I had a professor in college who would always tell us to step back from our work to look at it. Freshman year, it wasn’t optional. He would stop the class – mid mark making – and make us all pin our work up behind us. He claimed that if you never stepped back from the work as you were making it, you wouldn’t see it as a whole, or in the way it was going to be viewed (particularly true as we drew at an angle instead of vertically – that can really shift a perspective).
The habit followed me as I continued my education. I would always be stopping to zoom out or step back from what I was doing and see it as an overall composition. I think that really helped push my work forward, and forced me to stop mid-process and think critically, instead of power-housing through until the end – something I have the tendency to do.
After four years of knowing this professor, I trusted him and his opinion more than any other instructor I’d had. I knew that he was brilliant at analyzing and critiquing, was always brutally honest, and, most admirably, fearless. I wanted to know how he thought I could improve as both an artist and person. It terrified me to my core to seek out this kind of unpleasant conversation about all the bad things about myself, but a little voice inside me knew that I needed the feedback.
So I set up the meeting. My professor was precisely on time, and I had expected no less. I sat in his office and we chatted a while about my post graduation plans. I was enjoying talking to him outside of the classroom, something I didn’t do enough while I had the opportunity. He told me my strengths and how he felt about my work ethic - with all kind words. But I knew that there had to be something I could do better; everyone can be better. So I somehow mustered up the courage to ask: “What are my weaknesses?”
He paused a moment. “You don’t seem to like yourself very much.”
I was taken aback. In the course I was just finishing with him, I had done my entire series on learning how to live fearlessly. The project basically talked about how I was really hard on myself, and how I was learning the art of self compassion so that I wouldn’t be afraid to live life.
“I don’t know what happened to you to make you feel that way, but you need to get over it.”
There was that blunt and brutal honesty I was seeking (and secretly hoping I wouldn’t find). A few words came out, but I remember none of them. I hadn’t ever considered to think about why I didn’t like myself – I just knew that I didn’t.
So, I took a step back. I started looking at my thoughts and feelings objectively, analyzing where they were originating and why they were still bothering me. What I discovered was that a lot of these negative thoughts were rooted in others’ perceptions of me.
I have always been a people pleaser. I don’t like when people don’t like me. When I started looking back on my life, I realized that a lot of the things I had decided I didn’t like about myself were because of things other people had done or said to me. For example, I thought that my feet were beautiful – foot model material, even – until one day when my friends and I were photographing our feet and someone jokingly commented that mine looked weird. Most of my stories go similarly to this.
When I began realizing this, it was a lot easier for me to let those negative feelings about myself go. They were judgments others had passed, and I have a new philosophy about other peoples’ judgments as of late: “Don’t take it personally.” Everyone says, feels, and thinks because of things that are going on in their own life in that specific moment. One must critically analyze an opinion and then be strong enough to discard anything that isn’t useful to the betterment of the soul. Reminding myself of this fact always helps me feel better.
Don’t be afraid to take a step back – from yourself, others, or situations. Take some time alone to reflect and figure out why you’re feeling the way you are. Step back so that you can see the whole picture, and where this small piece of the puzzle fits in.