Getting clear: Making resolutions for 2013

Happy 2013It’s the first of January and all around people are making great plans for 2013. These plans are always made with the best of intentions and they usually die a quiet death within a few weeks. It has become one of those accepted things about New Year’s resolutions—we make ’em and then we break ’em.

I think part of the problem is that we make our resolutions for all the wrong reasons. We make them because everyone else is making them. We make them things about we feel we should care about, but in reality don’t. We make them because we feel like we ought to, like we should want to make changes to our lives.

I read a great book awhile back called The Right Questions by Debbie Ford. In her book, Ford posits the theory that no matter what life we have right now, whether we think it’s fantastic or less-than-fantastic, it is a life that we have chosen for ourselves.

Our todays are based on choices we made yesterday, and the ones we made three days ago, three months ago, and three years ago. We don’t wind up fifty thousand dollars in debt because of one choice. We don’t put on thirty unwanted pounds as a result of a couple poor choices. And our relationships usually don’t fall apart overnight because of one bad decision. We are where we are because of repeated unconscious or unhealthy choices that we’ve made day after day after day that add up to the reality we find ourselves in.

—Debbie Ford, “The Right Choices”

For a lot of people, myself included, this can be a very difficult notion to swallow, however when it comes to making and keeping New Year’s resolutions, I think it’s a very important piece of the puzzle. Sure, you’ve made this big declaration on January 1st, but you’ve also made probably a thousand choices previously that put you in the position where you feel like you have to make this your New Year’s resolution. Simply saying “it’s my New Year’s resolution” doesn’t have a whole ton of weight behind it when stacked up against all those old choices.

So how do you fix the imbalance? Well, what I’ve found has worked for me is to ask “why?” and since this is supposed to be an artsy-blog, let me use an artsy example…

stumpy_promoFor a very, very long time I felt that because I loved animation so much that I absolutely had be become an animator. This was my big dream, my great love, and I would simply shrivel up and die if I didn’t achieve it.

Except… I didn’t achieve it. No matter how many times I resolved to work on a great demo reel or how often I mentally flogged myself, I just never seemed to get my act together. This, of course, led to more mental flogging and feelings of failure… etc. etc… you get the idea.

Then one day not too long ago I sat down and said… “Why do I love animation? What is it about animation that really lights my fire? Why do I believe I want to be an animator?” The list looked something like this…

  • Visually inspiring (eg. colour & line)
  • Magic in emotion / movement
  • Abstract process to “magic” result
  • Expressiveness
  • Audience impact & connection
  • Potential of mastery over time
  • Tells a story

Then I made a list of all the things about animation that I don’t love or that I find particularly frustrating. That list looked something like this…

  • Impossible to fully realize vision on my own
  • Feeling like I’m fighting with technology (particularly in 3D)
  • Very high effort to result ratio
  • Very slow, long time to actually get to result
  • Can be extremely tedious & repetious

It was only after I had both lists in front of me that a pattern began to emerge in my mind. To test my theory, I put both lists side by side and tagged each item as to whether I felt it was part of the “result”, the finished piece, or part of the “process”, the making of the piece. Here’s how the lists looked then…

What I love about animation

  • [Result] Visually inspiring (eg. colour & line)
  • [Result] Magic in emotion / movement
  • [Process] Abstract process to “magic” result
  • [Result] Expressiveness
  • [Result] Audience impact & connection
  • [Process] Potential of mastery over time
  • [Result] Tells a story

What frustrates me

  • [Process] Impossible to fully realize vision on my own
  • [Process] Feeling like I’m fighting with technology (particularly in 3D)
  • [Process] Very high effort to result ratio
  • [Process] Very slow, long time to actually get to result
  • [Process] Can be extremely tedious & repetious

By the time I finished writing out my lists, I almost laughed. Yes, I loved animation, but what I loved was all centred on the “result”. The “process” of actually animating I found incredibly frustrating. Sure, I loved that moment when the hours of painstaking effort actually yielded a result—that magic moment when two dozen drawings made a character stroll across the screen for a single second, but the effort to result ratio was so high that I rarely ever got there.

This also went a long way to explaining why I could never get my act together to produce a great career-launching demo reel, but I’ve had no trouble running Keyframe, my animation review site, for coming up on 14 years.

In contrast, when I made up a similar lists for drawing & painting, I got a slightly different result…

What I love about drawing & painting

  • [Result] Visually inspiring (eg. colour & line)
  • [Process] Abstract process to “magic” result
  • [Result] Expressiveness
  • [Result] Audience impact & connection
  • [Process] Potential of mastery over time
  • [Result] Can tell a story
  • [Process] Ability to independently realize vision
  • [Process] Relatively low effort to result ratio
  • [Process] Unexpected discoveries in the process

What frustrates me

  • [Process] Frustration at disconnect between ability and result
  • [Process] Working traditionally can be physically draining

In Sunlit WatersIn looking at the list I realized I had as much interest in the process as the result. Even though I had been making declarations about wanting to animate, what I was really far more interested in doing was improving my drawing and painting skills. This is something I had been unconsciously playing out in my choices over the past couple years—I was happiest and most satisfied when I was painting.

Now that I have found my “why”, I can make my resolutions for 2013 and I know I am much more excited about them and inclined to complete them.

Projects I’d like to undertake in 2013

  • Improve my ability to render people so that I can create more storytelling-type paintings and illustrations
  • Continue my explorations in the stained-glass-in-paint look that I’ve been experimenting with
  • Aim to complete a new painting each month with the intent of creating a 2014 Calendar of works

Oh, and finish my novel… since some things really never change.

Happy 2013.