things I could do. Low priority tasks on my to-do-list such as website maintenance (but nothing major), cleaning up the photo library (a Herculean task), or vacuum cleaning (now you know why my house is spotlessly clean). Note to self: never, EVER, upgrade the operating system of your computer if you have a headache!

A distorted tree image to illustrate a headache. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I’m thankful that this is only the mild variant when I can still do something. The other one I don’t argue with; I just go lay down in the dark, earplugs in, sleep mask on. And pray that it’ll only last a few hours.

My worse headache moments involve the other one, of course.

  • Holding an online demo for over a hundred participants. I had scheduled the demo early in the morning when I’m at my best; training sessions are taxing. I woke up with the other one and it was too late to cancel, not with so many people, not on such an important matter (controls and compliance stuff, how could I ever think it was so important??).
  • Presenting to a senior executive. You don’t cancel on them. Unless you’re dead, or almost. If I could talk, I would walk.
  • Traveling, especially on long intercontinental flights. I still have nightmares, walking zombie-like in a busy airport, running late, being at the wrong gate, not being able to think clearly, etc.; you get the idea.
  • Holding a workshop with participants from the whole world after traveling on that long intercontinental flight. We usually had two to four days workshops, and the agenda was down to 15 minutes points. I couldn’t take the day off.

I have to admit that this doesn’t happen as often as before, i.e., since I left the corporate worldHindsight is a great adviser, “the cruelest and most astute” (R.J. Ellory). I can see now that a whole lot of it was stress. It was high tempo, aggressive commitments, unrealistic expectations, and perfectionism. It’s a wonder it didn’t get worse. Well, actually, it did, but that’s a different story for another post. 

I’m grateful that a headache is just a mild annoyance nowadays. Mild enough, apparently, to write a blog post about it.

Here’s a poem I wrote over ten years ago when my head had almost exploded with pain. It was inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting The Broken Column. The poem appears in my first poetry book in Swedish, this is a quick translation I made for this post. A complete translation of all poems is on the way.

The Broken Column

(Frida Kahlo, 1944) 

Pain arrows 

piercing the body,

swirling in the blood,

hammering in the temples, 

sawing the ankles.

The wrists,


by glowing knives.


Never stops.

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Happy Australia Day!

The flag of Australia. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

Happy Australia Day!

Rainy Days and Purring Cats

Burning logs in a fireplace. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

The snow of yesterday turned to snowy rain today. And it’s dark. Again.

I’m sitting by the fire with a good book, a cup of hot chocolate, and a purring cat. What can be better than this? 

Oh, I know! More chocolate. I’d better get going!

Winter Solstice Blues

Black and white photo showing a human silhouette against a fence to illustrate the longest shadow of the year during the winter solstice. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

It’s the winter solstice today, marking the first day of winter. Check your shadow at noon if you live in the Northern Hemisphere: it’ll be your longest noontime shadow of the year.

It’s also the shortest day of the year, and it never felt darker. We haven’t seen the sun since November 28th in Stockholm; it’s the darkest of December in almost a hundred years.

There is a scientific explanation for it, although a reason doesn’t help the mood: a high pressure over Russia which has formed an inversion (weather phenomenon when hot air cannot rise as it usually does). This high pressure has created a kind of “lid” of hot air that prevents the ground air from rising and cooling. And that, together with the humid air, creates this strangely foggy and rainy December.

You wake up in the morning, fumbling around in the darkness, waiting for daylight – and I mean light in the loosest meaning of the word; it’s more like 50 shades of gray, pun intended – until after nine in the morning. That’s it; that twilight zone gray is the daylight. And at two in the afternoon, the gray starts to fade to black again. At three is pitch dark again. I imagine the apocalypse would look like this.

Close up of a red squirrel

We have a few regular visitors in the garden like the cutie above, so I soldier on and take photos, but my camera struggles with the darkness. I keep increasing the ISO until 12.800 for a decent photo.

No light without dark, I keep telling myself. And I’m thinking about people in Murmansk (Russia), Thule (Greenland), or Tromsø (Norway), where total darkness reigns this time of the year. We do have six hours of daylight, whether gray or not.

To end on a more optimistic note, let’s rejoice in the fact that the days are getting longer as of tomorrow!

