You’re OK, when you say you are.

iam
Painting by Susan Clifton entitled “I Am Ok”
Every work of art in Susan’s “Grey Matter” series makes us think about our own lives, about our own thought processes and how we can change them. See more of her work at www.susanclifton.com

I’m 49 years old and I’ve spent most of my post adolescent life searching for approval.

From everyone.

Friends, co-workers, family, partners, sometimes even the barista at Starbucks or the cashier at 7Eleven. I go to these places several times a week, do they like me? Does the cashier at 7Eleven who called me sir the first time I went there still think I look like a man? It doesn’t matter that she barely lifted her head to look at me and assumed short hair and baseball cap I was a guy. How do I look today?

I’m even thinking, do you approve when I’m writing this blog? Will they get it, is it worth writing, does anyone really read this stuff?

Are you shaking your head in disbelief, or nodding your head saying yep, me too?

Can you remember when you were a child and you felt like you could conquer the world and then all of a sudden you started doubting everything. Do you still doubt yourself more than trust yourself? Do you trust yourself to make decisions without having to ask a half dozen of your friends for validation or approval? Geez, I hate when I do that.

Here’s the thing, put me in front of an easel or on a ladder in front of a wall I’m painting, and like magic, I’m ok with myself. Torn-up jeans, bandana tied around my head, charcoal smudged across my face from wiping the sweat off… yes in that moment I’m just fine. As a matter of fact, I’m even better than fine, I’m down right confident. And sometimes I even feel a little sexy. True story.

So why, when I probably look the worst, do I feel the best. I imagine it’s because in that moment I’m believing in what I am doing. Why I am doing it, and the person I am. Nothing and no one could break that confidence in those moments. If someone stopped and said why are you doing that, you’re too old to be climbing ladders, women don’t do that, or even, you’re a sweaty mess, I’d hold myself even taller. I’d respond with something like, because women are worth it. I’m showing women their value, I’m empowering women with my murals, and I have been given a gift with my art and have found my voice through my art. You wouldn’t be able to shake me, or put even a mustard seed of doubt in my mind.

Take me off my ladder, put me somewhere, where no one knows my cause, or my art, and all of a sudden opinions matter and judgment hurts.

You’re OK when you say you are.

I have to begin saying I’m OK, even when I’m not standing with a paintbrush in my hand. Because I am pretty darn ok, and if you nodded or even related just a little bit to my 7Eleven experience, stop now, take a deep breath and say, “I AM OK”. Maybe if we practice saying it, we’ll start believing it.

Maybe when there is no one around and you’re completely by yourself that is the place you should be saying you’re ok. I know that is where I need to be saying “I am ok”, because that is the place that really matters. That is where when you believe it, you’ll carry it around with you and hold your head up and shoulders back and that little girl you trusted years ago will shine again. It’s called authenticity. Your true self. There’s really no better person you could be, than you.

I am OK when I say I am. I am.

Weak or Wise?

Notice you’re worth it.

I came across a quote this weekend that read:

“There’s no trophy at the end for doing everything alone, and you’re not weak for asking for help. Every single time that you open up about your struggles and find ways to support other women, you are being devastatingly brave”.

Wow, is there so much truth in that. I find myself often telling the story of my life as “I raised my kids alone”, “I became who I am as an artist with no support from family”, “I built my business and learned what I know with no formal education, again on my own”. I tell my story that way because I’m proud of where I’ve ended up considering where I’ve come from.

But is it such a bad idea to ask for help? Help with “life” stuff. Stuff like I’m struggling, I’m lost, I’m depressed and don’t exactly know why.  Also stuff like, I just really don’t know what I’m doing. Did you know that not knowing something doesn’t make you stupid? Why is it we think we need to know everything? Why is it so hard to wrap my head around the idea that you might actually know better than me? Why can’t I admit that in most parts of my life, I am not an expert?

Oh and then there’s when I’m having what in my mind is a ridiculous crazy, devastating moment? You know the ones that usually pass in a day or so, but at the time they’re happening are life altering. Come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about. What if there were people in your life who didn’t judge you for those? Who gently helped you off the ledge all the time reminding you “you got this”.

img_8837Photo: Women teaming up together to support each other in Montclair, NJ

I’ve decided being strong, being fulfilled, being successful doesn’t mean you go it alone, it means you teamed up with good people who want you at your best. It means your relationships are give and take. And that give and take isn’t the kind that is measured and held in comparison. It’s the kind of give and take that says, I’ll be there, you can count on me, I won’t let you down.

Reality is, there have been people helping me all along. I may have not recognized it or even appreciated it as much as I should have, but they were there. I didn’t get where I am today, with my family, my work, or my art by myself. And I honestly apologize to those who I dismissed and didn’t acknowledge when they were helping because I was too busy being independent.

Today I am proud of the the support I have, not the lack of it. I recognize the people who stand with me. I also know how when I put myself in a place of asking I’m making myself vulnerable, and that can be really scary. Can I tell you how worth it it is? That when you find the people who truly support you and let them in what a brave and incredibly beautiful thing it is?

To my friends who supported me and the Girl Noticed initiative on this last fundraising drive, I can’t thank you enough. In two weeks we sold 30 shirts and raised $350. Not too shabby.

I’ve got my arms around all of you, and together we lift each other up. We’re all worth it.

Thank you to the following awesome ladies, and one awesome guy, who ordered “Just Being Me” shirts. Make sure to send me photos. Can’t wait to see everyone wearing them!

Lori Cataldo
Wendy Sosa
Rebecca Chandler
Colleen Sullivan
Lauren Feher
Shelley Mitchell
Sheila Danzig
Noah Parang
Mary Pohlmann
Betsy Janigian
Jan Spear
Melanie Gilson
Dana McElroy
Teri Forero
Jennifer Haley
Heather Neiman
Angeline Martinez
Sean Mullaney
Diane Fennekohl
Myra Wexler
Sheryl Rajbhandari
Calcagno Cullen
Annay Kotiaho
Lori Doody-Lanza