My Life, My Art: How to Make 2016 Your Kick-Ass Year

Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film. Your bright eyes and easy smile is your museum. - Steven Pressfield
Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film. Your bright eyes and easy smile is your museum. – Steven Pressfield

We live our lives. We don’t make our lives. Isn’t that right?

Of course not. I know you know this.

We make the lives we live – step by step, plunge by plunge. We construct, formulate and compose a production using our energies and spirit along with whatever else is thrown our way.

Currently our life’s play is stimulating, wonderful, dissatisfying, miserable, boring or downright dull. Yours may be infused with drama, a mishmash of responsibilities and consequences, just plain messy or ho-hum.

Unable to put your finger on what you don’t like about the scene in progress is bad enough. But now here comes an unwelcome interruption from a backstage voice booming a line that makes me cringe:

“You made your bed, now go lie in it.”

This is a punitive way of saying that we create the conditions of our condition.

Perhaps. But I don’t buy you have to stay in that bed.

Life as you know it can be better.

Inside Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy.
Inside Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy.

The Habit of No Change

The launch of an entrepreneurial venture or a decision to change for the better may require an internal revolution for many of us who may not wallow in resistance, but do have our toes in it.

  • 50% of folks 40-59 say they are missing something in their lives.
  • 21 million US residents 50-70 are preparing for an encore career.

Source: AARP Bulletin, 12/2015.

 The tricky conundrum of not doing what needs to be done faces each of us daily.

We are delinquents when it comes to change and risk. We do not tackle the hard work. We procrastinate. We lack discipline.

Would you like to bet how many individuals will make changes in the coming year to make their lives better?

How many of those encore careers will get off the ground?

I’ve picked two consecutive Kentucky Derby winners (2014 and 2015) plus this year’s Triple Crown winner. I’ll wager “a very few” individuals will do what it takes – present company included.

Come on. It’s true.

Busy in make-up and wardrobe, most will not examine the 2016 script for the grand story arc. Nor will you ask for even small re-writes to improve the play because you’ll have to learn new lines.

You’ll do a predictable performance this coming year.

Let’s go back to those who will live differently in 2016.

What inspires “the very few” to make the changes to live more of the life they want?

After middling along for years, how can you get a steely-eyed focus for a better life?

I have a fire in my belly for the coming year. What I will get done in 2016 will be amazing.

Mind you, I haven’t been doing all that bad living the life I want. (You can ask around.)

But this new “get moving now, you’ve-got-work-to-do attitude” blowing tornadoes inside of me feels not only powerful, but quite exciting.

Let me teach you what I learned.IMG_3316

Pulling Up Into Sublime Retrospection

My daughter and I are co-founders of We shared the responsibilities up until the last two years when her new business, a child, a move, lots of networking in a new city – well you get the picture.

Several months ago she sent a task to me and asked if I could take it on. Normally, I’m receptive without reservation.

This time I wasn’t. (She’ll read this post so you can bet we’ll talk soon.)

I did the task because I’m a good mom and business partner.

But something has changed in my perspective on my time, energy and focus. I had been studying and contemplating what it means to come to new conclusions about how we live our lives. Namely, “your life is your art.”

I discovered the act of reframing is one powerful tool.

“Hey,” I said in an imaginary response to Elizabeth, “don’t you know that my life is my art. This is going to take time away from my art. And my art demands I do different things now. So how about YOU do it.”

For the very first time ever, I said the words, “My life is my art.”

Whoa. Pretty amazing for me even if only uttered in my head.

I don’t do art. I never unleashed nor searched for my inner artist. In the hot fire new craze of adult coloring books, I don’t want one.

Don’t get me wrong.

I love art – painting, pottery, plays, music and great writing. My house and life are filled with art.

Art that is the work of artists. This is not my work.

I have never thought of myself as an artist. Not me. Never.

Until now.

Now? Wow. Now I am an artist.  And wow again. I am not talking about the writing I do.

I am an artist in a bigger venue. My gifts, talents, preferences, and choices are creatively applied to make a life. Time is my canvas.

Thinking of my life as “art” explains what I do every day in a way that enchants me and elevates my awareness of time and accomplishment.

I adore it.

Nothing revolutionary about how life’s predicaments are the result of every day decisions

But when I see my life as my art, an often missed key variable receives a boost – the focus on outcomes.

Goals and priorities, yep, I do that. But focus? I have a thousand reasonable excuses and things that get in the way of a sturdy discipline toward accomplishments and outcomes.

Concentrated effort on completion is a key driver for artists.

In art, what matters is the finished artwork.

In life, what matters is the finished life.

Most of us are content allowing what we do each day to shape our life. We resist the real work of a better life or of testing our potential.

If your life is art, the demands are higher.

There is a dark side to our nature that allows us a pass on getting tough with what needs to be done. We say “It will all work out” or “Let’s just wait and see.” This is your mean evil twin talking. He’s a bullshit artist.

Commitment to your art means you’ll draw a straight line to outcomes.

Thinking about art doesn’t produce anything. Eventually, we must create, make and do.

Perhaps, like me, you never thought of yourself as an artist or that your life is your art.

Why do you need to think of life as your art if you’re doing okay?

Because doing “okay” isn’t all that good. Who falls in love with “okay” art?

The last third of your life is in sight. What’s possible for you may be slimming down, but there’s still a chance to change up life and make it better.

