Painting Outside the Lines

What were the messages you received growing up around painting outside the lines? I was given messages that in life that I should stay inside the lines.

This staying inside the lines has many aspects to it. In terms of how I make money, people told me to go to college then get a good job working at a company for forty years so I could retire. People also told me that things had to be near perfect to be acceptable. “Lazy people create sloppy work,” people said.

The last few years, I found myself unlearning what I’ve been taught about painting in the lines. Painting in the lines holds us back in a big way. Painting in the lines isn’t wrong. It’s just that there’s so much more that’s possible, and we end up missing out.

A ‘paint in the lines’ mentality affects us in two main areas.

1. We Only Do What’s Done Before

In the larger scale, we only do what someone else has done already. We go to college and get a degree in an area that others have received degrees in before. We get a type of job that others have already held.

In making an impact in the world, painting in the lines looks like volunteering or giving to a non profit. We spend a couple hours once in a while, and check off the “giving back” box on our list. This is what we see others doing so we do more of the same without thinking if it’s something we care about or if we’re effective in a way that matches how we’re wired up.

2. We Don’t, For Fear of Failure

In the details, we only do something if we think we can be really good at it. We think if it’s flawed, then it’s no good. So we don’t write that book we wanted to write. We don’t finish that song we wrote. We don’t start that business we wanted to start. We don’t write that article, or start that blog. We’re afraid it won’t be any good, and we’ll be judged harshly.

And related to feeling like it needs to be perfect is feeling like we need to be qualified to make an impact in the world. We believe we need to get a Mother Teresa degree or we feel we’re not qualified to help homeless or mentor a friend or share with people how our marriage is working when so many others are ending. So we help with a few simple things and leave the rest to the “experts.” These experts by the way, are also often figuring things out as they go along, and are also challenged by the concept of painting outside lines.

Painting Outside the Lines

In truth the social lines I’m talking about here are made up. God didn’t ordain them. Often the real answers and the deep, meaningful work are outside the lines. The folks who are having the most fun and making the most money are out pioneering new things. The Wright Brothers didn’t have a pilots license. The first folks on the moon didn’t have a moon walking credential.

With that endeavor sitting on your back burner for oh so long, go for it, and make it really rough and cruddy so later it can be polished and smooth. You need to get your work out there. Do the best you can, and publish it even, all while it’s still rough around the edges. You need to paint and not worry about the lines, so that later on you can choose to paint in the lines if you wish. Otherwise, you’re not painting at all.

Mistakes aren’t the problem, they’re how you get there.

In life, I recommend you paint like there aren’t any lines. Paint a lot. Then paint more. And who knows maybe someday they’ll be remaking the lines to match your painting.

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