I used to own a folk art gallery. We represented artists who were self-taught and outside the mainstream of society in some way.
Outside the mainstream could mean they had “issues,” which made them see the world differently (and make weird-ass funky art that most definitely did NOT match the sofa.)
Or it could just mean they lived the life of their choosing. Which looked really different from your life. And mine.
The important point being it was their choice, their life.
Not my place to judge.
One artist named Leonard lived in an old sharecropper’s shack in rural Georgia. He said ‘no’ to plumbing so he could say ‘yes’ to cigarettes. He chose gambling over dental care. He had no interest in driving even though he lived miles from town.
Making art was the best decision he made all day. It was less of a decision and more of a compulsion.
Leonard was made to make art.
He knew it. And he honored his soul every time he chose to paint.
Given his circumstances, making that choice must have been difficult at times.
Leonard painted his childhood memories on jaggedy squares of tin roofing. When I drove down to rural Georgia to buy his work, he scattered the paintings out on the red clay ground in between the fire ant hills. They sizzled in the hot sun. He painted the lines with a twig he’d snapped off an old azalea bush.
He’d stand aside while I chose what I wanted and then bum a ride to the Fast Times convenience store so he could cash my check and buy menthol cigarettes.
We sold hundreds of his paintings.
I respect how this man, issues and all, lived so far outside the mainstream of society, yet still he managed to turn his passion into a living that sustained him.
Maybe you wouldn’t think of his life as particularly sustainable. I know I dream of something more than an old shack with holes in the floor and fire ants in the yard.
But we all get to define success and abundance for ourselves. According to our own values.
Leonard was living his life according to his values.
He didn’t worry about what his life “should” look like to other people.
He didn’t worry about what other people thought of his choices or even of his art.
He just created what he was called to create in his own unique style.
People respond when you live your values and follow your passion.
People supported Leonard’s dream by buying his work. Against all logical explanation, he was able to share his work with an audience that loved it.
He did it all without facebook, without twitter, without instagram. Half the time he called me collect because he’d used up all the minutes on his burner phone.
He did it by doing the work, day after day.
And he did it by being unshakeable in his resolve to live life on his terms.
He didn’t want the laborer job that other men in similar circumstances might aspire to. He didn’t want the house, the car, the responsibility of fitting in.
He wanted to paint.
He wanted to make his living by using his talent. He wanted to make a life by indulging his passion. Every. Single. Day.
Without that unshakable resolve, Leonard would surely be living someone else’s life on someone else’s terms.
How unshakable is your resolve?
I ask because resolve is what makes Leonard’s story so compelling.
He knew how he wanted to live and what he wanted to share with the world. He resolved every day to make that happen.
Resolve is the keystone in the structure of our dream lives.
I know when my resolve is weak, when that keystone is out of place or off kilter a bit, my dream life feels like it just might collapse. I waver and waffle and start to make contingency plans in case things don’t work out.
But here’s what I’ve learned about resolve…it’s not a destination. It’s a daily practice. The keystone needs frequent tweaking and adjustment, especially in the beginning.
It’s strengthened by doing the work frequently (even if it sucks some days).
It’s strengthened by connecting with my soul through meditation (because my soul started me on this path in the first place, I might as well check in on a regular basis to make sure I’m still going in the right direction).
It’s strengthened by surrounding myself with supporters and distancing myself from naysayers.
It’s strengthened by faith and the belief that my desire isn’t random, that it’s here for a reason and that each one of us, Leonard, you me, all of us have our parts to play and our missions to accomplish and that my passion is a pointer, a pointer to my purpose and to what my soul wants to experience.
So who am I to say no to that?