A sun illuminated path in the forest. Photo by Mihaela Limbertea.
Lidingö (Stockholm, Sweden)

Here comes the sun!

Bonus: Nina MacLaughlin’s Winter Solstice column

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What 2020 Taught Me … So Far

I’ve been struggling to make sense of the world lately, like many others, I suspect. Burying my head in the sand and trying to carry on with my work as nothing had happened. While, of course, the world around me continued spinning faster and faster.

I’ve missed two family anniversaries that I was looking forward to. Before what now seems to be the second Covid-19 wave, I thought I could attend, observing all restrictions, of course. With family and friends scattered in several countries on four continents, it’s been a trying time, to say the least.

Abstract B&W  photo
Untitled from my latest photo project.

As for my work, my new book and some photo projects, well … slow progress. I’ve reached an all times low in terms of creativity. I had all this time on my hands and no lust to do anything. I forced myself to show up and do the work because I know that in the end, there’ll be something. A shitty first draft. A few photos worth including in the series. But it’s not a solution.

How to keep going? Retreating into a shell and ignoring the world is not a life strategy; it’s escapism. As always, writing clarifies things for me. As Joan Didion once said, I write to find out what I’m thinking.

Here are a few things that I’ve learned this year of the plague. So far.

Accept the current situation. No amount of wishful thinking will make Covid-19, and its restrictions go away. I’ve come to accept that I cannot travel, for example, not only in 2020 but very likely not next year either. Would a trip be possible in 2022? I hope so. But if not, I’ll accept that travel would have to wait a while longer. If I cannot go to Australia for my planned photography project, I’ll try doing it in Sweden. If nothing else, this would be an exercise in creativity; creativity thrives on challenges. 

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Acceptance is key to get through this trying time. Humans don’t do well with uncertainty, and Covid-19 is the biggest uncertainty of them all. Accept that there are things that you cannot control.

Technology can be friend or foe. When I moved to Sweden, I was still writing letters (yes, real letters, handwritten et al.); compared to that, it’s never been easier to stay in touch. One of the small things that made a great difference was using a private cloud service where all family members can upload and comment on photos and videos. We can follow what’s happening in each other’s life in real-time, and can easily call each other or have several parts conference. Technology became my friend.

A sleeping tabby cat on sheep fur
Minette broke her leg and the whole family could follow her convalescence and provide moral support (mobile phone photo).

However, technology can easily become your foe. Like everyone else, in the beginning, I’ve spent a lot of time watching the news and reading everything about pandemics and viruses, antibodies and vaccines, intensive care and protection measures. How could I not? Everything was so readily available. The whole world at my fingertips, everywhere I turned. But the more I learned, the less I knew; even the experts had more questions than answers. The news reports became harbingers of doom. I was sucked into a maelstrom of catastrophic news reports (when it’s the last time you’ve seen good news?), comedy sketches, and cliffhanger series that made me even more depressed.

With no end in sight, the pandemic, combined with the recent changes in my life, was getting to me. I realized that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life. Covid-19 clarified my priorities.

I’m watching less TV now, especially the news. I keep informed, but that’s about it. I (no longer) binge-watch series but decide what really matters to me and stick to it. I didn’t watch Games of Thrones or The Crown. I did watch Stranger Things and Chernobyl. I have limited time and more important things to do.

Doing things around the house and crossing off tasks on my To Do-list make me feel good, as I had accomplished something (which, in fact, I had) and helped silence the monkey mind.

A sunny room
The guest room is ready! Unfortunately, no guests due to Covid-19.

Since we moved into our new house last year, we had a lot to do, and boy did we do it! We still have a few pictures to frame and the home office to figure out, but everything else is pretty much done. All that work did take my mind off things, and, in the process, I knocked off almost all items on my moving to-do list. Note to self: keep busy; keep busy; keep busy; keep …

Doing things I love with no ulterior purpose is relaxing; do more of them. I’ve started drawing again for the first time in several years. My drawings don’t look like much yet, but the concentration they require and my pleasure in what I’m doing make me forget the world. Right now, that’s a good thing.

A tabby kitten with a teddy bear
Minette and Patrick the teddy bear

Photography is work, of course, but taking photos of my cat or my garden just for us, for the family album, with no pressure, doesn’t feel like work and allows me to get into the zone and shut off the world.

