He finishes and holds up the piece of paper. “Mom. I’m done.” My 8-year-old shows me the snarling cougar he’ll enter for the school’s yearbook cover contest. “It’s good, right?”
Yes, it is good -- but I’m his mother. There are four grades above his, all with students who will also enter the contest. I debate my choices on how honest to get with him.
“Yes. It’s very good.” I pause. My eyebrows furrow and my right shoulder lifts to my ear, “But you do know -- not everyone who enters the contest wins, even if it’s a really good drawing, right?”
He doesn’t miss a beat, “I know.” He tucks the drawing into his yellow homework folder and as he walks away says to me over his shoulder, “But I don’t have a chance at winning if I don’t enter anything.” I nod silently, surprised. He’s my most creative child, most sensitive to criticism (and failure) child -- I don’t want him to be hurt if he doesn’t win. He walks back over to me, smiles, and says, “Even if I don’t win. I’ll be glad I tried. Plus, I really like to draw.”
The fourth week of my senior year of high school, my parents went to Hawaii on their 24th wedding anniversary. When asked why they didn’t just wait a year and go for their 25th, my mom said, “We didn’t want to miss this opportunity.” Three weeks after their return, my mom began to feel … off. By December, she was in therapy for the pain the doctor told her was in her head. On a non-descript Friday the following March, I drove her to the hospital after her primary doctor palpated a mass the size of a grapefruit on her abdomen. A week later, I wore thrift store jeans and a j.crew henley to hear her diagnosis: cancer. My mom died on a sunny Thursday at the end of May, just ten weeks after that first hospital admission -- four days before I graduated high school.
At eighteen, just when I was supposed to be stepping boldly out into adulthood, the foundation of my life crumbled away. It’s taken over a decade to find my footing.
A while ago, I found a journal from when I was nineteen. In it, I wrote, “I want to write so there can be purpose from this pain.” It’s fair to say I’ve wanted to write most of my adult life. But I’ve always had an excuse: too busy, too scared; where do I start, am I even any good, what’s the point? At my core, I thought writing was self indulgent. I wrestled in the tension of why writing in a journal wasn’t enough and why putting myself out into the world was unnecessary. It’s just writing. No one cares if I don’t write. Except a day didn’t go by without words stringing themselves together, thoughts marrying each other, and ideas exploding in my head. It was after my first child, a daughter, when the desire to write, to leave my words for her, words I’d give almost anything to have of my own mother’s, grew from a glowing ember into a blazing fire.
It’s a longer story, but in a moment of eviscerating transparency just a few years ago, I realized that if I were to die young like my own mother, the two things I’d regret not pursuing, not trusting myself to try, were writing and adopting. Different as night and day, yes, but both were heavy on my heart -- not just as something I wanted to do, but two things I felt I was supposed to be doing.
I was that girl that did all the right things, the safe things, the don’t-make-waves or bring too much attention things ... college, get married, get a job, have kids, buy a house. But in my heart, there was always something more. Something else. An unfulfilled longing. It wasn’t until, with the childlike confidence of my son, I trusted (in myself and in something beyond me) to simply admit: I like to write, I want to write, I think I’m supposed to write, I am going to start to write.
Why do we, as women, as mothers, have such a hard time trusting ourselves, trusting what is in our hearts to do? (Oh my goodness, please tell me I’m not the only one!) (See? Right there? I do it all the time.) Why do we second guess, think twice, play it safe when it comes to trusting ourselves to pursue our creative interests?
In life, when is it that we stop unabashedly saying things like I’m good at this, I like this, This is my dream, This what I want to try? Why is there some line drawn separating a child’s honest appraisal of his interests and talents -- and us, grown women, saying the same things? How is it that we mothers encourage our children to take risks and trust themselves, yet so often intentionally choose not to be an example of doing this ourselves?
A few months after my confession about writing and adopting, I decided to write an essay and audition for Listen To Your Mother (a performance where writers read their essays about motherhood to a live audience.) I got in. Not long after, I started writing a blog. As I continued writing, my ability to trust spilled over into other areas of my life -- from friendships, to motherhood, to big job decisions. Most notably, it felt like each little success with my writing helped me to trust that we were also supposed to go ahead and pursue adoption.
