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I got defeated by a drawing. Well, not a drawing, exactly, but a lettering design. I had all the references I wanted, I had a good plan, and I couldn’t execute it.

The vision in my head looked much better than what I was putting on the page in front of me. Hell, the sketch looked better than the design that was approaching “finished.”

After resting my head on the drafting table for a good 10 minutes to collect myself…it was time to get back to work.

I looked back at my references and realized that I was very, very far from the level I wanted to be with this type of design. The doubt started to creep up on me, but I couldn’t let that happen.

I don’t want to chop my hands off because I’m not as good as the people I’m studying. They’re proof that it can be done. It just takes time.

How long doesn’t matter.

That’s hard to remember when you’re in the midst of self-loathing. I’m like everyone else, I want the instant gratification. I want to be good now.

I also understand that it doesn’t work like that, so I don’t fall into the trap that so many other people do. How long it takes doesn’t matter. At all. Like I said earlier – their skill is proof that it’s attainable.

And that’s what I like to think about. Not how long it will take or how hard it will be, but how far it’s possible to go. This reframing of challenges and looking at the talent (read: skills) of others is inspiring, not devastating.

Looking back…

There have been several places where I took my time and put in the reps to get good at something. Most notable right now would probably be art, drawing, and tattooing.

People see some of my art and think that I’m talented, but they never had the chance to look through some of my old sketchbooks.

It took time. More than most people would be willing to dedicate to something, I’m sure. There were plateaus and roadblocks, frustration and failures.

Failures aren’t failures if you learn something. 

And that’s what I had to do with this most recent attempt at a lettering design. I’m not at the level I aspire to be, but I can always learn.

So I went back to take a close look at what I’d accomplished — and more importantly — what I’d failed to accomplish. The layout worked as a sketch, so there was that.

I enjoyed the shapes of the letters and the legibility of the 2nd phase. Another win. 

Where did it start to fall apart?

When I tried to get some of the “special effects” that other lettering artists had managed to pull off. Looking closer at my references – I realized that those special effects were planned from the beginning, not added at the end. I’d failed from the start, but I learned at the end.

The original plan wasn’t a bad one, but it wasn’t going to work the way I’d hoped. I had to adapt. I’d spent hours looking for a solution that wasn’t there, but they weren’t wasted.

The importance of reframing.

Once I was able to reframe two major struggles, things came together. I didn’t look at the work of the “masters” and think my goal was an impossible one. I didn’t look at the time I’d spent on a failed design as a failure.

Instead – the masters became an inspiration to continue working because it doesn’t matter how long it takes, it’s proof of how far I can go. And the time I spent trying to work out a solution that didn’t exist let me move in a new direction.

Reframing your problems lets you explore. Give it a shot. Next time you’re wanting that instant gratification of being great at something, realize that it’s going to take a minute. Or longer.

Don’t ask how long it will take, ask how far you can go.

And when something doesn’t work out – start looking for another way to get to your goal.

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