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Progress Not Perfection

I’m still working on honoring my full humanity. Yet I’m a very long way from where I started.

Watercolor painting by Nicole Sylvia Javorsky

To my dearest Doodle Soupsters,

In 2018, I lived near Washington, D.C., in Arlington, VA. I'd pass by an art gallery called Gallery Clarendon all of the time on my way to go grocery shopping or just while going for walks in my neighborhood.

I was really focused on watercolors back then, but I was pretty shy about my art. I'd been told so many times that art is not a career by people close to me. I'd learned to cast off parts of myself and I was so scared to acknowledge just how important art is to me.

Because then, what would happen? I'd have to honor that truth. I'd have to find a way to listen to myself. I'd have to untangle my hesitation, why I'd hide instead of embrace what I love.

I needed to make art. I needed to make art to heal. I needed to make art so I could hear my own voice again.

Art is something I do so naturally. It's how I speak. It's how I find the words. And as I've discussed in Chicken Doodle Soup before, art is revealing. Art peels back the layers and uncovers what's hidden.

Anyway, back to the story I was starting to tell you! Since I lived really close to the gallery, I decided to submit my work to the art call on whim.

And four years ago, I received the following email.

email saying I got into the juried exhibition

I got in!

But then, the panic set in — "I'm so nervous! I've never done a gallery show before!"

I worried I'd miss something important. I was afraid I'd make some mistake and they’d be like, "Nope, you can’t be in the show anymore!"

I worried about whether I would frame the painting correctly. I worried about accidentally breaking the frame before delivering the artwork to the show.

And then, it was all fine! (Of course, it would have also been fine if it wasn't all fine. But it was all fine, as you can see very clearly in the photo below.)

me at my first art gallery show in 2019
Me at my first gallery show in 2019 standing next to my watercolor painting, "Walked for Miles to Find This Edge"

I mean, I was beaming! I was so excited to be a part of the exhibition and share my art.

Okay, about a month ago, my fiancé and I went to adopt our cat Milo (the cutie below!) ...

a picture of my cat Milo with an art book and sketchpad

At the animal shelter, we were talking with a volunteer about her tattoo.

The tattoo said in all caps, PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow Chicken Doodle Soupster named Chelsea (you can read her writing here) shared her love of the phrase "progress not perfection" in a reply to one of my newsletter editions.

It's like the universe has been sending me signs lately about letting go of perfectionist tendencies...

The truth is my perfectionism was never about the surface level worries looping over and over in my mind.

Behind the anxiety was my pain ... my sadness, my broken heart asking me to tend to the bleeding. To feel the aching in my chest.

Because if I just took the good news in without worrying about what happens next, it'd be real. And then, I'd have to delve into the dissonance. And then once I'd dig deeper, I'd feel deeply sad that I didn't believe in myself. I'd feel upset that people close to me didn't encourage me to pursue what I do best, what makes my heart dance. I'd feel grief about my past. I'd feel sad that I didn't share my art more. And I'd want to change my behavior. I'd feel devastated about how misunderstood I felt for so many years — how long I felt like I couldn't share or even be my true self.

So, sharing my art more isn't simply sharing my art more. There's layers to it. Even though my nature can be pretty joyful and keen to experiment, to let things unfold, I’ve experienced so much trauma and pain. Trauma, especially complex or long-term trauma, can shake your sense of self. A lot happened while my brain was still developing. My experiences affected how I saw myself, my value and worthiness, what I have to offer.

Despite not really considering myself a perfectionist or identifying with that, perfectionism cropped up in a lot of my thoughts and behaviors. Trying to catch every potential misstep was how I dealt with powerlessness. It began as a way to feel a sense of control when I didn't have enough. Once you put the pieces together, name what happened, then you can understand what wasn't your fault. Then you can understand what you couldn't have ever prevented on your own, even if you somehow did everything perfectly.

Four years ago, I couldn't access or talk about the vast majority of my childhood and adolescence, even parts of my early adulthood. So many very real scary things had happened and I didn't find the right support until I was 20. But over the past few years, I've been piecing my story together. I've been naming what happened. I've been singing what happened. I've been drawing what happened. I've been talking about it. I've been writing about it.

And now, I can untangle this fear of making mistakes. I've explored what's underneath. I'm ready.

And now, I can truly know my worth.

I'm sharing my art knowing what I have to offer. Recognizing how much art means to me.

Now, I can tell myself how proud I am.

I’m still working on honoring my full humanity. Yet I’m a very long way from where I started.

And that’s progress!

Honoring the progress I've made so far,

Nicole Sylvia Javorsky

P.S. One more detail...

This week, I posted on Facebook about my first gallery show. Frieda (who bought the painting at Gallery Clarendon in 2019) commented and included a picture of the painting hanging in her living room!

Frieda who bought the painting commented with a picture of the painting on her living room wall


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