It is no secret that the last couple of years have been financially challenging for a lot of people. If you are self employed or, as in my case, an artist, it is difficult to refrain from blaming yourself. I am old enough to have seen the market bottom out like this before, so when the crash came this time I decided to get help. I participated the the New York Foundation for the Arts MARK program and I called on the retired businessmen at SCORE to be sure that I was doing everything that I could to survive this @#$% storm.
Both of these endeavors were helpful, and perhaps deserving of their own posts. But this January, when the sister of my artist friend Brenda McMahon offered a chance to receive some career coaching for an introductory rate, I jumped at it. Brenda and I had worked together in the past promoting the Open Studios of Washington County Tour. Brenda is a total dynamo and someone with a firm grasp on what it means to take responsibility for your own success. Brenda, Serena Kovalosky (she and Brenda founded the Tour) and I get together once in a while to share information and inspiration around career related issues. Over the last four years, I have seen Brenda really take off in her career. She shared with us some of the counseling her sister, Karen, had done for her, so when this opportunity came along I was open to trying it.
Karen’s first question to me was, “If I could grant you one wish related to your career, what would it be?” I named the one thing that I have wanted forever, but that had eluded me. No, I won’t tell you what it is, I would be too embarrassed. Karen was surprised. Looking at my career from the outside, I had certainly gone after similar things with success. She wondered what was preventing me from getting this. I blurted out that going after it scared me to death. Again, she was surprised, I had gone after demanding things in the past, what was it about this?
What came to mind was a devastating failure that occurred early in my career. It is something that had come up for me before, and I thought I had dealt with it. But the emotional charge with which this surfaced again was surprising. OK, this part I will tell you about. I was asked to do an exhibit in a museum. I decided to do something specifically designed for the space. It took nearly two years to do and cost a great deal of time and money. Upon hanging the show, the curator hated it. I mean HATED it. Hated everything about it, down to how I lit it and where I put the labels. I was so freaked out by her reaction that I almost didn’t attend the opening. It didn’t matter to me that others liked it, were moved by it, wrote me letters about it — none of that mattered. What mattered was that SHE didn’t like it.
I had circled this problem many times with other counselors. Got as far as recognizing that it was silly to give this one women all this power, after all, others thought the exhibit was great.
So, Karen listened to this long winded story of mine and asked, “Who was the curator? Who did she represent to you?” And out of nowhere came, “My mother.” Who else, after all, does one want so much to please, and without whose approval, no other opinions matter. With that, I felt the trap on my leg snap open and I was free to move on.
To Contact Karen McMahon: