I wonder how many people out there would define themselves as “driven.” Personally I’ve never considered myself particularly ambitious. I always thought my serious, athletic older sister was the driven one. No one, I mean no one, could stop her when she was going for the basket, not even a six-foot-three, 220 pounder. She was equally determined to succeed in her professional life, and she has, as well as having two terrific kids and a 25+ year marriage! None of this has ever surprised me – to me, she’s always been the boss; I’ve never questioned it. (And I admit I’m sort of scared of what she would do to me if I did…not really, but sort of.)As for me, I always felt I was the mellow, go-with-the-flow type. I too played hoops – I did well enough and had loads of fun, but I was no killer. I went to college and grad school and did well academically, but I never felt particularly ambitious in a boss-y, business, money-making kind of way. I leaned toward social work or teaching, and ended up teaching and that was all good. In essence I sort of saw myself as a hippie-cool chick, not entirely in the mainstream, but still doing some good for my family and society and earning a decent, if secondary income.
HA! I’m laughing because now I realize I am totally and completely driven, and always have been. It’s just that my drive is my overwhelming urge to create - how else can you explain me working all day yesterday through a splitting headache to finish a piece of art? How else do you explain the fact that I don’t even want to stop to take care of my house, work, animals, my family (whom I dearly love; really - I’d give either of them my heart if they needed it), or even go to the bathroom when I’m working? How else can you explain the fact that I’m totally psyched to start on the next one the second I’m done with the last one? I told my husband last night that I almost feel crazed with ideas – it’s like I’m a gerbil on an exercise wheel of creativity and I can’t stop turning it!
Looking back at my teaching career, I see the same kind of - I was going to say insanity, but let’s call it motivation. I remember a conversation I once had with a like-minded teacher. We were laughingly saying we wished we wouldn’t think of so many great ideas because whenever did we felt compelled to make it happen no matter how exhausting it was - we just couldn’t stop ourselves! I would twist myself in knots trying to teach such fascinating concepts as pronouns, for example in some motivating, interesting, meaningful way. I’d work weekends and nights trying to come up with the perfect way to get an idea or knowledge across to students. I’d do crazy things like dressing up as a Greek goddess, or wearing question marks all over my clothes and face to encourage kids to ask questions. Whatever it took, I would do it, because, as it turns out, I AM driven. I just didn’t realize what that thing was that was compelling me to pour so much energy into my teaching, and now, my art.
The difference is, of course, with teaching, I got a regular paycheck, and with art – well, that’s another story... In some cases, art does pay, though. I was looking at some art by Gerhard Richter the other day (his stuff makes my breath catch!) and I was amazed not only by his work, but by its sheer volume. Hundreds and hundreds of incandescent and dazzling works of art - and in different mediums, too - painting, glass and photography as well. How the hell does he do it all? I suppose one might even describe him as driven...YA THINK?! Even now at age eighty-four he’s still painting and having a blast with it…awesome. And did I mention, inspiring? When I told my husband about him, he cleverly read his biography (naturally I skipped the bio part and went straight for the art) and it turns out that as well as being brilliant he’s also the most successful living artist - his works pull in millions of dollars! Now I’d call that a decent living.Make no mistake here, please. I’m NOT - no I’m not in any way - comparing myself to Gerhard Richter in the artistic sense (although I wish, how I wish, I could), and I realize that for me, making even a modest living off this drive to create art with fabric is probably not to be. That’s okay, though, I’m not going to lament it and I’m not going to let it stop me from creating. At the moment, I’m going to ride this crazy wheel I’m on while I can as fast as it will turn.
Yes, it’s true, I may have to curb the impulse a little and go back to a “real” job soon, but that’s okay, too, because now I realize I’ll just take my tiny little "crazy wheel " of creation with me and use it there. And it will come right back home with me, so in between work and life I can still “do” art. Yippee!
I guess the truth is that I was always scared to be seen as ambitious, because I didn't have confidence that I could succeed in the same way my wonderful sister could, and perhaps I couldn't. But I get now that that's okay - we are different people with different goals. And now, older and, well - more experienced, I see that "SUCCESS!" can be defined on many different levels and that we each have to figure out what that definition means for ourself. And that just makes me feel excited and maybe a little bit lucky, too. Because as nutty as it is, I kinda like my drive, after all.
So go ahead, embrace your ambition- just don't let anybody else tell you what it looks like!