Last week I went to Target to make a little care package for my 4-year-old nephew. I was standing in the art supply aisle, and I had a choice to make. I could buy him a paint-by-number kit, or I could get him a sketch pad and let him freestyle instead.
I choose freestyle over paint-by-numbers. What great art was ever created by following the lines and numbers someone else decided for you?
It got me thinking a lot about numbers, creativity and expectations.
One year ago, I moved out of my California apartment, sold all my stuff, and set out on an adventure.
I had been working part-time as a physician assistant in an urgent care clinic, plus writing and speaking. It got to be exhausting trying to do both vocations, and after praying about it, it seemed clear that God was calling me to spend my time and energy speaking and writing.
So, like Abraham in the Old Testament, I pulled up my tent pegs, packed up my stuff, and started walking.
It has been quite the year — and I have a lot of interesting numbers to show for it!
18: Number of speaking engagements I’ve done in the past year
112,000: Number of frequent flyer miles I’ve earned
32: Number of hotels I’ve checked into and out of
128: Number of days I lived abroad (5 weeks in Europe, 3 months in Togo)
8: Number of countries I’ve visited
18: Number of states I’ve visited
5: Number of continents I’ve been on
67: Number of sponsors I’ve recruited for Compassion International kids
102,000: Number of words I’ve written
0: Number of dates I’ve been on
I think it’s easy to live our lives as a paint-by-number that fits into what other people have decided is “normal.” Get a 4-year college degree, get married by age 25, have 2 kids before you turn 30, live in at least a 2,000 square foot home financed with a 30-year mortgage, work 40 hours/week at a job with benefits, drive 2 cars, save $1 million in your 401(k) before you turn 65.
If you’re a writer, the paint-by-number includes writing at least 3 blog posts a week, getting 100,000 followers on social media, selling at least 50,000 copies of your book, and publishing a new book every 2 years.
And it’s easy to believe that if you don’t achieve those numbers, you’re unsuccessful or incomplete.
I never expected to be 36 years old, single, childless, without a steady income — and it’s taken a lot of internal work to accept the life God’s given me, and to embrace the fact that I have unique opportunities to make a difference in the world, not in spite of what is “missing” from my life, but because of it.
Because I don’t have a regular, full-time job, I’m free to travel. Because I’m not married, I am free to take advantage of all the unique opportunities that come my way. Because I don’t have kids, I am free to invest in other people’s kids — like my niece and nephews, and the kids I sponsor with Compassion International.
Just like no great art was ever created by an artist sticking with the lines, shapes and color schemes someone else decided, no great life is created when we follow other people’s expectations of what “normal” is.
If you’re feeling left out, incomplete, or unsuccessful today…….you might just be on the right track. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Choose to go on an adventure. Choose to live creatively and uniquely. Find contentment not by following the crowd, but by following whatever path God has for you.
It’s hard. Sometimes it’s lonely. There are disappointments and discouragements, and sometimes it’s downright scary.
But in the end, it’s beautiful.
It’s worth it.