Proof of Life | Journal Entry No. 08

Proof of Life

Journal Entry No. 08

Welcome to the Proof of Life journal entry series.

Writing more in general, and specifically with you, is something I hope to continue throughout the year.

Like many of you, life has become clearer over the past year and there are many things I have dropped along the way that I deeply desire to pick back up. In turn, there are things I never want to pick up again.

From the very beginning, I have always felt like we are on this journey together and I can’t wait to hear what proof of life will come to mean to you.



The Gift of Practice

I was volunteering at a local high school enrichment program and I had the students all day.  We were going to start with sketching and then create sculptures based on our sketches.

I had my supplies out, sketches taped to the wall and supplies at each of their spaces to begin.

As they started filtering into the room I started to notice the mumbling of some of the students. There were words coming past their lips like, “I can’t even draw a stick person”, “Mine is going to suck”, “I don’t do art” or “I am not an artist”.  I was a bit surprised at first but then after listening to them for a bit, I knew what they were doing. They were protecting themselves and announcing to the whole class that they would fail just in case they later felt like they failed. They were announcing to themselves and the class that they were afraid of doing something new.

As I looked around the room, their squiggly bodies and unsure expressions I asked them to raise their hand if they had NEVER played the piano. Hands went up over most of the class.  There was an old upright piano in the corner of the room that I had noticed earlier and it would serve me well over the next moments. I pointed to one of the boys that had his hand raised and he confirmed that he had never played the piano. I then asked him to come over to the old piano and play a little Cold Play for all of us. He looked at me a little perplexed but with this new position as the teacher for a day, I was surprised that he slowly got up from his seat and made his way to the piano. He reluctantly sat down at the bench and just stared at me.

“Go ahead and play something”, I said.

“I can’t. I don’t know how”, he responded.

“What do you mean? Why can’t you play something?”, I asked.

“Because I have never taken lessons”.

“Exactly”, I said as I smiled and told him he could go back to his seat.

The next moments of our class were as much of a lesson for me as they were for all of those teenagers.

Do you remember when you were little you used to run up to those that loved you in your life and proudly displayed your art? Those simple marks you made on the page that you couldn’t wait to share? Around the time we become more self-aware (7-9) you may have found yourself creating one day and casually looking over at your classmate, friend or sibling making art.  It may have been the first time that you noticed that someone was better than you. You looked back at your work possibly ashamed and embarrassed. It wasn’t as good. You crumpled it up, threw it in the garbage and for many people that would be the last time they freely made art.  Maybe this didn’t happen for you until you were in high school or even college. You saw someone better and assumed they just had more talent than you. Maybe they did. BUT maybe they were doing something you weren’t. Practicing.

For someone to ask you to play an instrument well when you have never played, taken lessons or practiced would be ridiculous but we expect perfection, excellence and quality in ourselves every day in different areas of our lives without ever showing up and putting the time in. Often when we don’t instantly see the results we want we give up too soon.   When it comes to gardening, cooking, painting, dancing, sketching, photography, running, singing, running a business and so many other examples…we think if you are not naturally gifted in these areas that we are not good in these areas and we give up.  What we are missing is comparing our non-practice with those that practice.

So what happened with all of those students in my art class? Well, once they were told it was OK not to be amazing the very first time they tried something they all let out a collective sigh of relief and practiced. They sketched, they learned and then most of them made sculptures for the very first time in their lives. They had FUN.  They were even surprised in themselves and proud of what they created.

Maybe you have no interest in sketching, painting or sculpting but this is not about the area of practice but about practice in general. Don’t give up on a skill or yourself when you haven’t even begun to show up and practice. Don’t let fear push you away from the places in yourself that you want to discover. I won’t lie. It is hard work. It is choosing the uncomfortable over and over again. BUT with practice the uncomfortable starts to become comfortable, freeing and beautiful. Dare I say…fulfilling.  Imagine that! A life that feels fulfilling because you did hard things to learn hard things. Not everything you try will be for you but just think about the areas in your life that will change with PRACTICE! Kind of exciting isn’t it?!


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    1. Jan

      This really resonates with me and makes me realize that not practicing is my ‘problem’- I set high expectations and want to create something excellent the first time I try. If not, get discouraged and quit rather than continuing to practice. Thank you for opening my eyes to this!!

  1. Linda

    Thank you so much – that is just what I needed to hear!
    You are truly inspiring and I love everything I have seen of you!
    Thank you

  2. Collese Dahlberg

    Sounds like a wonderful day for all of you. I always appreciate being reminded that first we learn then we practice. Thank you for sharing the story. You taught them all a great lesson.

  3. Collese Dahlberg

    Sounds like a wonderful day for all of you. I always appreciate being reminded that first we learn then we practice. Thank you for sharing the story. You taught them all a great lesson.

  4. Cynthia Burkeen

    What a wonderful way to explain just how I feel … thanks for the reminder that I gotta just “do it” .. i will feel awesome for just “doing it””” …thank you for you words!!!

