Garden of Earthly Delights

“Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
To give yourself to it.”

–The Buddha

My high school art teacher was a worldly, well-heeled woman who hailed (ironically) from a North Carolina tobacco farm. She wore flashy Fifth Avenue fashions through the halls of our gritty public high school and brought us fine chocolates to sample, just for inspiration. Pinned to her bulletin board—crowded between faded reprints of Bosch, Botticelli, and Van Gogh—was a simple sign in hand-blocked letters: “It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it.” In all her flamboyance, Mrs. P. herself was a living example of this credo.

I remember asking her about this saying one day. I can still see her perfectly outlined, orangey-red lips forming the response: “I don’t care if you paint your toenails or a picture of the Taj Mahal,” she said. “Do it with style. Put yourself into it.”

Mrs. P. marked me forever by letting me know that what mattered most in my work was me. But in my warped little teenage brain, the writing on her wall also became seed of a certain neurosis, one that I still have trouble shaking. It goes like this: I should be able to summon my inner resources and be happy doing anything, anywhere. If I can’t, then I’m a failure.

Hmmm … so maybe that was a little harsh. And bad juju to carry into the working world.

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