When I wrote that first essay for LTYM, never did I think I’d be on Coffee+Crumbs writing team. Nor did I imagine I’d have a daughter adopted from China (who’s been home already for 9 months!) Writing (or your thing) may not always be smooth, easy, or even your life’s ultimate purpose, but in trusting your passion to be creative, know it will take you exactly where you are meant to be.
This month, I want us to think about these seven areas of Trust:
Trust Your Story (Where You’ve Been): The most amazing part of your creative ability is that absolutely no one has the same experiences as you nor is able to see the world through your eyes. Your joys, your hurts, your grief, your hope. You, and you alone, can bring what’s inside of you out. The brilliant part? People want a perspective other than their own. Don’t be afraid to share yours.
Trust Where You Are: Babies crying 24/7? Up to your neck in diapers and spit up? Finally taking a breath during preschool hours, or juggling work and life and everything is just barely getting done? It’s okay. Don’t live in the past, don’t wish away right now for the future. This, right here, right now, is where you are supposed to be.
Trust You’ll Get There, When You’re Supposed To Be There: You’re here because you want to pursue creativity. So pursue. But didn’t push. You may have a goal. Good for you. But hold it loosely. Don’t let your determination distract you from where the path wants to take you. (I could lament over how I wish I started writing years ago, or, once I did start writing, over all the rejections I’ve received. But in a very grand, cosmic scheme of things, if I started writing at the age of twenty, we wouldn’t be here together now, nor would I have my adopted daughter.)
Trust Your Voice: As with motherhood, when we each have to find our way amongst the babywise, the babywhisperers, and the babywearers, we must also move forward with creative endeavors using our own cultivated style. Speak, write, draw, photograph your aesthetic. Don’t know yours? Examine what you love to read, look at, listen to: these are your best clues. As writers, some of us are sassy. Some of us are sweet. (Some have a gift of being a little of both.) Your art will be most compelling when it’s authentic.
Trust your Purpose: Intrinsic, extrinsic, a mixture of both? Spend some time this month thinking about why you write. Let your purpose be a beacon for you to navigate towards when you have trouble seeing your way.
Trust Your Process: Maybe you have a calendar with deadlines and write before dawn every day. Maybe you create at nap time and share your work sporadically. Maybe you have thoughts swimming in your head or write in fragments in your phone or scraps of paper and abscond to a coffee shop once a week (or a month?) for a two hour jam session where you mold your thoughts into a coherent form; maybe you write in a journal (with a pen!) or on your laptop at midnight. Maybe you, like me, do a little of all of this and are still waiting for a “real” process to stick. Whatever and however, pay attention this month to what works to get you writing. Then do that again and again.
Trust Yourself (You are who you were created to be): Listen to me: You were meant to do what your heart longs for. What you say has value. What you know has purpose. What you share of yourself will change lives.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Write the story of a time when you questioned yourself as a mother. What ended up happening?
Write about a time you trusted yourself (or went with your gut), what happened, did it turn out well? How did it make you feel afterwards? What did you learn?
Fast forward ten years and imagine you are given a devastating diagnosis. What is the thing (or things) you regret not trusting yourself to pursue in the last decade? Write to yourself about this with utmost honesty and a “really big life picture” perspective. Afterwards, take some time to pray or think or meditate on what you wrote. Do you need to make some changes? Do you feel like you’re on the right track?
1. Describe your Ideal Reader/Consumer/Client. Do you trust this Ideal Person (or an audience full of them) to find you? What can you do to find them? Is there a real person who fits this description? As you work this month, create for this person (can we call them your muse without sounding weird?) and see what happens.
2. Finish these sentences, then pick one to expand on (extra credit: do them all): I would trust myself more if… The person I trust most is… I have trouble trusting because … I trust in … I lost trust when …
3. I believe the opposite of trust is fear. Identify an area where you have a hard time trusting yourself. Then answer: What is it that I’m actually fearful of? What’s at the root of my fear?
