Salty cries of sea gulls are spluttering as a blue foam of waves is throbbing against the boat’s bow. Two sailors, both sturdy men, are standing on board of the sailing boat. A faint wind is flaring up the serene sea and only a few clouds are gathering on the horizon. The lighting in this scene speaks of summer adventures. The Martha McKeen is the name of this painting by Edward Hopper, an American realist painter from the mid 1900’s. I’m fascinated by Hopper’s ability to breathe life into a flat painting that is hanging in a dead frame from the wall. He does it by evoking an illusion of movement through a vibrant canon of light and shadow.
I can’t stop staring at the sailing boat which is tightly hugged by the ocean. As I stand in awe in front of Hopper’s painting, I contemplate his work. Edward Hopper truly has a hand for capturing scenic reality onto canvas. When I compare his art with my own, I see how far my artistic talent is lacking behind. I wonder whether I’ll ever reach a point where my paintings are good enough to be sold and presented in galleries. Being honest with myself, I know that my painting skills are nowhere near of turning them into a profitable profession. Good that I have no intentions to earn my living with artwork anyway. Instead I’ve chosen to pursue a career in statistics. But even with statistics, I sometimes doubt my suitability for the job. On half of the days, I’m confident in my ability to do well as a statistician, whereas on the other half I believe that I’m not bright enough for the role after all. I doubt myself especially when I encounter people who surpass my grasp of data analysis by heads.
I’m not one of the best, my abilities are not the best, thus, I’m unsuitable for the job.
I’ve landed at this conclusion several times before, not only in regard to my professional career, but also regarding my hobbies, skills, and even character traits. At least, it appears like I’m not the only one to derive such a shattering self-judgement. Recently, a friend shared with me the insecurities she feels about her wish of becoming a foster mother. Despite her yearlong conviction to child fostering, she suddenly claimed she lacked some of the qualities required for good parenting. I disagreed. In my opinion, she combines all the patience, empathy, and love that children need to grow up soundly. Of course, I wanted to help her overcome these doubts and, while searching for the right words of advice, I realised something.
I realised the fatality in assuming one has to be the best in order to be fit for a specific task, activity, or job. From a young age, the system reinforces a belief that we have to be the best if we want to succeed in life. School grades, academic degrees, occupational performance indicators – they all assess our value based on personal aptitude at a given time point. Through better performance scores, we earn a higher societal standing. Consequently, a pressure of having to be the best fortifies in us, which, at the same time, lets worries of not being good enough emerge. Personal shortcomings are rendered as nothing more than a hurdle, a flaw to get rid of as soon as possible. We cultivate this exact mindset even though it is as unhealthy as three nights without sleep.
I ask you, what do you deem as more valuable in the long run: a natural talent which leads to temporary top marks, or a motivation that will dodge no sweat in order to improve beyond mere talent. Eventually, talent alone will leave you stagnating, while strong willpower, a devotion to becoming better, will keep you rising up towards the league of the best. So, next time you wonder if you really are the best or right person for something, determine how eagerly you want to learn more about the subject. Don’t just compare your current capabilities to the field’s highest performers. You will, without any doubts, present a worthy, suitable candidate for the job if you are prepared to invest hard work into developing whatever skills and abilities it takes.
Hopper’s masterpiece, The Martha McKeen, demonstrated to me what grandiose artwork looks like. At the same time, it sparked my creative inspiration and fuelled my commitment to refining my painting skills. I left the Hopper exhibition feeling enthusiastic about grabbing my brushes to experiment with new painting techniques. Since that visit at the exhibition, I have composed one new painting which plays with light and shadow in a more sophisticated way than any of my previous pieces. Who knows, my paintings may meet the walls of an art gallery at some point in the future. They might even share a space with Hopper’s art. Until then, I promised to myself that I’ll not let my doubts get the better of me again because what matters is to keep moving forward, gaining more expertise with every passing day.
[Ricarda Senger – she/her]
[Image: The Martha McKeen by Hopper]