Before I talked to Kathy Decker, I wasn’t regularly practicing drawing or painting. It was something I would do occasionally, when I felt like it. But Kathy recommended regular practice.
She told me about how much she’d improved after a year of drawing a face a day and suggested that I could try the same. She showed me some of the work she’d done. It was really good, and I wanted to draw and paint like that. So, of course, I agreed.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to start a new habit. This is especially true when you have to develop new skills. It’s discouraging to continue to repeat something that always seems to end badly.
I would do really well for a few days. I would draw a face, criticize my results, and try again the next day. And after a few days of that, I just wouldn’t want to try again.
“Later,” I’d tell myself in the morning. And the afternoon. And in the evening, I’d be too tired, and resolve to try again the next day.
Kathy Decker was supportive and encouraging. “Have you been able to do some drawings?” she would ask when I would see her at church.
Sometimes I’d be able to say, “a few.” Other times the answer was, “No.” I would feel embarrassed and try again.
It was a hard time. Part of me wanted to avoid her so I didn’t have to admit that I’d failed again. The rest of me was grateful for the motivation to pick my pen up and try again. Her gentle reminders really helped.
In the end, I managed to start again and again and eventually I drew a face every day for a month. And then two. I felt like I was finally finding success.
Having a string of days where I’d kept my goal was motivating. I dated my entries, and felt proud of the success in doing the work, even when I felt embarrassed by the drawings themselves.
But then the holidays came. My schedule got busy and I missed two weeks. And then we went on vacation and my kids were sick.
The two weeks off was difficult. It felt like failure. I spent another week trying to decide what to do. I sort of wanted to just give up. The drawings weren’t great, and it was so hard to make myself do them. Maybe I needed to admit that I wasn’t going to be an artist.
It was nearly Christmas, we were on vacation, and I was stuck in the hotel with sick kids. One evening, I pulled out my sketchbook. The kids were all asleep. I decided to go around and draw them in their sleep until I caught up with the days I missed.
By the time I caught up, the drawings were looking better than they ever had. I dated them for the days I’d missed. It was like it had never happened. Looking through my sketchbook, I now had my unbroken string of days back.
Failure turned into success. I returned to my goals with new determination to never miss again. And if I did, I decided to make up the missed days and just keep going. Even if I would never be a great artist, I decided that wouldn’t be because I quit.
I truly believe that you don’t fail until you stop trying. Even if you take three weeks off or three years off, if you resolve to try again, you haven’t failed. You can always return to your goals.
I have an unbroken string of days in my sketchbooks since that Christmas. A few of the faces were drawn on different days than the dates at the bottom of the page. I have no idea which ones those are.
I have been able to add new things to practice to my days since then. There are other things I’m still struggling to practice regularly. It can be discouraging in the beginning to keep trying and failing to reach my goals. Sometimes it feels like I just can’t make myself do the things I know I really do want to do, and it doesn’t make sense.
There is a quote that has often helped me in times like this. It’s one that I learned as a child in a lesson about Heber J. Grant. Heber J. Grant is a wonderful example of the power of persistence.
He often repeated this quote, but I believe it was originally said by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do—not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our power to do is increased.”
Last Sunday I saw Kathy Decker in the hall at church. “Have you been drawing lately?” she asked me. It was a wonderful moment for me, because I could honestly say, “Every day. I draw every day.” It felt like the biggest success ever.
Are there things that you have succeeded to do after trying and failing to do them many times? Are there things you are still struggling to do? Are there goals you have made that you are trying to return to? What will you do to turn failure into success?