The world displays perfect neutrality on whether we achieve any outward manifestation of our inner desires. But not art. --The War of Art
The world displays perfect neutrality on whether we achieve any outward manifestation of our inner desires. But not art. –The War of Art

A New Set of Instructions

My secret is reading 3-star book reviews on Amazon. Unlike 5-star reviews (gushy) or 1-star reviews (hateful), the 3 star reviews are balanced, insightful and more than once lead me to a better book than the one I started to explore.

The better book this time is Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. This unpretentious little paperback book published in 1993 is about “making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart.”

Written by two lifelong friends in who have been artists, as well as other things, for most of their lives this book has significant value to many individuals who don’t think of themselves as artists at all.

The book is about what it feels like to try to do the work you need to do, about leaving life unfinished, living a life that does not feel fully your own, repeating yourself, and stopping too soon.

Now many of you have already deemed that you are not an artist and to make life your art sounds a little like swinging a crystal or going into a sweat lodge.

But if you are one of the 50% who feel life could be better, are on the verge of creating a new work life or decide“okay” is underwhelming, stay with me.

I am forever practical and this works.

The Artists Code

“Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” written by Elizabeth Gilbert is a celebration of a creative life. Gilbert explains that doesn’t mean (just) painting or writing but encompasses something larger: a worldview that extols the pursuit of any activity that takes you out of yourself and opens you to the experience of wonder and joy.

This could mean drawing, it could mean raising goats, it could mean learning to ice skate.

Living creatively, according to Gilbert, does not necessarily mean “pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts,” but “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

By viewing my life as my art I may be willing to risk a little or a lot in more interesting ways. Perhaps I’ll simply finish what I know I need to do. Or I’ll decide what and who is unnecessary in my life and eliminate them in one grand swoop.

Either way, art gives you power.

But you don’t just wake up and call yourself an artist. You have to earn the right to be one.

The artist’s platform is a set of beliefs perhaps unspoken but not secret.

These beliefs form the foundation of my now calling “my life” art:

  1. Art is any creative endeavor.

            2. Art is work. It is not mystical. It does not require extraordinary talent.

            3. Art demands respect. Not perfection but reverence of improvement.

            4.  Art is an act of will. Make up your mind and do it.

The beginning of a new year always asks us to reflect in big ways about how we are living our lives.

What does our life mean? Have we lived it right? Are there vital acts we’ve left unperformed? Is it too late?

Those are good questions – big questions -and deserve answers. But right now, it seems the work in front of me is to approach the creative endeavor of my life in smaller ways.

The quiet and joyful simple acceptance that life is a work of heart and soul is enough to begin.  

I am an artist. My life is my art. What do I need to complete? What do I need to do?


IMG_3111Be an Artist Starting Now

No one much cares whether you change your life up or not. But someone has to do the work of your living.

Artmaking could become a way of life. 2016 could be the beginning of committing to your future in a new way.

Your artistic development begins with three questions:

What is your art really about?

Where is it going?

What stands in the way of getting it there?

Source: An Artist’s Survival Guide by Bayles and Orland.

Making life artful will only be productive when you are grounded in the practicality of making art.

Four Ways Toward Artmaking Your Life

1.       Don’t Pretend to Make Art. It’s easy to think that the individuals doing great things with their lives know what they are doing, and they, unlike you, feel good about themselves and their lives. They are no more certain than you about their path or destiny. But they are taking steps that are visible. You either are or you aren’t making art. Show me the art.

2.       Don’t Tell Me What You Don’t Have. You have a voice, time and you have freedom. Ground yourself in those three things and you have the power of self-mastery. You job is to draw a line from your life to your art that is straight and clear. The only voice you need is the voice you already have.

3.       Be Petrified. That time is running out and you’re not doing enough with your life. Take the project that will make you stretch. Take the step in front of you that has “failure” written all over it. Forget that article you think you want published go for the book. Be petrified every day that things won’t work out. Then get over it and get to work.

4.     Be Alone. When all is said and done, artists return to their studio and practice their art alone. “That simple truth may be the deepest bond all of us share,” write Bayles and Orland.

5.       Stay on Top of Your Life All Day Every Day. Show up every day and do the most important things. Let less important things slide.

 “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by successes or failures. --Elizabeth Gilbert

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by successes or failures. –Elizabeth Gilbert

Are Your Hopes and Dreams on Your Hard Drive?

Some of my hopes and dreams are on my hard drive. Some are in my heart. Some I need to discover.

For most of us time is no longer youthful. Yet I believe with all my heart we can live life more fully.

I am sure there’s a tiny voice inside of you asking for more than the life you are living.

This hunger for a better life. That’s your art calling.

I am grateful to have you as a reader. I wish you grace and speed in the coming year. -- Barbara. In front of Argentine artist, Ariel Dawi's "Big Red," which took me 5 weeks to decide to buy and makes me smile every day.
I am grateful to have you as a reader. I wish you grace and speed in the coming year. — Barbara.
In front of Argentine artist, Ariel Dawi’s “Big Red,” which took me 5 weeks to decide to buy and makes me smile every day.

About Barbara Pagano

Barbara Pagano,Ed.S., author and speaker, influenced over 3,500 executives in organizations to achieve higher performance. She is now on a mission to help individuals extend their career arcs and craft lifestyles of productive longevity.
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