I began painting this series of paintings as part of my growth journey. I'd already explored more difficult emotions and painted about my journey through them. But now I was ready to go from coping with and navigating difficult emotions to exploring ways I could develop inner strength, and hold onto hope when the next of life's challenges decided to come my way. I also knew that many others were on similar journeys, and I wanted to begin conversations, share our insights, and inspire others to understand the foundations of becoming, and staying a strong woman - or human really. While there are many emotions that help build our character, I believe that the four I chose to paint for this series “Elements”, create a foundation, and that the others will come after these four are firmly rooted.
I've also come to realize that it is how we respond to challenges, that shapes who we become. We can either become bitter, forever angry, and crumple under the weight of adversity, or we can choose to learn. Each lesson adding new layers to our character. This is where the 4 qualities of a great leader come in. Experience is the best teacher, and for any that have gone through adversity and thrived, they are in a unique position to help others do the same.
Click on an image to see the paintings that inspired this post in my Shop.
STRENGTH - "Roots"
Going through adversity or challenging situations, we learn to dig deep and find the principles we will choose to live by. We begin to grow roots around the foundations of who we’re becoming, what we are learning to believe, and what we are deciding to stand for. Through practice, we begin to believe in ourselves and our decisions.
This strength, begins from the roots of our core beliefs. Up to the strong trunks that don’t allow others’ to easily change our course. Branches that reach out to learn, grow and feed our beliefs. Up to the flowers that represent how we can share our strengths and lessons learned, and lead in bettering the world around us. This is what I believe strength is. It can be found in any body shape, any age group, any culture, and status and any sex.
HOPE - "Nebula"
A nebula is a region where new stars are beginning to form and is sometimes called a star nursery.
You've heard the saying that hope dies last. It is as if an ember remains even when our fire has been extinguished. The region within us where great things are born, just like the nebula in the sky, creating new dreams.
Sometimes it felt like I had to choose hope perennially even when hope seemed foolish, to keep myself sane. Hope helps us put one foot in front of the other each day. Hope can give us our why. Hope is our star nursery. A promise to ourselves that we will reach our goals if we don’t give up. A true leader, leads by example and by choosing hope, we inspire others to do the same.
HAPPINESS - "Bliss"
At what age did we forget how to just being happy? Barring an abusive childhood, when we were young we simply did things to make ourselves happy. Then something shifts. We all hit an age where we suddenly became self-aware. Sometimes so much so that many of us simply gave too much away. We allowed others to tell us how we should look, how to act, how much to tolerate, what our values should be, what to hide away about ourselves, what masks were acceptable to wear. In that process of giving away our complete power we may have lost our happiness. It is very difficult to be examples or lead if in our core we are unhappy. And so we go searching for inner happiness again, and go back to listen to that inner child, and what she or he wants.
Something I’ve discovered on my search for this “happiness” is that it’s okay to not always feel it. We won’t always feel bliss, content, or even happy. There are going to be awful days when we want to pull out our hair and scream at the world. When we think we could never feel happy again. It seems to me that the harder we fight against the dark days, the stronger they cling. For myself, I've noticed that when I'm okay and concede to the shifts in my emotions, allowing the negative to flow over and around me, then the good days seem to return sooner. I think bliss comes from accepting the ebb and flow of feelings, emotions, and life. Finding the little things everyday for which we can be grateful, being open to receiving love and praise, forcing ourselves to take tiny steps forward in our learning journeys and giving of ourselves and our knowledge to others. When we have deep inner contentment or "bliss", it can't help but emanate from within. Others see it and are motivated to be the same. We want the best for others because we are truly at peace within ourselves, and this is a great leadership quality.
Self-Love - "Grace"
It seems to me that this is the most important of the 4 traits in our foundation of growth, and leading by example. Yet it is also the most difficult to achieve. It’s almost foreign to many of us, as I believe that we’re afraid of appearing, or becoming narcissistic. Yet a wise man once said that we need to love others as ourselves. Far from narcissistic, it is an essential first step in loving others and creating a healthy world.
Truly loving oneself is such a difficult thing to do, that I’m happy to be seeing a huge movement supporting the notion of it. There is more body positivity, women supporting one another and a shift from focusing on the external to building up our souls.
That being said, I too am guilty of valuing (or not valuing) myself based on outward appearances. I’ve dreamed of fixing my nose, wishing my lips were fuller, considering procedures that would make me look less tired, or younger etc. I’m also an artist so I value beautiful things, as we all do. I think what it comes down to is gratitude. I have to ask myself, what am I grateful for about myself? And then taking those attributes and really cherishing them. Maybe some of these are physical, but since our physical bodies inevitably deteriorate, we also need to focus on what we stand for. Our inner qualities, thoughts, motives, and dreams. I think we even need to go so far as to appreciate simply being. Allowing ourselves to enjoy each moment. To savor things like the sun on our skin, or an early morning hot coffee or tea cupped in our sleepy hands. The energy in young children. A dear friend’s text or call. The scent of the earth after a rainfall. When we can also say, ‘yes, I belong here on this planet’, ‘my thoughts are relevant’, ‘my feelings matter’, ‘there’s only one me and my voice can make a difference’. This is when age, gender, ethnicity, or the state of our body are finally seen as irrelevant. We are worthy of love from others and ourselves because we are.
When we begin to see ourselves this way, another shift occurs, and we begin to see others this way too. They also have wounds they are trying to heal, fears, shame, dreams, anger, love – worth.
We are all human. This way of thinking becomes what is termed a “virtuous cycle”. When constructive cause and effect cycles reinforce each other, they lead to a continuously positive outcome. If we become the initiator of such virtuous cycles, then we are leading effectively.