I was at a 5-day calligraphy workshop in Berkeley when somebody mentioned that all the faculty had been selected for the next International Calligraphy Conference, to be hosted by my home calligraphy guild, the Friends of Calligraphy, the following summer.
The relevant point here is that the faculty had all been selected, and I hadn’t even been invited to submit a proposal.
I was devastated. Cut to the core. My home guild had a by-invitation-only proposal process, and they hadn’t even invited me to apply.
I went to the conference the next summer, a seething mass of pathetic-victim resentment, mixed with a dollop of burning envy and a liberal sprinkling of “I’m not good enough” gremlins.
I told myself that if only I had I been accepted on the faculty—or even just invited to submit a proposal—then I’d be good enough. Then I’d know I was okay.
But would I have, really?
In fact, my gremlins were so loud back then, and my gremlin-whispering skills so minimal, that I can state without a shadow of a doubt that I would not have known I was okay. Instead, I’m quite sure I would have found some reason why my acceptance was not a true indicator of my worth, and I would have gone right on seeking for validation in other quarters.
External approval can never really quench our thirst for enoughness. (Click to tweet!)
Let it be stated for the record that I used to teach because I loved to teach, yes, but also in large part out of a desperate need for approval.
That is embarrassing to admit, but it’s the truth.
Cut to 2014.
I’m fifteen years older, fifteen years wiser, and with a significantly toned-down ego. Rejection still stings, but I now know, deep in my bones, that it says nothing about my inherent value.
My worth does not depend on anyone else’s acceptance of me or my work. (Click to tweet!)
I’ve learned to detach my sense of worth from external praise or validation. I’ve learned to create and do the work I feel called to do for myself, because it feeds me, rather than as part of an unending quest for validation by others.
So early last year, when the Friends of Calligraphy invited me to submit a proposal for the next International Calligraphy Conference, which they are hosting once again this summer, it was a nice ego stroke, but that’s all.
Cool, I thought. Being invited doesn’t guarantee acceptance, but why not apply?
If I got to teach, great! And if not, oh, well. I would be okay either way.
I started getting excited about teaching a class on improvisational painting, in which I would demonstrate a variety of cool painting and mixed-media techniques, while weaving in my ninja gremlin-whispering tips and my own flavor of creativity instigator magic.
That would be FUN!
So I submitted a proposal. Actually two proposals: one for the four-day painting class, which I titled Dancing with Chaos: the Art of Improvisation, and one for a one-day writing class, Freeing Your Words, Finding Your Voice: Releasing the Writer Within, which I designed to be offered the day before the painting class, so students would have original prose or poetry to incorporate into their paintings.
As it happened, the faculty selection committee already had their eye on a one-day writing class with another teacher, but they invited me to submit a one-day class proposal to teach New World Neuland, my unique style of Neuland calligraphy, instead.
So off went the second proposal, and I forgot about the conference altogether.
Months later I was pleased to receive an acceptance letter — I was officially on faculty for both my one-day and my four-day classes!
I confess it was a nice stroke to my ego to see my name and photo on the conference website, but when, some weeks later, other teachers started crowing on Facebook about their classes being filled to capacity, my envy monsters started roaring again, and my Comparison Trap gremlins started poking me with sharp sticks.
Thank goodness for ninja gremlin-whispering skills!
I reminded myself that rejection says nothing about my inherent value.
I reminded myself that other people’s validation has nothing to do with me.
I reminded myself that I would be fine, whether or not my classes filled.
Yes, if my classes ran I would get the joy of teaching, and being part of what I know will be a vibrant conference, and reconnecting with my old calligraphy compatriots. That would be wonderful! Plus I’d get paid, which is always nice, too. 🙂
If my classes didn’t run, I’d miss out on all of that, but I’d have a week on my calendar to do something else wonderful instead. (Plus I wouldn’t have all the prep work to do for the classes! 😉 )
Truly, I couldn’t lose.
So when the notification came that, alas, my classes did not get the minimum number of signups in order to run, I felt a little bummed out, but just a little.
I also felt a little relieved, because instead of putting time and energy into preparing my classes for the conference, I could work on some of my other big projects (ie, my forthcoming podcast; my painting; the solo show I’m going to hang in my chiropractor’s office next month; the book I keep telling myself I’m going to finish; and other not-ready-for-prime-time secret projects going on in the background).
A door closed, yes, but a window opened, too.
What a difference from back in 1999!
I’m allowed to be disappointed, of course. We always get to feel those feelings, when something we were looking forward to gets snatched away.
And we get to notice the windows that open in our lives as a result.
And when we’re able to do all of the above, we get to notice how very far we’ve come.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
PPS — Although my classes at the calligraphy conference are not running, I will be teaching the Ukulele Orchestra class (aka Unexpected Ukulele) in June at Jazz Camp West! If you can get to the San Francisco Bay Area, and want a week to remember, come to Jazz Camp. It’s a not-to-be missed experience, and I’m thrilled to be on faculty this year!