Monday, July 26, 2010

The Only Path to Serenity

Cake • Dye on Paper • 15" x 15" • ©2010 Jennifer Libby Fay

Years ago, at the height of the self-actualization movement, there were a lot of people yelling, "Don't try, DO!" at hapless workshop participants who just wanted…well, looking back, I'm not sure want we wanted, but the sentiment became so ubiquitous it turned into one of the most famous advertising slogans of all time, Nike's "Just Do It". Now, every time I even think to myself, I'll try that, I can hear the refrain, don't try…

Being a first born, recovering perfectionist, I don't have so much of a problem with the doing of things. If I feel reasonably competent at something and know how things work or if I've done it before, I'm not afraid to step up and do. My problem is trying things. Trying something for the first time, something new, something I don't know if I am good at, or worse, something I know I won't be good at—that is difficult. No thank you, I'll sit this one out.

My mantra should be, "Stop doing and try!"

Many have written about perfectionism as a creative block. We all know that working on something until it is "perfect" can destroy the passion and flow of a project. My problem is a dark cousin to that, I don't want to begin working for fear things won't turn out. This can cause procrastination, a reluctance to try new things and a predilection to work safe.

Happily, one benefit all those self actualization workshops is that I know these things about myself.

July Colors • ©2010 Jennifer Libby Fay

With that in mind I TRIED a few things last week. I mixed some new colors, modified and experimented with them. Then I modified some more. I made a mess, lost track of the formulas and just kept going. I added layers of dye to "perfectly good" pieces—some got better, some, alas, did not. But that's okay because some great things happened. I gained more knowledge of my materials, which is essential for improvement and I am pleased with the results, even the "mistakes" were research. It was a week well spent and that is a victory.

from the Tao Te Ching:

Fill your bowl to the brim
And it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife
And it will go blunt.

Chase after money and security
And your heart will never unclench.

Care about people's approval
And you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back
The only path to serenity.


  1. Oh, Jennifer, this is a wonderful post and I can relate to it as a fellow first born. So often, I've held back from trying something new, simply because I won't be good at it and the discomfort is hard to tolerate. Definitely one of my growing edges (to quote another self-help phrase). So my growing edge this week is with things that are growing!--Botanical Drawing. Love your quotation from the Tao and "July Colors."

  2. Jennifer this post is so very rich and lovely.

    Your 'tries' are g o r g e o u s

    I'm a dedicated student of the Tao and I adore this verse...good medicine for us all.