After the Flood – Salvaging Purpose from Self Doubt
When rising waters of self doubt threaten to leave your dreams in tatters, it’s easy to get discouraged. But before you walk away, take a look at the wreckage. You never know what you might salvage.
I can’t really imagine living through a flood. Buildings can be engineered to withstand earthquakes and fires. But rising water? That’s something we’re powerless to stop. It starts to rain and the water creeps up, and it’ll only recede when it’s ready.
And when the water does finally recede, what it leaves behind is heartbreak. So much destruction and rot. Debris and stains and constant reminders—a mess that must be cleaned up before a fresh start can begin.
But on a personal level—an introspective one—rain isn’t the only thing that can cause a flood. For the creatives—the artists seeking to share a vision and leave a mark on the world, however large or small—self doubt can leave an indelible high-water mark.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. . .
In June of 2008, my friend Eric was living in a quaint little house in Waterloo, Iowa. I didn’t know him until a couple years later, so I never saw it in person, but as one may surmise from this picture, it was probably a nice place to live—clean and compact and elevated, with the living space sitting above the garage.
If one were to expect a flood, this seems like a pretty great place to be, right? You might lose the stuff in the garage, and the car would be doomed, but all the important stuff kept closest—in the actual living space—would be safe.
Unless the water rose to 27 feet. . .
Which is, in fact, what happened. It began to rain, and the Cedar River swelled. As Eric tells it, the rising water hit a railroad bridge that acted like a dam and further exacerbated the problem.
When all was said and done he had water up to the light fixture in his dining room.
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Revenge is better with a side of bacon. . .
Everything was ruined. In fact, all that remains of the house today is this vacant lot:
Luckily for Eric, he was renting. Luckily he had insurance. Luckily the things he lost were only things, because as we all know, the stakes in a real-life flood are much higher.
But eventually the water receded, and he was able to return to pick up the pieces.
Relics and Reminders
When I met Eric in the spring of 2010, he’d come a long way from Iowa—and the flood—to start again in Boston, but a few things came along with him: pieces of wooden furniture, a bottle of wine, other odds and ends.
But more than all the rest, this artwork he salvaged captured my imagination. It’s a mixed-media piece; water-color and various colored papers set a background for black ink and gold paint.
The artist’s signature appears to read Kim Foley 2002, and in advance of writing this piece I tried to find her online, but have thus far come up short. I think she’d like to know this is still out there. . .
It’s a beautiful piece, sure, but it’s the caption that really gets me:
Do the thing you love more than anything in life! You might become a bit unpredictable (sometimes cranky), but you will be happier than you ever imagined possible.
And for as long as I’ve known Eric, this has hung in his bathroom. It’s definitely water-damaged and far from pristine—the colors have run and the paper is warped and a little stained—but to me, that adds to the beauty.
It’s symbolic of the piece’s message. . .
Being an Artist is Hard
The truth is, being a writer—hell, any kind of artist—is hard! I mean, first you’ve got all the effort that goes into creating the art itself, and then after all that blood and sweat has been poured into it, and it’s really polished? That’s when the real work begins.
Unless you’re creating art just for yourself, you’re going to have to find a way to share it. There are platforms aplenty, but getting noticed on any of them?
It’s easy to get on Amazon or Etsy or Fine Art America, but there’s not much point when you’re on the 800th page of search results.
So we build our platforms. We hustle and sweat. Of course there are good things along the way. We form and join communities. We make friends and allies. We learn, and we grow.
But the process can be so slow. And sometimes, when we’re not seeing the results we’ve hoped for—the ones that, surely, we’ve earned—the self-doubt starts to rain down.
Suddenly we’re asking ourselves:
Is this actually any good?
Why doesn’t anyone want this?
Am I a fraud, and everyone knows it but me?
What’s the point? Should I just give up?
Suddenly you’ve got a flood on your hands. If you’re a writer, or a photographer, or a painter, sculptor, metal-smith, actor, musician, chef, or anyone creating something and putting it out into the world, you’ve probably been here more than a few times.
It’s up to you to answer these questions, and I can’t help with all of them, but I do have some thoughts on the last one.
The Thing you Love more than Anything in Life
If you keep creating, even when it’s hard to see the point, eventually the self-doubt will recede enough that you can look at things objectively. Maybe you’ve been heading in the wrong direction. Maybe you need to change your focus. In the wreckage, there might be clues as to why you haven’t made it yet.
Maybe it’s just a matter of time. Finding an audience doesn’t usually happen overnight.
But as you wade through the sludge, keep your eyes open for the purpose of it all.
If creating your art is the thing you love more than anything in life, then your vision and drive to do so is worth salvaging.
So pluck that piece up out of the water, and to hell with the warped paper and the bleeding colors. Dry it off and hang it on the wall of your mind anyways.
You will be happier than you ever imagined possible.
I know that’s where Brian and I are right now. I’ve got the book and he’s got the fledgling photography business. We’re working every day to put a little more beauty and perspective into the world and, well, it’s slow going. We both deal with self-doubt sometimes. . .
But we love it. It’s important. It’s worth the effort.
And if you’re here reading these words then, well, I know we’re headed in the right direction. So thank you!
And if you’re a creator like us?
Your art is worth it too.
Tell me your thoughts! Do you struggle with self doubt? How do you measure your success or lack thereof? What drives you to create? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks as always for reading,