Beethoven portrait sketch

Ditching a Self-Bullying Mindset

monteverdi composer sketch portrait
As part of learning to draw and reading about music history, I’m doing a quick daily portrait of a composer. Here’s opera pioneer Monteverdi and his badass beard.

I’m one of those Type-A people who enjoys filling a 30-day calendar challenge with X’s. Solidly motivating for me, or at least a simple reminder to practice my Italian!

Recently I saw a challenge with a different take: a repeating loop of “do activity, get less awful.” (Paraphrased.)

I found it funny…until Chelsea pointed out how that mindset is essentially bullying myself. Which hadn’t registered at all for me. 

In fact, I often beat myself up for falling short of self-prescribed expectations. I want to be GOOD at things. But what does that even mean? 

If we think we’re not “good” at something, is there a finish line? There’s always someone more skilled at a hobby, richer, fitter than us.

How freeing would it be to drop all (or at least most) comparisons and be happy with our efforts and current abilities simply for the joy of the activity? Enjoy the journey, not the results. Draw composers because the process entertains me, not for the finished sketch.

Would you trade it all?

Reminding myself how much effort and sacrifice goes into proficiency – much less mastery – of anything helps me gain perspective. As Ryan Holiday writes, would you permanently swap your entire life with someone – negative and positive aspects – to have their talent?

I sure wouldn’t trade all my hours of travel and outdoor adventures for portrait drawing ability or the wizardry to play Beethoven piano sonatas. (Welllll…how many hours are we talking here?)

This felt like a powerful reminder that approaching life’s activities with a negative mindset – “I’m not good enough, so I need to improve myself” is a recipe for life-long disappointment. “I’m bad at piano, so I need to practice” pales for long-term motivation next to “this process is satisfying and I’m excited about learning it no matter the progress.” I want to practice the latter.

What if we talked to ourselves the way we talk to a best friend? Supportive. Inquisitive. Loving us for who we are and celebrating us as a human being, not a human doing. If we can do that for our closest friends, surely we can do so for ourselves.

I’m still aiming to put the X on the calendar to keep my streaks alive. And also to feel fine if I miss a day or struggle with a piece of music.

Practice–>Enjoyment–>Practice–>Enjoyment. That’s a loop I want to be in!


P.S. Check out this podcast with Jim Loehr from minutes 25-30 for more insight on our inner voice. From the chat: “Would you broadcast what your inner voice is saying on a Jumbotron?”

Beethoven portrait sketch
Beethoven! Looking a bit stern and with six fingers because hands are impossible to draw. Just ignore the bike flying over his head.
6 replies
  1. Go Jules Go
    Go Jules Go says:

    Funny, I just listened to a podcast interview yesterday (Mad FIentist on ChooseFI) that had a very similar message! And yay to Chelsea for pointing it out, because I don’t think I would have gotten there on my own, either!

    P.S. – I think you should turn these sketches into Traipsing About merch. And then people will buy them. And you’ll make money. And make more merch. How’s THAT for a loop?!
    Go Jules Go recently posted…I’m Having a Party and You’re InvitedMy Profile

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Cool! The Mad FIentist drops some wisdom for sure. His music project and evolution away from talking about FI to other interests was cool to follow.

      All Traipsing merch is a one-off, original piece of art. The cost is prohibitive. Plus I just want to have FUN with it, no pressure. 🙂

  2. Chris@TTL
    Chris@TTL says:

    Haha, hadn’t heard the “human being, not a human doing” line before. I like that. And it’s true.

    It’s way too easy to get caught up in the routine of completion, of checking off the task list and suggesting that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. But it’s only what our past selves said our future selves ought to do.

    And my past self, at least if we go far back enough, wouldn’t even recognize the current me. So who is he to dictate my life?

    You’re right, it’s the process of right now.
    Chris@TTL recently posted…FIRE Budget In-Depth: Unusual Ways We Spent $40,862 in 2020My Profile

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      I dig the past/future self concept! A cool way to think about it. So many things we can do because of sunk cost fallacy or what others will think. Begone with that and onward with doing things because they make us feel awesome!

  3. D to the G
    D to the G says:

    Extraordinary message! I love the human being vs human doing quote and agree 100% that we have intrinsic value that usually gets overlooked – and that our perceived value comes from what we produce. That ordinary way of thinking makes young adults seem more valuable than older adults and raspberry bushes better in the summer than winter. But all are required for these systems to exist so why establish a value hierarchy as if our judgments matter? I think it’s similarly funny when we say we like sunny but not rainy days, being done with a workout but not actually exercising, etc. And I think you’re spot on explaining that this approach is designed to fail – Just defining a given pursuit as a problem keeps us in a loop of inadequacy. Truly gorgeous post – Thank you!


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