On focus and mastery: how looking at it differently can transform your artist life

A friend and I have an ongoing conversation around what it means to have ‘a thing’, and having mastery of it, whether for income or fulfillment or both. It’s a question I see many of us wrestle with, especially when we feel we don’t have a single focus, whether that’s in our art or in our lives as a whole.

My friend and I were emailing about this the other day, and I ended up writing her quite a long and, as it turned out, impassioned email! It occurred to me when I got to the end of it that it might be useful to share it with you, especially if you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy or that you’re unable to settle on a single thing in your art and really master it.

Sometimes we receive what some people call ‘downloads’; I think perhaps this email to my friend was one such download. I feel it to be true in my bones but it also unfolded as I wrote. I’m sharing it with you here, with my friend’s permission, and only slightly edited for easier reading. I use the terms ‘ego’ and ‘spirit’ – you might use others, but it comes to the same thing.


“I’ve been thinking about this idea of being ‘really good at something’, and honestly, I think it’s totally arbitrary. I think it’s exactly that that stops so many people from just starting things, or changing anything fundamental in their lives.

‘Really good’ can only be judged – against totally made up measurements – by people who aren’t you, so it’s neither a safe nor reliable judgement. Those incredibly high standards we hold for ourselves – how can they Truly be our own standards?

Spirit {and by extension our ‘spirit selves’, for want of a better way of putting it – our True selves perhaps} holds no such standards to live up to. And the part of us that is ‘really good’ at something is the spirit part, only in spirit it’s not measured that way. It’s measured in terms of joy and fulfillment and a feeling of being alive. Not in terms of some arbitrary scale of outside success, grades, qualifications, financial gain, or what other people think.

So the things that you are really good at? They’re the things that make you feel like that joy, fulfillment and feeling of being alive. You’re already good at them because they’re your most natural expression. And you – or ego you – will never feel that you’re good enough at them.

If you’re waiting to feel good enough, or to find out what to do to be or feel good enough, and you’re asking ego, you will wait for the rest of your life.

If I come from that side of myself, I’m actually not very good at art. You, I’m sure, and any number of other people might argue that. But that’s outside measurement, and all those people are measuring it against things that are nothing to do with me, like their personal artistic preferences, what they think of other artists’ work by comparison, realism and accuracy of representation, how much they like me as a person, etc.

But inside my own ego, I’ll never be a truly skilled and great artist – that’s a ‘fact’. ???? That’s always there. I’m not the best at drawing realistically; I’m very aware of my limitations in that – I’m ok at it but certainly not ‘excellent’, and to think about it that way doesn’t feel good at all. It brings up questions of validity and the arrogance of calling myself a teacher, or even an artist.

If I sit in that place, it makes it really hard to do anything, because what’s the point? And it’s so overwhelming to think about all I’d need to do to ‘become good {enough}’. It serves neither me nor anyone I might wish to help to come at it from that perspective.

If I’m going to do what I’m here to do, I have to allow it to be enough and not keep checking in with what ego thinks about it.

The only useful way I can do that is to look at it with spirit’s eyes. That’s what guides me, pulls me forward and shows me what to do next.

Everything I create and share that fits the criteria of joy, aliveness, fulfillment, my Truth {not ego ‘truth’} – irrespective of how those things might be measured in the outside world – those are the things that people love the most and benefit from most.

It’s a very easy formula in that sense. Spirit has zero interest in ‘good enough’, ‘being really good at’, ‘mastery’, ‘success’ etc. Spirit is interested in full expression of Truth. That’s it. {And typically the most sustainable outside ‘success’ comes from following that, not from the trying to be good/best.}

The only reason my business is doing as {arbitrarily} ‘well’ as it is at this point – ie. bringing in a fairly solid, if ‘low’ income – is because overall I’ve followed Spirit, not ego.

That’s not to say ego has had no say or caused me no trouble! You might remember I was 100% certain I could never create or run an online course – I didn’t know enough, I wasn’t good enough at technology, I didn’t have teaching qualifications, and I definitely wasn’t good enough at art.

But my curiosity and love for making things were stronger, or I let them be stronger and lead for a bit, just to see. Spirit only needs a little room to get started, and it doesn’t need a huge and detailed plan for ‘success’. It only needs ‘what if I…’ or ‘I could try this for a week and see what happens’ etc. Which are not overwhelming like ego’s demand to know what’s going to happen and when and how and all the steps.

It’s back to just the next right thing, right now. Spirit also forgives ‘mistakes’ because it doesn’t see them as mistakes. It doesn’t see failure or setback or anything that can be measured by that arbitrary outside system.”

There is so much more to say on this topic. My email to my friend was getting long so I decided to stop there, but there were some nuggets in it I think that offer perhaps new, kinder perspectives.

What do you think about this idea of mastery of something? As an artist, do you feel like Sisyphus much of the time, striving and trying and nowhere near where you’d like to be? What if you ‘switched seats’ and looked at it from different perspective? Tell us in the comments!



If this thorny question of focus and mastery is a big one for you, you might like to check out Abstractify. It’s the course I created to address the very common struggle of finding and developing what’s ‘you’ about your work. To find out more, click here.