Who knew color would be such a challenge?

A box full of color with so much potential.

Anxiety. Hopelessness. Despair. These are the feelings I experienced a couple of months ago, not because of some major life crisis, as you might expect; instead because of the pastels art class I’m taking. This class is the first time in adult memory I’ve found myself in a situation where I have not the first clue what I’m doing.

In the first weeks, with my box of pastels so fresh and ready, I waited like a small child for the instructor to tell me every single step to take. Except I was completely unlike a child. A  child would have jumped into all those beautiful colors and done something.

I admit, as a writer with a lifetime of experience behind me, I’m used to being confident taking on a new project, even when it’s in a new genre. The underlying principles are there; I simply need to use them in a new way. With color, I recognized no underlying principles to rely upon.

The reasons I took the pastel class – to learn something new, to have some fun, to follow through on my life-long desire to ‘do art’ – were lost to me. No matter how often I sought to remind myself to relax, to be open to the experience, to let the learning process unfold as the instructor meant it to, I reached the end of class tired and unhappy.

Then I remembered the 10,000-Hour Rule. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in a field. How could I think I’d know anything, let alone be able to create a passable work of art, when I’d only just begun?

We were a couple of weeks into the course when I lamented to the instructor, “In the context of 10,000 hours, I feel like I’m on hour one. Still,” I added, “I can see I’ve learned a couple of things.”

In a deadpan serious way, he responded. “Just wait till you get to hour two.”

Indeed. I’ve grown up knowing the rules and following them. This art class could be no different. But the 10,000-hour perspective, along with my instructor’s humorous response, helped me relax. I could go easier on myself. I could take some time. I could be in the moment.

Since then, I’ve opened up to the experience as I hadn’t before. Two months into the class, I’ve internalized some of the rules. I make a conscious point after each class to take a step back, breathe, and consider what I’ve learned. I’ve made mistakes and learned more. I’m also having some fun.

Have you tackled an unexpectedly difficult new task? How do you gain perspective in the face of a challenge?