What happened when I tried to give up painting

End/Begin Diptych — Susan Mowery Snipes

“I miss painting,” I whispered to Corey. My eyes filled. My heart ached. It was a Friday evening, and I was at a restaurant with my family. Our two young daughters were coloring their paper menus with crayon nubs from a plastic cup. We were waiting for our food to arrive. A couple days earlier, I’d had a planning session with my sister about a website for her landscape paintings. Painting was on my mind.


Since I can remember, I wanted to be an artist. I imagined painting all day in an expansive warehouse-turned-loft surrounded by beautiful industrial decay, canvases, and the scents of linseed oil and turpentine lingering in the air. I wanted art to be my life. But I was told it wasn’t practical because I needed to be able to support myself. Fine art doesn’t pay. It’s not a career. How will you pay the bills? Painting can be a hobby. I nodded, and I kept my fantasy.

But I didn’t want painting to be just a hobby. I didn’t have any role models that made that path appealing. The artists I studied–Cezanne, Dali, Duchamp, Ernst–didn’t paint on the side. Art was what they did all the time. Growing up, I witnessed people that said they wanted to be artists but I didn’t see them making art. They were teachers. Or full-time parents. Or did some other job that paid the bills. They didn’t paint much, if at all. And they didn’t seem happy. I knew I didn’t want that. Painting is much more special to me than an occasional hobby to dabble in when I have a little free time. If I couldn’t live and breathe painting, why bother?

The closest I came to my vision of life as a painter was a few months in New Orleans — that city of magic and old world beauty where creativity sprouts from every mossy crack. I was doing freelance web design work after losing my job at an underfunded tech startup. I was climbing out of a chasm of heartache after a devastating breakup. My schedule was my own. I was alone, and I painted. I unleashed an explosion of creative passion. I lived in an old brick building — dating from the 1800s — in the French Quarter. Stacks of canvases leaned against my apartment walls. My space was dedicated to creating art. For many months I painted origin stories, Mother Earth, beginnings and endings, and the cycle of life and death. I painted from the depths of my soul.

But I couldn’t stay in New Orleans. My painting world was vibrant, but the rest of my life was broken and had no way to mend. I left New Orleans and brought my paint supplies and my visions to Boulder, Colorado, where I healed my body and my broken heart — and paid off my financial debts. For a while, painting was a regular creative outlet. Then it faded into a “sometimes” thing I did when the mood struck me. I found other ways to satisfy my artist’s spirit — writing, designing, building a web team, and starting a family. My life was full, and painting didn’t fit.

Three years ago, I intentionally said goodbye to being a painter at all. I certainly wasn’t a full-time painter, and I couldn’t call it a hobby even if I wanted to. I hadn’t painted in years. I would never be a painter the way I’d dreamed. It hurt, but I didn’t see a way I could paint. I was founder and owner of a digital agency. I had employees. I had children. I had a lot going on and painting wasn’t part of it. I decided to close the painting door. I wrote about saying goodbye to painting. I’d find creative outlets in other ways — like writing and art projects with my kids.

As I made time for these creative outlets my life shifted. Cracks appeared. I wasn’t fulfilled by my company any longer. Now, I’ve closed my company. I have no employees. My kids are in school. I have time to think. What about now? Could I paint now?


“I miss you painting,” Corey replied from across the table at the pub. A tear slid down my cheek. “Do we still have my easel?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “I know exactly where it is.”

We talked more. I reminisced about my old studio. We admired a friend who’d shown his work scorning the art establishment. We laughed at some awkward performance art we recently sat through. Then, I confessed my fears that I couldn’t see how painting could be useful and efficient. I’m so used to running a business, and cramming everything possible into my time to be productive, I didn’t see an outcome for my painting that made sense. I started spinning with rationalizations.

“Hold on.” Corey stopped me. Then, he asked me the questions I pose to my professional clients about their projects. “What’s the goal? Why do you want to paint?”

I sighed. I want to paint because it is part of me. Not because I need to sell my art for income. Not because I need to prove that I’m an artist. Not because I need my work in a gallery to validate I’m good enough. I don’t need any of those things. In fact, seeking those outcomes would discredit the true reason I want to paint.

I want to paint for myself. I need to paint because it is the strongest, truest, deepest passion I have. I have a hole in me without painting. I need to paint because my life is otherwise incomplete. I must paint because it is who I am. I am an artist. I am a painter.

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Why I stopped searching for my life calling

For the past two years, I searched for my life calling. I was determined to figure it out. I wanted to identify my true calling in life, so I could surround myself with it and live it.

That didn’t mean I constructively thought, journaled, or meditated on the reason I’m here. Instead, “what am I supposed to be doing with my life?” was stuck as an ever-present question in my mind. It flickered between a background hum and a blaring distraction.

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This myth of success limited my life

Success is finding your singular passion and sacrificing whatever it takes to follow it. Then, if you’re doing it right, you’ll live a life filled with prosperity and renown.

That is the definition of success I heard from family, friends, society, and the media.

If that is the definition of success, I’m not successful. I am doing everything wrong. I don’t have a single passion. I’m not making money from my passion. I don’t receive accolades for my passion. I’m not spending all my time on my passion. So, I must have a sad, sorry life.

Wrong.

Who decided that success is predicated upon pouring all my energy into my one true passion so I can receive my buckets of money?

This is unacceptable. My passion can be manifested any way I want it to be.

It’s okay to have more than one passion.I’m an artist, writer, and mentor. I’m passionate about creating visual art. I built a work life that centers around creativity. I cultivate design at my day job. I write often, and I love it. I’m connected to my work colleagues and professional peers. And that’s just my outward-facing life. All of these pursuits satisfy and nourish my soul. During my “me” time, I paint, write, think, and read.