4. What (or who) makes you question yourself? Is there a voice in your head? A person in your life (present or past)? A life event or situation? Write about it. Then, head on, tell it why it no longer has power over you. (And if it still does, tell us why, how it makes you feel, and what you want to do about it.)
5. Back when I was on top of things, I used to make photo books for each of my kids. Hands down, these are still their favorite books to look at. Kids love to see and hear about their own life. We are their memory keepers. So, write a story, one your child will want to read over and over one day, about when or how he trusted himself and what you, as his mother, thought of it at the time and how you feel about it now. (Extra credit: Make your child a photobook. Make sure to include pictures and stories about your child. For mommas with more than 2 kids, you can pass on this!)
Core Values are the guiding moral principles of your life and will help you know who you (really) are. Identifying them will help you help you make (or guide) decisions and, in general, trust yourself better. Pay attention this month to when your core values show up. (Hint: If they don’t show up, they aren’t your core values, so pick new ones.)
Click here to download our Core Values PDF.
Grab a pencil. Go through this list and circle any word that strikes a positive chord with you. Any word. Don’t think too hard. Feel free to add a word if it’s missing on this list. Next, go through your list of circled words and pick 10-15 words you think represent values you prioritize. Finally, pick your top five. Your core values are values you live out consistently; past and present, you hold onto them, above the others, despite any change of life circumstance. Write them in your journal or on an index card. Feeling brave? Share your top five core values in our Facebook group!
Artist Interview with Ruby Devine:
1. In writing, finding your voice seems similar to colorists finding their aesthetic. How did you come to do fashion colors (also known as mermaid hair or unicorn hair)?
It started way back when I began doing hair, around 2001, when the fun, funky-but-acceptable hair color was blood red. At the time, there weren’t any other colors in the professional world to use. So at 19 year's old, I went from having this virgin hair (never having dyed it before) to having a head full of bold plum and violet tones. I was the only person I knew with hair like that and I loved it. I didn’t even have clients that wanted it.
2. So how did you grow your clientele for fashion color?
When I was in California, I had a mentor who sent people my way. But when I came to DC, I was starting over. Social media made all the difference -- Instagram in particular. With IG, having an online portfolio was crazy easy. Plus, with hashtags, the opportunity for connections were endless. I used social media as a resource and learned how to use IG as a tool to stay connected and relevant online.
Besides doing it myself, in the beginning, I’d wait for that one open invitation -- like a client that I’d tease forever and I’d say “Hey, what about a pink streak in the front?” and eventually someone would say, “Yes!”
I didn’t have a lot of clients that wanted green hair, but I’d do it myself or convince someone to do it and I’d post a picture of beautifully executed green hair. I put what I wanted to do out there online in the hope that people who wanted that kind of hair would eventually find me. Little by little, more and more people started saying yes, and started coming to me because they knew I could give them the hair color they wanted.
Some people might look at me on social media and think it’s been a quick growth thing -- but it’s not. This is something I’ve been grinding away at for years.
3. Have you ever been discouraged from doing what you’re passionate about?
Yes! There was a woman I took a class from, she was gifted in the business side of running a salon, and she pointed to me and said, “Nobody’s ever going to pay you to do that. I don’t know why you’d ever waste your time learning to do those kinds of colors.”
4. How did you learn to trust yourself to do this non-traditional coloring?
Education. I am constantly educating myself. I was a connoisseur of education waaaay before I was an educator myself. Year's ago, I came across a woman on Facebook who taught a class on fashion colors. She was one of the first people to offer continuing education that wasn’t associated with a specific product line.
Picasso didn’t have one brush, right? So by getting familiar with all the available product lines and different techniques, I had a lot more choices and confidence.
You’ll get a different outcome if you color a canvas with crayons or with high dollar acrylics, even if it’s by the same artist. So education on what you can use. And practice... I just kept doing it.
5. Having mermaid hair is not a small decision or commitment. How did you get women (and men) to trust you to dye their hair in these bright bold colors?