A foggy forest in the autumn
A photo I didn’t post on Instagram. I was too busy scrolling.

Spending too much time on social media is counter-productive. Using Facebook to stay in touch with friends or YouTube for tutorials is one thing; spending hours scrolling through Instagram mindlessly and calling it “staying updated” is just wasting time. And likely to make me feel inadequate. Ask me how I know.

If you’re struggling as I did, I hope you’ll find this post helpful. I found that knowing you’re not alone is one step towards feeling better.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 

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The Unexpected Desolation of Getting What You Always Wanted

A close up of a Japanese anemone in black and white.
Japanese Anemone. One of the photos that didn’t make it to the photo gallery.

Do you lay awake at night, tossing and turning in bed, thinking with dread about another day at work? Feeling trapped in your cubicle, stuck in a Groundhog-Day, and knowing in your heart that you should be doing something else? I know I did.

I’ve always wanted to write, to paint, to make collages, to make art with my hands, and with my head, and with my heart. When I was ten, I had three library cards and read voraciously. I knew I would be a writer someday. There were no questions about that, no doubts.

I was also taking ballet lessons (not my best inclination as it turned out, but I did try it, didn’t I?). Attending art workshops for kids after school. Making collages with clippings from old magazines, painting, drawing, playing the guitar and writing songs, forgetting time, and forgetting the gray everyday life in communist Romania.

I continued to immerse myself in art in all forms throughout high school and university. 

But something happened.

Reality happened. Or so I thought. 

The Romanian revolution in December 1989 opened the doors to democracy after decades of communism. New opportunities and new challenges. 

When I graduated, my fresh Master of Arts didn’t get me very long in the job market, and I didn’t see myself in the role of the penniless, tormented artist. I focused on getting a job in a multinational company that offered the best career opportunities at the time. I started at Procter & Gamble and learned a lot at one of the best business schools. I continued at Microsoft for over 20 years and learned more and more.

I Should Be Doing Something Else

One of my (few) early photos that I was pleased with.

But despite my “successful career,” I wasn’t happy. I had this horrible feeling that life was getting me by, and all I had to show for it were SAP implementations and business process design. Was that really everything there was to it?

I started on a personal development journey, and the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that I should be getting back to what I loved, really loved. 


“So why didn’t you”? Fair enough. I was not happy, and I’d discovered what would make me happy. Simple, right?

Yes. And no. Because there’s a big gap between “thinking” and “doing” (duh!) I knew what I should be doing, but I didn’t. For years.

I was scared of what people would think of me when “throwing away my career” to do something so “flimsy.” Scared of the potential financial losses and the change in status. The uncertainty of the future. 

During one of those endless nights, I finally realized that all those obstacles were in me, not in the outside world. My mind created all the hurdles I saw. And that I could change.

And so, after some reflection time, I resigned and changed gears. Almost one year later, I do what I love, writing every day, reading every day, doing photo projects, going back to that art world I had cast aside years ago. I’m happy as one can be. Or am I?

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it – Oscar Wilde

Getting What I Wanted

In the beginning, I thought that quiet-but-growing-stronger apprehensive voice in my head was the “I just resigned & moved country”-jitters. These past months, it’s been a turbulent period, with a lot of bureaucracy and changes related to my resignation and the move. Say nothing about Covid-19.

When we’ve finally crossed the finish line, i.e., moved to our new house in Sweden, job and worries left in Switzerland, I was too exhausted even to celebrate. Slowly, boxes were unpacked (all 250 of them – don’t judge! I have many, many books); rooms decorated; Christmas cards written.

Several weeks later, with the house in order and more sleep under my belt, I decided it was time to get started with my new awesome artist life. 

I had finally reached my lifelong goal.

Now I would finally do what I fantasized about for such a long time. Now I would focus on writing, reading, taking photos, doing photo projects, and a million other things on my list. Drawing? Check. Painting? Check. Making collages? Check. The list went on and on and on …

I’ve got what I wanted. Now what?

I had dreamed about this for such a long time that getting what I wanted paradoxically paralyzed me. I didn’t feel any different. I certainly didn’t feel ecstatic. Or creative. Especially not creative. I felt more like … empty? Given the major changes in my life, maybe it’s not that surprising, I reasoned. I may need some time to unwind. To adjust. Find my zone.

