The Outcome Doesn’t Even Matter

It’s not very often I come across a piece of wisdom that instantly blows my mind, especially when I’m not expecting it to happen, but on this particular day the stars aligned. Last month I attended a summer camp for grown-ups in the Catskill Mountains (the labor of love that is Camp GLP) and had already participated in three amazing workshops geared toward helping me elevate the impact of my coaching practice and fledgling writing career. Anticipating my mind would be overstuffed with resources and insights, I had registered next for an art class called, Drawing as Meditation: Mindfulness Anytime, Anywhere (offered by the wonderful author and illustrator Cynthia Morris).

I humbly admit that I wasn’t in the greatest frame of mind when I arrived and sat down in the grass with the rest of the participants. I was feeling overstimulated and more than a little insecure after spending so much time focusing on how to self-publish my first book. My inner critic was in rare form. Who do you think you are? Why would anyone want to hear what you have to say, anyway? You’re just wasting your time if you think your book is going help someone. Besides, you still haven’t shown the manuscript to a total stranger. I’m sure when you do you’ll finally have to come back to reality. I wasn’t looking for any artistic breakthroughs in the class. More than anything, I was just thankful for the opportunity to distract myself from my thoughts.

Cynthia started off by asking us what words we associated with the concept of drawing. As people offered up a string of negative responses, it became clear my inner critic was not the only one in attendance – difficult, technical, impossible, frustrating. After a discussion about the relationship between drawing and meditation, she asked us to close our eyes and led us through a guided meditation using our senses. As I eased into the experience, I listened to a flock of crows cawing in the distance, felt the breeze brush across my cheek and smelled the soil beneath me, still slightly damp from the previous day’s rain.

When we opened our eyes, we were each given a leaf and asked to study it without judgement – an invitation not just to look, but to truly see. Mine was already undergoing the fall transition from green to gold. I twirled the rigid stem between my thumb and index finger, admiring the network of veins branching out across its surface. When I held it up to the sunlight, I noticed how the tiniest veins formed a beautiful mosaic pattern and that its lobed edges were as thin as tissue paper. Finally, she instructed us to begin drawing.

The experience that followed is hard to describe with words. My pencil moved across the page in light, but confident strokes, not particularly caring about the final result. I felt a sense of intensely focused joy while documenting every jagged edge, curving vein and unique scar that made up this small miracle resting on my knee. My inner critic had momentarily evaporated.

Afterward, I laid down in the grass, refreshed and relaxed, while listening to the other participants comment on their own experiences. One person made the observation that after meditating, she was much less critical of her drawing abilities and more able to simply enjoy the act of drawing. Cynthia nodded in agreement and then she dropped the bomb – Isn’t it amazing, the stories we tell ourselves about some marks on a page that don’t even matter?

Instantly, my inner critic reappeared. Marks on a page that don’t matter? Don’t matter?? How could they not matter!?! My heart resonated with the truth of what she had said, but my inner critic wanted answers. I raised my hand and hesitantly asked how it was possible that the marks didn’t matter to her, when they very much mattered to her clients and patrons?

She responded by telling us how she had once completed forty illustrations for a book only to learn after turning them in that they were the wrong size and would have to all be done over again. Marks on a page that didn’t matter. Then she told us about one of her favorite projects – a beautifully illustrated deck of inspiration cards she had designed specifically for writers. After showing the final drawings to her friends, their feedback helped her realize she needed to make changes to virtually every card. Marks on a page that didn’t matter. Art, she explained, was like a Buddhist sand painting – painstakingly created and easily destroyed. The joy, therefore, wasn’t found in the idea or the outcome, but in the doing.

My inner critic was dumbfounded as it watched all it’s arguments against my book being swept away. I loved the act of writing. I loved documenting the lessons I had learned and all the ways I had figured out how to make sense of the tangled knot of stressful thoughts in my mind. I loved sharing my experiences with others, without the need for praise or approval. I realized I loved the process, plain and simple, and in that moment my whole world changed.

So often in life, we fall in love with an idea and then immediately put all our focus on the final product, believing that it matters most of all. But when we learn to find our flow within the process, we can trust that the outcome, whatever it may be, will resonate with the people who are meant to understand it.

How would taking the focus off the idea and the outcome help you find more joy in your processes today?