First off…Happy late Thanksgiving if you are from the Americas, and Happy start of the holiday season for everyone else.
This week I want to talk about self-improvement and how it relates to becoming a better artist/designer. The topic came to me this week as I was trying to help my son with his Math homework. Helping my son was like staring straight into the past and looking at myself at his age. Man, I hated everything about math. (I know exactly why now, and no longer suffer such afflictions these days.) Like younger me, my son fights tooth and nail when I make him go back and redo the math problems he gets incorrect. He gets frustrated and exclaims how bad he is at math.
I was always lazy and rushed through math work, it took far longer to do and understand because I never took the time to understand what I was solving. My son is the same way.The math problems he really suffers with are story problems. The truth of the matter is my son is quite good at math, but he lacks the patience it takes to extract information and then organize that information in a way that simplifies the problem.
He doesn’t understand that story problems are hard, not because of the math, but because of the skills and processes that go into getting the information to solve the math problem in the first place. He just assumes that because it is math homework, he is bad at it. It is my goal to try and help him understand that there are different skills involved in completing math problems and the same goes for every other subject.
He also needs to understand how his mind works in order to get the best results and enjoyment from each subject. Sadly, this is not something the American public school system seems to understand, much less do anything about it. They teach the students facts and concepts, but they don’t teach them how to think.
Like many of us, my son also suffers from the affliction of caring what others think about how he arrives at an answer. In his eyes, (and younger me was the same way) someone isn’t as good at math if they need to keep track of numbers on their fingers, or if they have to use extra paper. I told him, “Who cares as long as you got the answers correct and didn’t cheat by copying someone else?”
I use this example because I never understood the different skills involved in math, and I gave up on the subject when I was a sophomore in high school. I think this is how people often feel with art. Too frequently, people give up on becoming an artist before they give themselves a chance to even scratch the surface of what takes to be an artist. The comment is usually, “I drew a stick figure, it looked like poop, and therefore I can never be an artist.” I draw some shitty looking stick figures all the time and I have been arting for quite some time. If you want to improve yourself, you have to give yourself time to improve.
This idea is also relevant because I don’t think we are a society that takes time to reflect on ourselves. Social media keeps us too busy in other people’s lives to really understand ourselves. If you don’t understand your deficiencies, or how you think, operate, or learn, how can you ever hope to improve to your great potential?
There is a saying, “you have to help yourself before you can help others.” Social media has made it so easy to offer our solutions and criticism to others that we don’t take the time to think of solutions for our own problems or give ourselves constructive criticism. On the other hand, when we do criticize ourselves, we can be so hard on ourselves that we may fail to take the steps to improve.
“That drawing sucked…welp…I guess I’ll move on.” No. If you want to improve, ask yourself, “what worked in that drawing? What didn’t work in that drawing?” Identify what made that drawing suck and fix it by studying the areas you don’t understand. Redo the drawing. Then do do it again to ensure that the knowledge sticks. That is learning and drawing with intent to improve.
Self-improvement should be followed by self-assessment. If you can’t identify your strengths and weaknesses, you will never make the gradual improvements necessary to reach your fullest potential. The difference between a person who self-assesses and a person that doesn’t, is self-awareness. By being self-aware and reflecting on your weakest areas, you’ll be able to pinpoint which ones are most important to your happiness and goals. Those who don’t go through this crucial step may feel overwhelmed by trying to address all of their weaknesses without any idea where to start.
Self-improvement is followed by self-assessment, if you can’t identify your strengths and weaknesses you will never improve to your fullest potential.
Remember, we don’t have to fix every weakness at once, and we don’t want to kill our motivation. Take an honest look at your abilities, embrace your strengths, and pinpoint the most important areas. Better yet, find someone whose strength is your weakness and recruit them to help you.
I often talk to my son about these kind of things on our drive home from football practice and when I am helping him with homework. Ultimately, I know he will never understand what I am talking about until he discovers these concepts for himself. I am confident that one day my son will figure all this out on his own, because his old man was able to put two and two together to make art.
Do you know what your best strengths are and what are some of the weaknesses you wish to improve? Furthermore, do you know which weaknesses are not as important to improve because they don’t fit your goals? Let me know in the comments.