However, after several months, I had to acknowledge that something else was at play. I was struggling to find routines for my new life. At Microsoft, I had honed them to perfection. I was very well organized, had a to-do list, and had my priorities, and I would work through my to-do list based on my priorities. Perfection is the enemy of done, as Adam Savages puts it in “Every Tool’s a Hammer,” so “good enough” was my mantra. I never missed a deadline or let any boll drop. I was the Queen of “Getting Things Done.” 

But now … my To-Do list had over 200 items on it (properly categorized, of course). The length was not, in fact, the issue, but the prioritization. What would be the best use of my time? Write every morning, then work on photo projects in the afternoon and read in the evening? What about the blog? I loved blogging and wanted to make room for it. And social media? And I don’t mean watching cat videos on YouTube (even though this may happen more often than I’d admit), but my Facebook photo page and Instagram (posting well-curated photos, of course). 

Where would I then fit drawing/painting/making music/going to art galleries/reading New York Review of Books/going to yoga/making tasty-yet-healthy smoothies/creating a new garden/gardening/listening to thought-provoking and inspirational podcasts/watching interesting and motivational TED talks/learning more about astrophysics, or 19th-century explorations, or psychology, or fractals – to say nothing about the mundane things like cooking (healthy, mostly vegetarian and locally sourced), or nurturing relationships, or just having plain, old fun? 

Because – and this is typical of me – I had no relaxation in my schedule. None. My days were packed to the brim with “things to do” in an attempt to do it all. How could I not pack them full? I was finally FREE to be an artist, goddamn it!

That was the first problem.

In the end, I had to admit I was too ambitious. I wanted to do too much, too fast, and do it well. So, I slowed down, went for long walks along the shore (one of the perks of living on an island), and thought about it.

However, there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that routines (or lack thereof) were, really, not the issue at hand. Sure, I had to re-orient myself and create new routines, but I was the uncrowned Queen of “Getting Things Done,” wasn’t I? This was more like a challenge to which I was to – successfully – apply my skills, not a crisis.

The routine stuff masked something else, I thought. Now I was getting somewhere. But what? More walks, more quiet time. And, gradually, the growing insight that I was simply scared. 

Fear of success. That was the second problem. The only problem.

Of course. I could see it clearly now. No pretense, no “I’m too busy.” I had all I needed to do what I was supposed to do, and I was afraid that the result would be … lame. Worse than bad, like bad writing or uninspired photos; just ordinary; banal; trivial. You name it. 

This was my time, and I got performance anxiety, all the while the clock was ticking. I only had three (three!) photos in my photo gallery because I wanted to showcase only my super-duper best photos on my website, and very few photos met with my approval. Nothing I produced was good enough for me.

Did I mention that I got a couple of texts published, sold a few photos, and grew my reach on social media during this time? Obviously, other people had a different opinion.

But while everyone congratulated me, I felt evaluated, judged. I felt weighed, measured, and found wanting.

This was the turning point.

Now that I had a clear problem statement, I could do something about it. 

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. – Frank Herbert, Dune


Photo taken with my cell phone. Conquer your fear instead of buying expensive gear.

OK, so maybe my artwork isn’t ready for the Met, or my book wouldn’t even get published. But few artists produced masterpieces from day one. Self-doubt and rejection are part of the process. Ask any creative person. Successful people have their moments of self-doubt or fear too, but they are able to overcome that resistance and push on—every single day. 

So, I decided there and then that I would do better. I may still experience fear or self-doubt but will not let them stop me anymore. If I’m not my own supporter, how can I expect other people to be?

Besides, doing the work, doing what I love is the reward, not the external success. I had to remind myself that I was at my happiest when fully immersed in my work; time flies, and the world is far away. 

Success is getting and achieving what you want. Happiness is wanting and being content with what you get. – Bernard Meltzer

I’m thankful that I can do what I love every day. I have worked hard to be able to do so I won’t let negativism take that away from me. The days are long, but the years are short. – Gretchen Rubin We all have a limited amount of time, and I’d rather spend it doing what I love than wasting it on beating myself up for not being good enough.

What about you?

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