What happens when you strive beyond comfort

I’ve been staring at a blank canvas for the past 3 years. It’s of decent size, roughly 2x3 ft. and sits against the bedroom wall so that it’s the first thing I see when I wake up and one of the last things I see when I go to bed. To be clear this ‘white space’ isn’t a pass at abstraction— I bought that canvas with all intents and purposes of creating a masterpiece and must have covered that space with countless imaginings. So why has it remained blank for over 1000 days?

If I ask myself what the sole thing is that prevents me from starting, the answer is fear. But what fear? There’s no risk, no loss in starting something as simple as a painting.

At this point the issue is no longer what the canvas is, but what it stands for — a manifestation of the internal war that rages within. It used to stand for an expression of freedom and creativity — an open invitation to let the mind wander freely across the realms of dream and fantasy. The ability to look beyond ‘adult’ responsibilities and let the inner child dance. Now it’s become an ominous reminder of the stagnancy and routine that’s permeated life over the past 3 years — a constant source of unreached potential and disappointment. Fear versus freedom, ideation versus execution. The stop sign on a path to illumination.

Now you may be thinking to yourself — ‘Hold up now that’s a bit harsh and way meta’ — I agree but when you’ve done a lot of sitting and staring at a blank canvas you go deep. So permit me a moment of introspection.

We live in a world of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’, wants and wishes, overwhelming optionality. Often we must choose between vying priorities and make the ‘optimal’ decision. It’s no surprise that this uncertainty brokers fear of making the wrong choice. Yet, while there are many legitimate reasons to fear, the untapped potential and opportunities that lay outside the door of logic and reasoning should be the least of these.

I know the fears all too well, the ‘what ifs’ that plague daydreams and nightmares. Looping mantras like:

What if nothing changes? What if I’m stuck in my career? What if I’m stuck in my relationship? What if I’m stuck being single? What if I’m stuck in this city?

What if I’m stuck in worry and unhappiness?

What if I’m stuck in a state of ceaseless striving?

What if this damn canvas stays blank forever?

What if…

What if we started looking at our own blank canvases and shifted the dialogue?

What if you opened a door that had been closed through sheer force of your own will?

What if you chose to let your dreams take flight and refused to come back to the ground?

What if you picked up a paintbrush and painted a landscape that careened off the canvas filled with colors that surpassed your palette?

What if you embraced the very things that made life come alive instead of trying to take the easy route of staying the current course?

What if we stopped speculating and started executing? By taking a simple step in a single direction. Nothing major, nothing life altering. Even if it meant getting up a few minutes earlier to read, meditate, exercise, greet the morning with a smile rather than the snooze button. Even if it meant mustering up the courage to have a tough conversation with a significant other, a friend, a colleague, a boss. Even if it meant making a tough decision, compromise or sacrifice.

What would it take to stop looking at an empty canvas and start painting?

The chains that bind us are heavy yet we hold the keys to our own release. Often the decision to unlock the doors is difficult — the unknown that lies beyond the other side of security and comfort frightens us into routine paralysis. Yet comfort should not be the object of pursuit. If all we seek are things that society dictates as sources of security (9–5 job, house, spouse, children, 401k) then we will never realize that the colors on the palette are far more vivid than the spectrum we confine ourselves to.

I’m proud to say that after 3 years I finally took a step forward — the canvas is blank no longer. A stripe meanders without beginning or end. In fact there’s no clear direction or structure — it’s just the simple act of taking one step forward at a time and anticipating variance and change. But as I step back to examine my handiwork I feel endless satisfaction that though it’s no Picasso, I doubt Picasso himself would have as much conviction in that stripe as I do.