Take-Home Message: Don’t erect more barriers for yourself. When opportunity knocks, kick down the door.
Your best work could be waiting for you. Maybe you’ve dubbed yourself as someone unqualified to complete one of your ideas. Maybe you’ve given up when success was just another furlong down the path. By fabricating excuses, we erect more hurdles to jump over on our way to greatness. Whatever the case, don’t forego that greatness for mediocrity.
One famous example of this from history can be found in the story about the Sistine Chapel:
“In 1508, 33-year-old Michelangelo was hard at work on Pope Julius II’s marble tomb, a relatively obscure piece now located in Rome’s San Pietro in Vincoli church. When Julius asked the esteemed artist to switch gears and decorate the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo balked. For one thing, he considered himself a sculptor rather than a painter, and he had no experience whatsoever with frescoes.*”
Reluctantly, Michelangelo accepted the job and set to work on what is regarded to this day as one of the most outstanding art portrayals of the relationship between God and Man. In spite of this acclaim for Michelangelo’s work, the painting allegedly came at a great personal cost to him.
In a letter of correspondence crafted as a poem to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia**, Michelangelo mentioned various physical hurdles the painting required of him. These include an alleged developed goiter from looking upwards as well as complaints of his face making a nice floor for paint to drip upon. He also made reference to a desire to leave the project.
“My painting’s dead. I’m done.
Giovanni, friend, remove my honor’s taint,
I’m not in a good place, I cannot paint.”
–Michelangelo’s Letter to Giovanna da Pistoia
Popular conjecture even remains that Michelangelo may have developed partial-blindness from painting on scaffolding while laying on his back. While some historians dispute this claim, it no less dismisses the great physical toll this work took upon Michelangelo.
Yet, in spite of this, Michelangelo’s work prevails as one of the most hailed pieces of artistic creativity and insight. And all in spite of his initial reluctance to accept the gig, and his claims of not being a painter.
I reflect on this story because I think it holds many truths about our own pathways toward success. I often find myself analyzing any and every decision until I can come up with enough excuses to entirely dismiss the choice. This is an unhealthy practice. In fact, it’s cheating myself when I do this. I’m cheating myself not only out of an opportunity for success, but also out of an opportunity for substantial personal growth.
We are all expert con artists with ourselves, though, because we intimately know the things that make ourselves most uncomfortable and dismayed. When I have big decisions, I find it hard to overlook these self-erected barriers with the confidence that I can overcome them. Yet, each time I say to hell with it, and decide to go follow my gut, find a way and keep moving, I can feel the growth that takes place as a result–even if the hurdles have to be climbed rather than jumped.
I think this is an important element for every self-starter out there. I’ve been dealing with it for most of my life, and the more people I talk to about it, the more I find it to be a common thing to overcome. For me it has taken a conscious effort and an awareness of this to begin making strides toward eradicating the unhealthy excuses altogether. Following your gut shouldn’t be so scary. It should feel natural.
So, when opportunity knocks, stop holding out to see if it will ring the door bell and eventually leave if you don’t answer. Stop fearing the uncomfortable scenarios pursuing new chances might create. Stop squashing your chances for greatness. You might be a sculptor instead of a painter, either way, you’re an artist. Just pick up the damn brush and start painting!
*”7 Things You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.