I was my own billboard. I was all in and encouraged people to do it by wearing it myself. I’d work with clients who wanted some fun color and we’d figure out ways to do it in a subtle way. I’d make them feel safe and give them options -- like a color that will still look great as it fades or in a place that’s concealable for work. That’s why I started doing color panels under the main hair and how I came up with “Underlights.” [Ruby’s original technique that’s now seen all over the fashion-hair color world.] And the more I did, the more people trusted me to do it to them.
6. As an artist, can you tell us your process for getting better at what you do?
I’m constantly digging to be better than what I was yesterday. My goal is that when you come to my chair, your haircut and color is better than it was the last time. And I really want every client to believe it. For fashion colors, which is 100% creative and totally art-based, I’m constantly asking what haven’t I seen? If my initial thought is that’s kinda ugly, I know I’ve nailed it. I trust myself to do good work, but if I can’t immediately grasp onto it, I trust it’s far enough out there that it’s pushing me and my work forward. That process is something that drives me.
7. What does this creative work mean to you?
I’ll never be able to say in words how much what I do feeds me. [She starts to choke up.] I know if feeds me beyond what other people think is reasonable. I don’t even know how to say it to make it sound right. But I feel so lucky and blessed that I have something that I can look forward to doing every day. There’s a big difference between servicing another client, and the artistry of doing this kind of hair color.
The day I got my diagnosis (thyroid cancer December, 2016), I’d already had the day planned to do my friend’s hair for a coloring competition. It was that day when I realized how important this is to me. All I wanted to do was do her hair. I dove into the process. It was my peace, my solace. It was everything. Nothing else matters for me when I’m standing behind a chair. It’s like I just give in to it.
8. What would you say to someone who is just starting out, who doesn’t have as much experience (or doesn’t have as many followers) who wants to do what you’re doing?
Never stop working at it. When people ask me this question, or even other hairdressers sometimes say, ‘Man, I really want what you have’-- I say, ‘No you don’t.’ And they don’t! They aren’t willing to do what I do.
If you’re willing to stand next to me all day and put every ounce of heart and soul into it and not stop, then okay. Being a good hairdresser, in my opinion, is not only the artistry of it, but knowing how to take care of people. I gotta remember -- I wouldn’t be able to give my art if I didn’t have people willing to sit in my chair and let me do it. I’m 17 years in, and I’m still working really hard. It kinda is daunting, but that’s also how I think it should be.You need to be willing to make some sacrifices. But that goes for everything, right? If it was easy, everyone would do it.
9. Do you have a mantra that guides you in life or your work?
I know this is going to sound annoying, but it’s YOLO: You only live once. And not just because of my current health issues. But it is where my bravery and trust comes in. When I’m making color formulas out of the air -- I mean, obviously I have an idea of what I’m doing -- but often times, I’m just trusting it. I’m trusting that the product will perform. I’m trusting myself, in my head and in my gut, to know what I’m doing. And even if it doesn’t come out just right, it’s gonna be rad and we’re gonna love it anyways. YOLO! I ask myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ and I really do wonder, ‘What’s worse? Not trying and being upset that I didn’t try it, or trying and failing?’
10. Have you ever failed?
Oh my gosh, yes. Way back when I started, I did my friend’s hair in my living room. No mirrors, nothing. The next day she comes to me and says, ‘You know what? I think I want to go a little bit shorter.’ And I said, “yeah, I was thinking that while I was doing it.” Now, mind you, I was barely out of beauty school. I start cutting it and when I get done, she looks at it and says, “I hate it” and a silent tear runs down her cheek. She reached up to touch it and then started to sob. I felt so bad, I gave her money to go somewhere to get it fixed!
11. Mothers often struggle with how to balance time spent on creative pursuits with time dedicated to our children or other responsibilities. What would you say to us?
I’ve always said, my work is an acceptable mistress. I don’t have kids, so I can dive into this all day, everyday. The fun thing about creative based passions when you have a family is that you can wrap your children into it -- whether you love to draw or write or anything, you can do it with or teach your kids. Not to mention, your family can inspire and nourish that creative side. Sure, you can’t give it everything. I doubt there’s ever a perfect balance. But I think there is such beauty to draw from as a creative when you have a family.