A few weeks ago I was in London and had lunch with Brooke, a dear friend of mine who is a cognitive hypnotherapist. As usual, we talked about a lot of things related to self-development, including various kinds of therapy and methods of working on the relationship with ourselves which, as we know, forms the basis for our well-being and happiness (incidentally, Brooke writes a terrific blog on these topics, which I wholeheartedly recommend). I told him about an NLP-inspired workshop I took part in years ago, where we were shown a method of identifying problems and ways to solve them through creating a so-called “inner city”, a fable-like narrative which symbolises our life. As we were sipping our coffees, Brooke proposed a similar mini-exercise based on symbols, which he uses in his own practice. I had to close my eyes and upon reaching a state of relaxation and readiness for hypnosis, visualise a room in which a door would appear in one of its walls, leading to a place where I was supposed to find something I had lost or forgotten. He didn’t say what it was meant to be, he merely led me through that door to another imaginary space where I would find that object, take it with me, and leave through another set of doors. This visualisation took no more than a few minutes but it was incredibly powerful. I first visualised the living room in my flat and the door I was meant to discover was a tiny Alice-in-Wonderland kind of door which kept changing its size as I was approaching it, making me unsure whether I would be able to enter at all. I finally managed to get it to stay big enough for me to squeeze through it, and I walked into a large library-style room, with high ceilings, lots of light and air. At the far end of the room, there was a table with a richly decorated silver stand on which lay a fist-sized golden ball. That’s what I saw: a golden ball. And, however bizarre it may sound, I knew straight away that the ball represented courage. Following Brooke’s instructions, I picked it up, ready to leave the space through a double door I saw in the wall on the left hand side from where I was standing. It was a completely different type of door from that surreal heavy, wooden door in my living room. The second door was at least 3 metres high, with a light white frame and glass panels that could be easily moved with a gentle push. I walked out and opened my eyes.
When people talk about what you need to succeed as an artist, they often mention talent, skills, hard work, perseverance, determination, and so on. Personally, however, I’ve come to a realisation that the most important thing is courage. Skills can be honed through continued practice, which naturally requires discipline and dedication. But in order to develop discipline, one has to be courageous to pursue art in the first place. It is a career lined with unpredictability, vulnerability, being judged and misunderstood, lacking appreciation and having to navigate through a maze of subjective rules of the art market where so much can depend on chance and luck. For many people it’s daunting to even think of it, let alone do it.
But it’s not just art where courage is essential — we need it to grow, learn and make any real changes in life. We need courage to raise a hand and ask a question in a room of people. Choose a degree according to our own interests, not our parents’ wishes. Come up to a person we fancy and ask for their number. Tell our parents we’re gay. Tell a boss we want a raise. Tell a client how much we charge for our services and products. Commit to a life with someone. Leave an unfulfilling relationship, taking a risk of never finding someone we may want to be with. We need courage to decide to have children and decide not to have them. Tell people how we really feel. Ask for help and take it. Be assertive. Say no. Apologise. Invest money. Invest feelings. Stand up to a bully. Stick to our principles when it would be easier and more convenient not to.
We need courage not just to be an artist — we need it to be a person who listens to their own heart, head and gut in every aspect of their life.
I’m lucky to have amazing friends whose acts of courage, smaller and bigger, inspire me to conquer my fear in the fields where I need it most. I’m proud of every single one of them. And so, on the first day of the New Year, I would like to wish everyone the ability to find your own golden ball of courage and never leave it behind.