Happy Birthday To Me. Lessons & Reflection on Getting Older

March 27, 2019


Last week Friday was my 31st birthday and what a less than thrilling day it was. This came as no surprise since for the past 3 years my birthday has followed the same trend which consists of spending the day alone while being overly consumed with thought. I woke up early that morning with a feeling of despair I couldn't quite pinpoint. With tears steadily falling down my face, I tried to avert the gaze of my husband Jon as he tried to console me. He was visibly worried about my state in the early morning of what should've been a day of celebration. I really didn't know what to say to him as I laid silently in bed with tears trickling down my face. I didn't know what was wrong. All I knew was it was my birthday and I was not in a mental state of cheer. I wasn't sad but certainly not happy; I just felt gloomy.

This feeling of gloom and despair manifested the day before while sitting in my home studio watching Skillshare tutorials on watercolor. For the past few weeks or so, I've been diligently watching tutorials to sharpen my watercolor skills and elevate from being a novice. The instructor of the day was Ana Victoria Caldero­­­­­­­­­­­­n, a watercolor artist from Mexico who I recently found through Skillshare. During my early introduction to Ana, I was thoroughly impressed by her attention to detail not just as an artist but as an instructor and was naturally eager to learn from her. The selected course of the day was Unique Lettering with watercolor, a 4-hour tutorial on watercolor lettering so needless to say, I was excited and anxious to get started.

Before getting into the substance of the lesson, Ana took a moment to introduce us to other watercolor artists to share examples of different styles and serve as inspiration. The first artist she featured was Becca Cahan an illustration and lettering artist from Boston. Her skillset both in typography and illustrations left me awestruck and put my intimidation level on alert. Later, Ana showcased the work of Katie Daisy another incredible artist who I was previously familiar with through Pinterest and her Etsy shop. Her floral designs, use of color, and nature-inspired pieces are examples of work I aspire to create. Not long after viewing the works of such good talent, I began to feel extremely uncertain about myself, feeding into the worst parts of my psyche which tells me “you're not good enough” and you’re a long way from getting to that level. I began unfairly criticizing myself and drawing false comparisons to women who have more years of experience under their belt. So much for being self-compassionate Nkem!

Instead of overcoming my discomfort and pushing past my fears...I walked away.

I slumped myself down on the couch, caving into my misery and basically sulked. I allowed myself to get carried away with unfair judgment rather than being kind to myself both in words and actions. Seeing the errors of my ways, I tried to turn my limiting beliefs into a voice of reason. I told myself that everyone starts off bad when it involves skills of the hands. I said “this too shall pass” and tried to muster up all the positive energy that I could, but as the night progressed, I couldn’t "think positive" my way out it. I went to bed that night on the eve of my birthday feeling inadequate and incapable. It didn't help that my birthday was the day I planned on opening my online shop which fueled the self-deprecating thoughts. Here I was, struggling to create pieces of work that I deemed suitable to sell to the general public and having a hard time producing that work and believing in myself. I spent the night tossing and turning and mentally berating myself which ultimately lead to the gloom and despair I felt the morning of my birthday.

Why does the life of an artist have to be so mentally draining? How do I stay consist without falling into the traps of self-doubt? How do I find the courage to say fuck it and consistently pursue creative living without seeking external validation? How do I stop expecting so much from myself when there is room for growth and improvement? And for the love of God, how do I stay patient while trusting the process!?

For years I’ve continued to ask these same questions and I'm learning how to push myself to do things that scare me but time and time again I succumb to my intimidation of talented individuals and use that as a deterrent to trying my best. I let a moment of self-doubt get the best of me which gave way to other feelings of loneliness within; dampening my overall mood during a time reserved for joy and celebration.

In hindsight, one moment of self-doubt evolved into a pity party filled with the woe is me and recounting past failures. Granted we’re all allowed the occasional moment of angst from time to time but not at the expense of our emotional well-being. Instead of spending the day feeling sorry for myself for what I did or didn’t do, I wish I rechanneled that same energy and cherished the first chapter of my 30’s. I should have spent the day celebrating the simple fact that I am alive to see 31 and celebrating the milestones I’ve accomplished thus far. Last year the idea of opening an online shop was not on my radar but here I am sowing seeds to make that dream a reality. I deemed myself a professional and I’m fully dedicated to this lifelong goal of living a creative life full of intention. I am using art as my form of self-care and self-love by listening to my curiosity rather than hiding from it. I am becoming vulnerable and accepting who I am.

Eventually, after spending the better portion of my birthday either crying or wandering aimlessly in thought, I consciously continued to tell myself “this too shall pass” and overtime my nerves and anxiety slowly started to calm and I began believing in the words I was saying. Jon came home shortly after with a warm smile and celebratory birthday cake to match which was the literally icing on the cake. It sucked that I spent the day in dredge, but I learned an important lesson that day. Getting older and still facing trials and tribulations on the personal growth front does not mean I am a failure. I only fail when I quit and walk away from my life’s purpose due to fear and feeling of intimidation. Getting older and being riddled with life questions is part of the process of aging. I must make mistakes in order to learn from them and I must stay in my state of discomfort in order to persevere through it. Walking away is not the answer.

My story has not ended because I am still here willing and capable to form new narratives. I am better today than I was yesterday. Though I stumble and don’t have all the answers, I will not quit, and I will not walk away. 31 is the year of being a business owner. I claim it and by God’s grace he will see me through. Happy Birthday to me and cheers to this new chapter!

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