Mark Your Growth

Mark Your Growth

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Every time I write a check for our four-year-old’s preschool tuition, I cringe. I recently told my mom how much preschool costs and she gasped out loud. My husband and I did the math a while ago—the combined cost of putting three children through a total of seven years of preschool was somewhere in the neighborhood of buying a brand new SUV. Not a used SUV; a brand new SUV. 

Like I said: I cringe when I write the checks. 

Worth noting—our preschool isn’t fancy in the slightest. It’s been around for 40 years and the toys are, quite literally, that old. Most of them would be considered “antiques” by anyone’s standards.

Our preschool is “play-based” which means the kids mostly choose their own activities each day, moving from center to center based on whatever they’re interested in. The teachers moderate circle time and facilitate a daily art project, but I’ve wondered more than once how much “learning” is actually taking place. 

However, a few months ago my son came home with a backpack full of art, and I took a few minutes to study his work. 

Lo and behold, there it was: progress

I didn’t even have to dig up the (three?) pieces of art I had kept from the start of the year to notice the difference. I remembered the “art” from September—it was mostly scribbles and blobs of paint. There was nothing distinguishable or recognizable about his fall projects. He could have held up any one of them and I would not have known if it was a lion or a butterfly or a picture of his brother. 

Fast forward to February, though, and there was no mistaking this:

 
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Our family of stick figures. Distinguishable. Recognizable. 

Progress

(I loved this picture so much, I glued it to one of his yearbook pages.)

Fast forward to today, four months later, and he’s now copying characters out of books:

 
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Even more distinguishable.
Even more recognizable.

Progress.

***

A few weeks ago, a photo popped up on my Facebook memories and I quietly gasped in horror. It was a picture I had taken as a “professional” photographer—please note I use the word ‘professional’ loosely here—and shared with the world. 

And friends: it was horrible. You do not need to be a professional photographer to unanimously agree this image is horrendous:

 
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At first glance: what on earth? How many filters have been applied to this image? Why is everything so yellow and green? Yikes. At second glance: there is a tree trunk coming out of his head, there are parked cars in the background, the composition is boring. Either way—I think we all can agree—this photo has been overly processed and nothing about it looks natural. 

I showed it to my husband, laughing with amusement. 

“Isn’t it crazy that once upon a time, I thought this image was good?” I said, “Not only good—I shared it on Facebook because I was PROUD!” 

It made me wonder if—in five years from now—I will look back on photos I took yesterday and think they are garbage. 

***

Someone asked me once: “What was the hardest part of writing a book?” 

I can only speak for myself here—you’ll have to ask the other nine writers who collaborated on The Magic of Motherhood for their answers—but for me, the hardest part of writing a book was knowing the words would live in print forever. Those essays can never be edited again. They can never be improved, changed, made better. The words I wrote in 2016 are being read for the first time in 2019. It’s very possible those words will be read for the very first time in 2024, and 2030.

Yikes. 

On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think it’s bad to be slightly horrified by your previous work. I don’t think it’s a negative thing to even occasionally laugh at your previous work. I look at some of my work from my early twenties the same way I look at my 5th grade yearbook photo, in which I was obviously rocking butterfly clips across the top of my head in a row of braids: Isn’t that precious? 

I don’t want us to be condescending to our younger selves, or our younger work, but I think there is value in taking a moment to stop, look, and mark our growth. To notice our progress. To be a teeny tiny bit horrified of what we used to be proud of. 

Because that means we’re growing. 
We’re becoming better writers, photographers, artists. 
We’re improving. 

Every single day that we put pen to paper or pick up a camera or dip a paintbrush in paint, we are moving the needle forward in our creative work.

Your creative challenge this month: take a minute to notice your growth. Dig up some old projects, some old writing, some old art. Think about how proud you were of that work when you first completed it. Take a moment to honor and appreciate that version of yourself. Take a moment to honor how far you’ve come.

Can you see the difference between your work then and your work now?
How has it changed for the better? 
What aspect of your craft do you want to master next?

Come tell us about it in the Facebook group!

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