  5. Susan Hemann

    Such a wonderful post. I used to teach children’s art and found much inspiration from my students. It’s a shame that children give it up out of peer pressure or parental pressure or even teacher pressure.

    My grandson is so talented and now will not do an art project with me.

    Our society values perfection leaving so many people in the dark.


    Wow I loved your post! I taught craft classes for many years, tole painting and then folk art. I know that it was the excitement of of making something that you loved in a structured class using patterns took the fear out painting. There were so many who took these classes who found they had talent.
    Sharon aka gertieandozzie

  7. Cindy

    Very inspiring words! This is a great post and very thoughtful. This is one I will read over and over again and I am 66. Thank you for your wisdom and inspiration. You are a blessing!

  8. Gayle Wilson

    Thank you so much for your reflections. As an amateur artist I have really been in a vortex of negative thoughts and emotions regarding my art practice. I need to give myself permission to “be” in the moment of whatever I am creating, even if it is doodling.

  9. Rebecca Zdybel

    Great post! As an art instructor, I find that adults really struggle at “not being excellent” when they first start out. We get so used to being competent in our lives and our jobs, that it can be very threatening to step back and have to deal with some uncertainty and struggle. I often use the playing of an instrument as a teaching example for how practice brings improvements. If we can keep it fun and give ourselves permission to not always create a masterpiece, I find it’s helpful. I tell my students that we all have 500 bad paintings in us, but we also have the same number of good paintings in us. When one doesn’t go well, I just encourage them to chalk it up in the bad painting column and know that they are one step closer to exhausting that total. No big deal. And if they had fun and learned something, then it’s never a waste of time. 🙂

  10. Frannie Stevens-Meshorer

    Ohhh Miz Jeanne … My heart delights every time your ‘Proof of Life’ appears in my e-mail box! Having met you and spent time during Poets and Misfits .. I have adored you .. your kindness .. your talent .. your spirit .. your JOY! You are a Ray of “Soul-Sunshine” sent from heaven to bless so many of us. Love you dear one. XO, Frannie

    1. Stacey

      I want to tell you how much I am enjoying these life lessons post. I learn something every time. Sometimes it’s something new and sometimes it’s a well written reminder. Thank you for that.

  11. Alida Post

    So true.. my sons were never interested in making art. At the beginning of this year my sixteen year old changed a subject he didn’t enjoy, for Design as a subject. They started with doing sketches, and his initial attempts wasn’t on par with the kids in his class who had been drawing since a young age. But, with daily practice he became increasingly interested, and his work rapidly improved over a short period of time. Now he loves to sit and draw just for the enjoyment of it, and is clearly talented. Something he never would have discovered if he didn’t start with those daily sketches.

  12. faye johansen

    Often the students dictate their own success, by just participating. I taught drawing with 14 year old boys and as a warm up each week one of them had to do a 2 minute pose for the others to do a quick gesture drawing. They wanted to keep doing it even when everyone had a turn. It was amazing the second round, more energy, inventive poses and lots of fun and laughs. They wanted to put them on the wall and not take them down. They took risks with other projects because of this successful, ice breaking warm up. Your post brought back so many memories of teaching for 30 years.

  13. Vicki

    Oh Jeanne, This is something I find myself explaining to people all the time and I wish they would understand. They say to me “Oh, but you’re an artist”. And believe that I have a gift. I find it a bit insulting to be told that, when my ability comes from more than fifty years of practice, and even I have days when I make rubbish, in fact lots of days. Social media exaggerates this, since people only post their success. I am finding your journal entries and your facebook lives so wonderful. I watch, but not live since I am in Australia. I suppose I could get up at 5am, once in a while just to be able to interact. Anyway, I am trying to become a better person a more loving and thoughtful one and you are teaching me.

  14. Jayne Frye

    Great story!!! Yes take it one day at a time and we have to remember its our story and if we love it that’s all that matters!

  15. Cindy Wahlstrom

    Wonderful read! Thank you! I took my first workshop last weekend. I was the least experienced person in the class and a bit intimidated, but I was there to learn and I did my best regardless of feeling intimidated. I was proud of putting myself out there and not letting my lack of skill stop me. You created a wonderful experience for those students!

  16. Kathy

    I enjoyed your journal entry today. I can imagine that boy at the piano was wondering where this was all going!. It brought back memories of my teaching days and also the years of leading Girl Scout Troops for my daughters….so much coloring, so many crafts! I Love the idea of “ warm-ups” or coloring with your non dominant hand to get their juices running; to play, before even beginning a project.
    Isn’t it great to be back in school?

  17. Linda

    A great reminder to us all. As an artist, the blank canvas continues to be intimidating. Yet, through, trying, I overcome those first moments of hesitancy. I think that the hardest thing to get across to those who want to create is, you’re not expected to be Rembrandt, Pollock, or Cassatt. You’re you. Those artists are originals , so are we.
    I recently read and accepted the idea of not competing or comparing with others, compete with yoirself.
    A very apt lesson to the students . Thanks for sharing all that you do.

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