Journey Toward Good

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Jennifer Mills, Scouting Scouts, 2014, performance component, mixed media

I love storytelling. There is something about it that connects souls with one another at a much deeper level. Jesus often told stories to connect with the crowds. Stories touch our hearts, souls, and minds. I would love to share my story with you-perhaps something in my experience will resonate with yours.

When I married my husband Sergio eighteen years ago, we committed to one day creating a business where we could combine our skills, knowledge, and experiences to make a difference in the lives of others. We didn’t know when, where, or how we would pull this off. Regardless, we were committed to doing it. Unlike some couples, we have always loved working together. There’s something about our energies that seems to kindle when we put our minds together. Despite our commitment, however, we went separate ways professionally in the early years of our marriage. I began practicing as a psychologist and then moved into teaching in higher education. Sergio went on to develop his career as an artist, gallery owner, curator, and art professor. He became very involved in the art scene locally and internationally, while I immersed myself in my field.

Years passed. Babies were born. Our lives were full, yet our commitment to finding that business in which a psychologist and an artist could combine their skills and experiences to make a difference in the lives of others was still alive. The vision was unclear yet still resonated inside each of us. After practicing as a school psychologist, then teaching psychology and counseling courses at a local university, I decided that these manifestations of my gifts were no longer a good fit for me. Although teaching psychology was something I could certainly do, I knew I would rather be teaching content that would transform people’s lives in a tangible and proactive way-content that could help foster peace, balance, wellness, and growth.

At the same time, as I saw Sergio’s career develop, I became quite interested in the art world. The more artists I met, the more intrigued I became about how creative minds function. As these interests converged, I accepted the role of gallerist for our art space in Chicago, 33 Contemporary Gallery. I engaged my background in psychology to introduce individuals to the art world, while, at the same time, learning the ins and outs of the business: from running daily operations, to selecting and selling art, to participating in international art fairs.

The more Sergio and I worked with artists in their own circles, the more we realized the importance of empowering artists to represent themselves and teaching them strategies to become independent and successful in their field. I found myself providing emotional support and advice to many. As I witnessed the joys and struggles of the artists, I became passionate about helping them live sustainable and fulfilling lives in both their everyday practices and long-term goals.

Although I enjoyed learning about the business of art, part of me felt that my knowledge and skills as a psychologist were not being used to the fullest potential in my role as a gallerist. In the meantime, Sergio began facilitating a talk titled “Taking Your Art Career to the Next Level,” designed to equip artists to represent their own artwork without relying solely on galleries. We felt the art business was changing dramatically, and we wanted artists to be ahead of the curve. Ironic, right?

Last year we celebrated the gallery’s tenth anniversary. As Sergio and I sat down to plan the next five years, we prayed for God’s guidance and shared our ideas with our mentors. We saw the impact that Sergio’s talk was having among the artist community and how the interest in this type of mentoring was increasing. It was then that we realized that we had created the business we had been longing for, a combination of Sergio’s expertise as an artist, curator, exhibit director, and creative entrepreneur, along with my skills and experience as a psychologist. Thus was launched Art NXT Level, a platform for professional development designed for artists interested in taking their art careers to the next level while maintaining personal wellness.

I had journeyed from nurturing relationships among families to nurturing artists toward the goal of a fulfilling and sustainable life. The nuance between the two may seem small, but the impact on my own vocational fulfillment has been tremendous. Those who know me know how passionate I am about setting meaningful goals and intertwining them with personal values. I believe that the setting and accomplishing of worthwhile goals is only possible if those goals reflect a person’s core values. Any piece of electrical equipment, regardless of its purpose, needs a source of energy to function properly, right? Similarly, our values serve as the fuel for endurance and goal acquisition. At the end of the day, it is our values that ignite us when the going gets tough and self-motivation fades.

We live in a society that glorifies a self-sustained goal-oriented lifestyle. Starting in our early years, we are taught about the importance of developing an inner system that can sustain itself without fully depending on external support. However, as we develop, we are exposed to experiences, perspectives, opportunities, and relationships that, in one way or another, influence the development of our personal values. These values can potentially become fuel for or a hurdle to our core system, our inner self. Hence, our values can either lead to a meaningful and purposeful life or a hollow existence.

Goal-setting is an essential component for growth and development. We often set short and long-term goals for our lives. But why is it that many of us fail to achieve the goals we set? We have good intentions. We are passionate about them. Yet we often fail to accomplish them. We can have the best intentions in the world; however, intentions without actions are simply dust in the wind. As Y. A. Kiaei and T. G. Reio note in a recent article on metacognition, a combination of intellect and character is necessary to optimize goal attainment.(1)

Laura Tabbut, Floatation Device: Ping, 2014, fabric, paper, plastic, 18 x 12 x 3 inches

Laura Tabbut, Floatation Device: Ping, 2014, fabric, paper, plastic, 18 x 12 x 3 inches

What if each goal we establish for ourselves reflects our values? This is the key to goal attainment. Setting goals without consideration of core values is like setting oneself up for failure; when the going gets tough, there will be no reason or inner power to overcome the challenges associated with the goal.

As we explore goal setting and attainment, it’s essential that we develop an action plan. I would love to share some practical suggestions with you.

First, identify the purpose of your goal. Why are you setting this goal? Why does it matter? How will it make a difference in your life or the lives of others? Is it for personal or professional growth? Are you intending to make an impact?

