I typically don't do commissions. They usually involve subject matter or an idea I'm not meaningfully invested in enough to justify the time spent that I could have been working on my own ideas. That being said, in early 2020 I agreed to take on a commission from a very good friend, but this particular commission was different. On top of it being for someone I cared about, he also had the understanding that there's a creative energy that needs to unfold organically. The subject matter was also very enticing compositionally, which made it easier to say yes.
I also looked at it as an opportunity to get back to painting and shake off some rust. I had been hyper focused on my design career for a couple of years, and art was at the bottom of the priority list. He wanted me to work on a portrait for his brother’s recently deceased dog as a surprise gift. He knew I was pretty slammed with work, so there was no immediate rush. Work and life continued to be hectic and it was swiftly forgotten about.
The clock ticks..
Skipping ahead to early 2021, my friend and I were catching up at dinner and he bought up the commission again, gauging if I was still interested in doing it. I felt bad I had let it languish for so long, but I was fairly confident I’d have more bandwidth later in the year to dedicate some time to knock it out. I promised I'd get started on it and went back home to my remote-work bubble.
We met up again for dinner a few months later around May and he asked how the commission was going. He mentioned that his brother was coming to visit at the end of July. He really wanted to surprise him with it in person. I then was hit with the realization of how quickly that was approaching and how much work there was to do.
Not only because I had barely made a dent in the progress, but because I was determined to do it my way. I didn't want to rush or cut corners just for the sake of getting it off my plate. I was genuinely excited to work on it and had a vision for the piece, and part of that vision was the scale. I wanted it to be a large piece that had presence and impact. I knew that it would take longer because I was so rusty, but still felt more than capable of hitting the deadline. I had less than 2 months to finish a 2' x 3' ft painting. I got to work in the evenings laying the foundational drawing of the piece.
Just when I felt like I was making progress, work threw some more challenges on my plate. Working at a startup can be unpredictable at times, you may have to pivot and change directions, which can demand a lot of time. We were working on a bundle of initiatives intended to re-orient our product strategy. While I had a decent handle of what we’d be overhauling in the product, I had no idea how intense it would actually be. With the teams rallied and only one quarter to execute, we coined this bundle of initiatives "Playbook Blitz".
Fast forward to the end of July and we're deep in initiative work. My plate was more than full and I’m not nearly as far along as I had hoped with painting. My friend's brother just got into town and I told him that it was likely I wouldn’t have it completely done, but I was still giving it my best attempt. He was bummed but he understood. I pushed forward to finish, whenever that may be. I felt better I had relieved some deadline pressure, but I felt demoralized about letting my friend down. 😞
A day or so later, someone asked me what the dog’s name was, and I realized I never asked or I forgot. So I text my friend to find out that his name is Blitz.. 😳
I took this as a sign; It was too coincidental that these two "Blitz" projects were running in parallel. While I definitely wanted to make my friend happy and be done with the project, I needed to earn back some credibility with myself more than anything else. I was going to have to dig deep to pull this off. I had 5 days before his brother flew home Saturday. I had to finish this painting no matter what.
I flipped my entire schedule on its head that week. I painted during the day when the light was good, and worked late into the night. It was a challenge in and of itself, but even more so to set & communicate boundaries with my team that by any reasonable person’s judgement would seem like poor decision making, given the high-stakes and tight deadlines at work.
the moment arrives
Friday afternoon arrives and I finished. Paint still wet, I tell my friend it's ready. Unable to move the painting as it was still drying, he decided to cobble together some terrible excuse to rush his brother and family to a stranger’s apartment for unknown reasons. 😂
As soon as they came around the corner and saw the painting on the easel, his brother’s wife burst into tears. They were there for maybe 10 minutes and she never stopped crying. This dog meant everything to their family. I received more hugs in that 10 minutes than I’ve had all year. It was a wonderful moment, and I was grateful that I got to experience it with them.
There were so many obstacles working against me, I could have easily missed the deadline had I given into all the excuses I had made for myself: I had tried hard and that was good enough; I more important things to do; I was exhausted mentally and physically. But I refused to be a victim to circumstances. I shut it down and focused. I tuned out the internal and external noise and emerged victorious with both "Blitz" projects.
Excuses are dangerous because they’re always valid. We can think of a million reasons not to do something. Every one of us has those things we’ve been telling ourselves we should do, but can’t because of X,Y, and Z. Our primitive brain wants to keep us safe; Doing anything outside our comfort zone is a threat. You have to learn to lean into the discomfort, because if you don’t, those excuses will rob you of meaningful experiences in your life. ❤️