Tag: Inspiration

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, and painting, and 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. 

Art.

“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. All the hurdles I saw were created by my mind. 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. It’s been a turbulent period, these past months, 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 to even 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 I had 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, I had a to-do list, I 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 during this time I got a couple of texts published, sold a few photos, and grew my reach on social media? 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

I WILL FACE MY FEAR.

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 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 in beating myself up for not being good enough.

What about you?


It Was A Hand In The Darkness And It Held A Knife

Tree
Photo © Mihaela Limberea

I finally found some time to listen to Neil Gaiman talking to Tim Ferriss in ”The Tim Ferriss Show” (a podcast that I highly recommend, it’s one of my favorite podcasts). The interview is almost two hours long and I wanted to have time, and peace of mind, to really enjoy it. And take plenty of notes.

It’s always such a pleasure listening to Neil Gaiman’s hypnotically soothing voice talking about creativity and writing, books, his friendship with Terry Pratchett, fountain pens (he writes with a fountain pen) and the New York Fountain Pen Hospital (yes, there’s such a thing, the place to go if you want to buy a new fountain pen or repair the one you have).

I have included below a few points that have resonated with me. It wasn’t easy, I could have gone on much longer but wanted to keep the length of this post manageable.

About Ian Fleming’s writing process (yes, James Bond’s creator), who didn’t like writing. His method? Lock yourself up in a not too good hotel, in a not too good room in a town you don’t want to be in (as to avoid distractions and getting comfy), and just write ”like a fiend” until you’re done.

Most important writing rule: you can sit here and write, or you can sit here and do nothing; but you cannot sit here and do anything else. All you are allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write. You give yourself permission to write or not write, but you end up writing eventually as doing nothing is boring and your wandering mind will start sparkling ideas. Not having to write takes off some pressure as well.

On first drafts: nobody is ever meant to read your first draft. That is just you telling the story to yourself.

Setting up a Groundhog Day: writing (a novel) works best if you can do the same day over and over again. Figure out a daily practice that works for you, and repeat that day, every day, day after day after day. Austin Kleon used the same image in his new book ”Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad”: every day is a Groundhog Day. 

You can read the whole podcast transcript  (and, of course, listen to/watch the podcast) on Tim Ferriss blog.

Neil Gaiman Quotes from the Podcast

All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.

What I love about that is I’m giving myself permission to write or not write, but writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while. (…) I think it’s really just a solid rule for writers. You don’t have to write. You have permission to not write, but you don’t have permission to do anything else.

Part of what I discovered, particularly about being a novelist, is writing a novel works best if you can do the same day over and over again. The closer you can come to Groundhog Day, you just repeat that day. You set up a day that works for yourself. (…) I would do that day over and over and over and over. 

 I also think that the most important thing for human beings is to be aware of the change. The biggest problem we run into is going, “This is who I am, this is what I’m like. This is how I function.” while failing to notice that you don’t do that anymore

The biggest thing, looking back on it, that I learned from Terry <Pratchett> was a willingness to go forward without knowing what happens. You might know what happens next, but you don’t know what happens after that, but it’s okay because you’re a grownup and you will figure it out. 

Bonus: listen to Neil Gaiman’s audiobooks read by himself. Such joy! My favorites: Art Matters (this should be handed out for free in all schools, by the way!), The Graveyard Book, and Coraline.

Complete with: Tim Ferriss interview with  Amanda Palmer (singer, songwriter, playwright, author, director, blogger and Neil Gaiman’s wife); and Austin Kleon’s A Portable Routine.

Wondering where the post title comes from? It’s a line from one of Gaiman’s old notebooks that eventually become the beginning of The Graveyard Book; Gaiman talks about its genesis in the interview.


A Leap Of Faith

The Fear

“Aren’t you afraid?” people were asking when I left the corporate life to start a new career, a new life in fact. And I was. Afraid. Afraid of leaving everything I knew. Afraid of leaving a known, respected persona. Afraid of the unknown. Of course, I was afraid. Terrified actually. What did I think I was doing? I had a good, fun job at one of the greatest companies in the world. I was good at it. After 20+ years, I knew the culture, I knew the people, and I knew what I was doing. Expert was my middle name. I had prizes on my desk to prove it. Why would I leave all that for an uncertain career in a new field? Was that really smart?

The Turning Point

Well, it turned out it was. There seemed not to be enough hours in the day to do all the things I wanted to do: writing my Science-Fiction novels; doing research for all those SF novels; reading all the books I had bought but never had time or energy to read; traveling the world; completing those photo projects I promised myself every January I’d do, and updating my portfolio; creating a new garden (and then garden); and so on. The list of things I wanted to do seemed to grow longer and longer while I was getting more and more frustrated at work. I was working on my book on and off, taking photos during our vacations, but things moved oh, so slowly. I simply couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand it, but I was afraid.

Fear is normal and it has a role. It keeps us alert. What started as a survival mechanism in the savannas of our ancestors can be paralyzing in our modern society. But when that burning desire to <insert your dream here> overrides the fear, when the butterflies in your stomach are butterflies of excitement more than of fear – then you know it’s time.

The woods behind our house in Switzerland where I used to walk every day and dream about a different life. Photo © Mihaela Limberea

Last year work became more and more something to be survived, while my notebooks were filling with novel outlines, inspirational quotes, and ideas for new books or photo projects. When we found the perfect house to buy, on the same island we lived before the move to Switzerland, in the same area that we loved so much – I saw this as a sign. I knew then it was time to take the plunge.

A Leap of Faith

You know that moment in the Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade movie when Indy has to jump off the edge of the cliff? You need to have faith. Jump and trust that the net will appear. What you want is on the other side of fear as a wise man (or woman) said. I’m sure it’s one of my notebooks from last year.


Happy Birthday!

For years I would have this image of the Twelve Apostles in my mind, as a placeholder of things to come.

One day, I said to myself, one day I will go back to Australia and see new places. I would be free, I would no longer have a day job to weigh me down; I would do what I wanted, when I wanted it, for as long as I wanted it. I longed for freedom and unleashing all the creative forces that I knew I had, slumbering, in me. Oh, I did take photos or write in my spare time, but it would only leave me frustrated as it seemed there was never enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted to do.

That day was November 30th, 2019. I quit my job at Microsoft after more than twenty years, bought a plane ticket to Sydney and never looked back. Was it hard? You bet! I did like my job; I was good at it and it allowed me to be very creative, travel the world and connect with people all over the globe. Leaving all that, and all those people, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I simply had to go.

The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Australia. Photo © Mihaela Limberea

On December 18th, 2019 I stepped once again on Australian ground with an exhilarating feeling in my chest, lightheaded and eager for the adventure to begin. My dream had come true. It’s only fitting that I start this blog* on my birthday. Cheers to new beginnings!

*For those of you who used to follow my old blog, I have some bad news. For technical reasons, that blog could not be moved to WordPress (that I use now). I do have the old content, but it could not be integrated into this one. It’s been a hard blow, as it came exactly at the time I was planning my new life. I’ll recycle some of the old posts that are not time-sensitive, e.g. on photography, art, books and so on. If it’s something you miss, let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.