Second, identify the values associated with the goal. List your values. What excites and inspires you? Write it down. Perhaps your goal is to use your creativity to touch the lives of others while expressing your values and beliefs through your work. What are some ways or places that you could accomplish this?

Third, develop a realistic action plan. Create strategies that will help you get there. Define what needs to be done to successfully achieve your goal. Should you actively pursue opportunities to promote your work? Should you decrease your time on social media to have fewer distractions in your life and more time in the studio? What obstacles do you foresee? How can you face them efficiently? Outline some practical first steps, and then start executing them.

As you work on achieving your long-term goals, however, don’t become preoccupied to the point of overlooking opportunities that arise in the present. Set meaningful short-terms goals as well. Be conscious, selective, and open to opportunities that may arise along the way. As a personal example, by the end of next month, I will have attended four art-related social/networking events to help me expand my connections. At each event, I intend to introduce myself to one key person (e.g., curator, gallery owner, director). In following up on these connections, I trust that doors may begin to open for future opportunities. Experiencing success in the present can be the fuel needed to maintain resilience and perseverance.

Most people seem to understand the importance of setting short and long-term goals. But, what prevents them from actually setting and executing them? There are a few issues that can hinder goal attainment. Let’s consider some possible impediments.

The first one is being unclear about your true self. Sometimes, we are not clear about our purpose in life. This can become a hurdle for goal attainment. It is important to take time to define yourself. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Listen to what others say about you. Evaluate what motivates and inspires you. Visualize how you’d like to influence the world around you. I’m not referring to a single idea but, rather, a series of qualities, intentions, and actions that lead to personal fulfillment and, consequently, a common good.

Jessica Henderson, Wayfinding, 2011, digital print and screen-printed sheet acrylic of visual elements derived from Google Maps and Internet search icons, 21 x 17 inches

Jessica Henderson, Wayfinding, 2011, digital print and screen-printed sheet acrylic of visual elements derived from Google Maps and Internet search icons, 21 x 17 inches

A related issue that can hinder goal attainment is being unaware of your personal values. What gets you excited and fired up? What do you strongly support? What is your source of inspiration? A fulfilling life has meaning and a purpose, and your values guide you through your journey. Your values define who you are, and your awareness is the fuel you need to persist when things don’t go as planned.

Finally, one’s mindset can either energize or detract from the ability to attain a goal. If you are constantly making excuses for not executing your goals or focusing on possible tragic outcomes, you will end up exhausted and defeated. I’m not suggesting a naïve or unconsidered approach. Rather, I am suggesting that you use your energy to embrace possibilities and create solutions. As an illustration, some artists find talking about their work quite intimidating. An overdose of self-doubt can take over, along with the worry that people won’t care about, understand, or respect their art. Regaining a healthy mindset allows us to put unfavorable reviews or other negative feedback into perspective, recognizing that momentary setbacks needn’t deter us from our goals nor sabatoge our mission in the world. Recalibrating and maintaining a healthy perspective is hard but necessary work in the pursuit of worthwhile goals.

Research confirms that establishing strong habits can also improve perseverance when willpower and self-control diminish.(2) Likewise, forming an accountability partnership may help you stay committed to your goal until achieved. For example, let’s imagine that your goal for this year is to apply to ten juried art shows and be selected into one or two. By now, you have already identified how your goal is related to your values. Perhaps this goal is based on your commitment to thrive as an artist and your desire to experience success in your art career. It’s also influenced by your passion to share your art with others.

Next, consider forming strong goal-assisting habits to improve perseverance and accomplishment. For instance, consider creating a strategic plan of action to achieve each goal you set. In this example, schedule time to research websites for juried shows. Write down all deadlines and schedule time, whether on a weekly or monthly basis, to apply for the shows. Set aside a budget for exhibition fees that may apply.

Finally, consider an accountability partnership. As we make plans, we cannot always anticipate all obstacles and constraints. Even when we foresee them, having someone else’s perspective, guidance and support can make a significant difference in the outcome. Whether you select peer artists or friends, look for authentic-minded individuals. When inner and external hurdles emerge and distractions are overflowing, having someone you trust to help you refocus attention to your goal can be just the motivation you need to succeed.

As I reflect on my story, I can see clearly how God has been leading the way throughout our individual and combined journey. And, indeed, it is still unfolding! In the meantime, we continue to establish life-long goals. Our values always serve as the fuel needed to pursue and accomplish them. Ultimately, it is about enjoying a fulfilling and purposeful life.

A. Yanina Gomez is the co-founder of Art NXT Level, a professional development platform for visual artists (theartistnextlevel.com). In 2009, she obtained her Doctorate in Educational Psychology. Dr. Gomez’s insight into the psycho-emotional issues experienced by many artists provides her with ample opportunities to research and develop practical resources to help artists achieve and maintain optimal emotional wellness.

Endnotes

  1. Y. A. Kiaei and T. G. Reio, “Goal Pursuit and Eudaimonic Well-Being among University Students: Metacognition as the Mediator,” Behavior Development Bulletin, 19:4 (December 2014), 91-104.
  2. D. T. Neal, W. Wood, and A. Drolet, “How do People Adhere to Goals When Willpower is Low? The Profits (and Pitfalls) of Strong Habits,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104:6 (June 2013), 959-975.

From SEEN Journal XV.II, A Sustainable Life

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