Passion can evolve. A younger version of me lived and breathed painting. I envisioned myself in beautifully derelict and inspiring spaces, painting my heart out. I haven’t painted in over five years. Today, I am deeply fulfilled by writing. I am still creating and I’m expressing it in a different capacity. Was I following my passion earlier? Absolutely. I painted for hours and days. I would forget to eat. Huge chunks of my free time were devoted to painting. I was painting for myself. Sure, other people saw my art, but I wasn’t doing it for them. Am I following my passion now? Absolutely. This is how I spend my free time. Hours of it. And I’m still doing it for myself.

Authentic passion is not measured by riches. I don’t have to make lots of money following a heartfelt passion. Passion exists when I’m engaged in something I love. I’m fulfilled when I write. I’m holding myself back and limiting myself when I’m not helping and supporting others through mentorship. I’m not making any money from either of those things. Maybe I will later, but I’m not doing them with the expectation that I’ll get rich. I’m doing them because I have a deep need to do them. I admit, I wouldn’t say “no” to having more money in my bank account. However, if I live a perfectly comfortable life at this income level, and continued to pursue what makes me happy relentlessly, I’d be okay with this much money. I have enough. I have a day job I like very much, but it’s not my passion.

All else does not need to be sacrificed for passion. I like the life I have. Yes, I realize I’m fortunate and privileged. However, I’m not sacrificing my family, my young children, my home, my health, or my favorite foods to pursue my passion. I am tending to all of those things. I set aside time most mornings to write. I have incorporated my needs for mentorship and visual creativity into my job and how I run my business.

Passions don’t have to be lofty. My passions happen to be writing, visual art, and mentorship. What if all I wanted to do was make comfort food? What if my passion was tiny bugs? What if I was spiritually fulfilled by cleanliness? What about sports? There is no set of passions that is better than any other.

Passions do not require a grand scale.I may only ever publish a few of my writings on Medium. 90% of what I’ve written — maybe 95% — is still in a folder in draft form. That’s my choice. If I never write a bestselling book, does that make me a failure? No. If I never hold a show at a contemporary art museum, have I failed? Definitely not. If I never have people ask me for my autograph, will my life be sad? Nope, not mine. I will still push myself to do better, to present a more true part of me. But if the entire world does not experience my art, my writing, or my contributions, it’s okay. That is not failure. Failure is not having pursued my passions.

No one says how I should live my passions but me. My passions are mine. I own them how I want. I live them how I want. If they’re true and real, and I’m doing them with my whole vibrant self, then I’m living my passions. That’s why these are my passions.

What about you? Are you ready to let go of the definition of success you inherited? Are you ready to live your life and follow your passions in a way that is true for you?

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Why I don’t want to be trendy

“Wow, you’re so trendy. I love it.”

If someone said that to me, I’d be crushed. I don’t want to be trendy. I wouldn’t get defensive if they labeled me “cool” (or whatever word cool people use for cool these days). But I definitely don’t want to be trendy. Why is trendy so painful to me?

People like to follow the crowd.

Following the crowd is human nature. A variety of social psychology phenomena describe the influences and pressures that compel us to follow the crowd. Social proof is doing things that others are doing, in order to conform. Normative social influence behavior imitates others to gain approval. Peer pressure is when a person is encouraged to change their values or behavior in order to conform to a group. Under groupthink, people make decisions that involve less creativity and personal responsibility in order conform to the group. The bandwagon effect occurs when something grows exponentially in popularity as more people do it. You get the idea.

But that’s not me.

Then there are oddballs, like me, who strongly resist following the crowd. If everybody else is doing something, I am not interested in the least. Maybe I’m like this because I am a Gen Xer with an independent streak. Maybe it is because I’m an artist. Maybe it’s because I’m contrarian. Maybe it’s because I get bored easily. Maybe it’s all of these things. Whatever the reasons, following everybody else goes against who I am.

Here’s how I feel about following the crowd.

Trendy things aren’t necessarily great. They’re just popular. I’d rather focus on something that is quality, and make the value judgment for myself. My core beliefs around quality and sustainability were likely instilled by my depression-era grandparents. Everything used to be built to last — unlike today’s throwaway culture. While a trendy thing may not be subpar, my suspicion sets in because I don’t want to be trapped by the herd mentality that says I must have it.

Being trendy is a lot of work. Trendy takes time, effort, and money. And I have better ways to focus my dollars and my time. Being trendy implies that I’m taking the time to keep up with stuff like that. And that is definitely not the impression I want to make.

Trendy is not unique. I am unique, and I want to present myself that way. The very definition of unique is “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.” I am not like everyone else. I’m creative and I’m an original. I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing nor look like everyone else is looking.

People wanting to be trendy are seeking to fit in. I don’t want or need external validation that I’m doing the right thing. I am an introvert but I’m not a wallflower. Being trendy implies that I’m worried about fitting in. But I’m not. I don’t need to be part of the cool kids’ clique. I already know who I am.

My life’s mission is to create my own path and help others do the same. Being trendy is simply not part of that.

We are all unique beings. We may have many of the same milestones and markers along our journey: education, jobs, love, loss, family, and home. We may have some of the same essence: looks, humor, or interests. Yet we each have our individual experiences and unique dreams. I cannot achieve my true success following someone else’s path. And neither can you.

I want the world to see me as I am. A unique and interesting person that is following her own path — independent of trendiness. And I wish the same for you.

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