“And you thought you could paint,” whispered the indistinguishable mass of colors in front of me, which was meant to represent a window. I looked down at the paint-stained printed image that I held with my trembling hand and back again to the unsuccessful attempts I had made to capture it on the canvas. My eyes scanned the wet paint avidly, attempting to find a solution to a problem I didn’t, couldn’t, solve. The more I looked at it, the more my mind wandered, focusing on the imperfections and confusion that the task of creating my first oil painting caused. Thoughts dashed through my brain like bullets, creating a knot of insecurity so tight that all of the pressure seemed to accumulate until I couldn’t hold it any longer. The pressure exploded, followed by several fat tears that spurted from my eyes. “Why would you do something you’re clearly not good at?” yelled my thoughts. I dropped my paintbrush on the floor, the paint splattering around me along with my tears.
I had never encountered anything like the painting that lay in front of me. My little projects were generally characterized by the quick learning of new skills, after which I would easily succeed at achieving in the activity. Never had I struggled solving math problems, never had my words faltered while conjuring up a last minute essay. It was this previous success and my ability to learn things quickly that made this encounter with a challenge so difficult. When looking at an obstacle in the eyes, I was a coward. I was unable to face difficulty in the fear that I’d be unable to succeed. I turned around and walked away, the smell of wet paint fading along with the determination my eyes had once held.
The colors would remain alone for the next few weeks, calling to me from the corner of my bedroom where they lay, discarded. It was not until that cloudy Sunday afternoon, common during rainy season, when the voices would finally reach my ears and guide my hands back to the paintbrush. It would take, however, 3 weeks and the development of a new friendship.
I met Mirjana through an exchange programme between my school and a school hidden amongst the mountains of Panama, which aimed at providing a better education to teens from poor areas. She was pretty and soft-spoken, with white teeth and sparkling, brown eyes. She liked to read, and we hit it off right away. Her stay with us was filled with laughter and discussions about latin-american novelists, and it was amongst these that we grew to become the best of friends. Mirjana told me about her hobbies, her friends from back home, her dreams, but most of all, her fears.
We spent long afternoons in bed, the soft breeze outside creating twists in our hair as it crawled through the window and listened to our conversations, the rain’s silent messenger during April. Mirjana told me about her fear of not being able to provide for her family and her homesickness while being at boarding school. It was during these conversations about fear that I began to look back at my painting attempts. Fear, that little whisper on the back of my ear, the fear of failure, had stopped me in my tracks when I had encountered a setback.
Our conversations during these calm afternoons continued, and my thoughts about the fear of failure intensified. Why was failure so scary to me? Why was I afraid of something I had not yet encountered? These thoughts would reach a climax that cloudy Sunday afternoon, where my hands would find the paintbrush and dip it into the creamy mixture of oil paint. And although I did learn how to paint, my biggest achievement was learning how to push fear out of the way to let the water flow and the paint dance.