I got some advice the other day that has kind of been simmering all week. That’s how advice, good or bad, tends to work for me. I put it on a slow burn, watch the little bubbles form, the flavors gel. Once it’s had the time it needs, I try to really taste it or it goes straight down the drain, and I hum to the sound of my garbage disposal grinding to a pulp what I’ve no desire for. Unfortunately, I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I keep dipping my finger in bad advice and trashing good. But I’ve gotten better at it over the years.

Here’s the advice I got and I think it’s worth tasting. It was about running but that’s the thing about good advice– it’s never just about one thing. The advice was to measure success in as many ways as you can. In terms of running–  measure it in more than just time and distance. Measure it in joy, perseverance, effort. Measure it in mood and attitude. Measure it in starting lines. Measure it in insights. When there’s more ways to measure, there’s more ways to be and feel successful. And when there’s more success, there’s more motivation to do it all again. I am a remarkably slower runner than I was a couple years ago. And if my marker of success was just speed, I’d probably never lace up my running shoes again. What would be the point?

Yes! I thought. This is the advice (unsolicited, I’ll admit) I would give to the 31 group as we gear up for the January 31 in 31 which is a 31 day, one-thing-a-day (for me it’s art) practice. Measure success in as many ways as you can and not just in polished, perfect (ha!) products at the end of each day. Measure success in trying when you don’t feel like it, in showing up to your art or your practice, in singular strokes and strides. Measure success in wisdom gained, notes taken, time blocked off. Measure success in an openness to vulnerability, in encouragement of others. Measure success in going back to it after having taken a couple days off. Measure your success in all the ways that you can and let yourself feel the joy of success in a thousand different ways. 

The 31 in 31 can be profound if you let it. Three years ago, amid my daily January paintings, I slipped in a proposal to my now-husband, one little letter at a time. After 31 days, I had a 31 page book recounting our greatest joys, hopes, and challenges that ended with a look to the future. Eight years ago, I did my first 31, a solo venture that ended with a new sense of purpose in my life– painting. And while a new career and a marriage are the big, lightning bolt types of changes, the 31s have given me quieter and still powerful insights too. I’ve learned to be kind to myself, to stick with it even when all inspiration is gone. I’ve found new subjects to paint and new ways to paint them. I’ve let myself paint the same ole things without worrying that I’m getting stale or predictable. I’ve made new friends who have taught me the simmer-then-taste kinds of lessons. 

So that’s my advice, my two cents, my wish for you– measure success in as many different ways as you can, and maybe, just maybe, let go of the one big way you usually measure success.

From here on out, I plan to receive more than give advice. In fact, I’m thinking of structuring my 31 paintings around this whole idea of  advice– both good and bad. I want to try to work it into my 31 days. I get a lot of advice from poems and books.  I also get some of the best advice from people like you. And sometimes, when we get really bad advice and recognize it as such, it leads us (running and screaming in the opposite direction) to the good stuff.  So tell me, friends, if you would, what’s the best or worst advice you’ve ever gotten? About anything. I hope to use some of your answers in my upcoming 31 day practice.


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