I had a plane to catch for Maui, my new bride patiently waiting at the hotel lobby and a large homeless dude blocking my car. I would have used the hotel parking garage but after midnight it was locked down until 7am. That wouldn't do as our flight was early.
North Beach, San Francisco can be challenging for parking. I had to leave our car several blocks away from the hotel the night before, adjacent to an adult night club. Not exactly ideal. I paid the attendant $25 to park there. The homeless dude had clearly played this con before. He creeped out of the shadows across the street as I neared my car. He wore a trench coat that could conceal any number of weapons. I cursed myself for not spotting him sooner.
"Hey man, you got to pay for parking here before you get your car," he growled. " I paid last night," I said. "No, you got to pay." He stepped closer. I managed to get the front door of my car open and wedge it between us. My finger hovered over the remote alarm on my key chain. I was scanning to see if there would be a second guy. "Hey man, you need to pay. Fifty bucks." He hit the side of my car window to intimidate me. It just made me angry.
I had been a cop many years, had my fair share of fights and was well trained in jujitsu. I felt confident I could strike hard and take him down. But the voice in my head would have none of it. I had a plane to catch. My new bride awaited back at the hotel. I might take him down but what if he was armed or had a buddy?
I was dressed in kaki shorts, tennis shoes and a t-shirt. No weapon, handcuffs or radio. Wisely, I listened to my inner voice. I repeated that I paid the night before and quickly dove into my car and locked the door.
The transient pounded on the door and yelled expletives. I put the key in the ignition, fired her up and got the heck out of there. Thankfully, we made our plane and soon the whole incident was behind me.
All of us have a voice in our head. It's chattering constantly. Saying things like, "you shouldn't have said that" or " you're not good enough." A bit of life experience and you get better at differentiating between the insecure chatter and the important stuff. The voice was right about not engaging the homeless guy. But it was wrong about going to Idaho.
A few years ago I decided I wanted to get serious about my painting but I had a problem. I'd been drawing my whole life and picked up a bit from my father, a weekend painter. I drew editorial cartoons for a few newspapers and had an knack for sketching since I was young. But I had no formal training.
I took a local workshop and learned some basics about values and composition but that was it. Around that time I discovered Scott L. Christensen on-line. I loved his work. It was loose yet realistic. Expressive, limited palette, inspiring. He offered intensive and advanced workshops and I explored the options with my wife. "Go for it," she said, reasoning that it would accelerate my learning and growth.
But then that darn voice in my head started to chip away. "Who are you kidding? You don't know how to paint. You'll embarrass yourself." I shared these thoughts with my wife who dismissed them readily and said "just go." So I did.
When I arrived in Idaho I felt a bit out of my element. I had wrestled with ex-cons, been in a police shooting and high speed pursuits. But now I was surrounded by accomplished artists who clearly knew more than I.
After the amazing Christensen demos we headed out to paint. All around me these "students" were crafting amazing pieces. Talk about feeling self conscious. Never the less I focused on what I had learned, ignored the self defeating voice in my head and just painted. Surprisingly, some of the pieces I produced held their own during the group critiques.
There are times when you need to listen to that voice in your head. It can signal danger and motivate you to protect yourself. In social settings your inner voice can help navigate through uncertain situations.
The trick is to recognize when that same voice strikes a defeatist tone. When it tells you that you're not good enough. That's your insecure subconscious talking. Life experience, personal growth and wisdom will help you differentiate between your insecurity and self protection.
It's time to ignore that voice in your head when it prevents you from taking reasonable risks that lead to growth. If I had listened to myself years ago I would have found excuses to back out of that Idaho trip. I never would have met Scott Christensen, interacted with so many amazing artists or accelerated my artistic growth.
Fortunately I did go and came back for an advanced workshop. That led to an invite to a week long salon with Scott. I learned volumes. To this day I've been thanking my wife for her wisdom in pushing me to go.
You'll never escape the voice in your head and sometimes it will save your bacon. Other times, perhaps out of false self protection, it steers you off course. I had a perceptive spouse to help me navigate past the self doubt. Either way, when those big opportunities come along, I hope you take the singer Lee Ann Womack's advice in her moving song about how to live life. I hope you dance.
PS: I don't believe in taking endless workshops. But if you want to take your art to the next level, do yourself a favor and go study with Scott L. Christensen. Scott is one of the premiere landscape painters working today and you will learn a great deal from this supremely talented artist.