Meera Lee Patel is a self-taught artist and author of the bestseller, Start Where You Are. Her creativity is inspired by the magical mysteries of nature, the quiet stories that lace through everyday life, and the bold colors of her native India.
I grew up writing – creating my own stories, poems, and chapter books. I had a dream of being a fiction writer and majored in Creative Writing at my Visual & Performing Arts high school. I went on to major in English and Journalism in college, and upon graduation, began working at a technical publishing company. That’s when my love for writing waned – I became so exhausted and numb from the daily monotony of my job that I began looking for life elsewhere – which prompted me to vigorously pursue a career in illustration.
It wasn’t until 6 years into my freelance illustrator career that I again felt the desire to write, and it’s only within the last 2 years that I’ve begun writing regularly and transitioning from an illustrator to an illustrator and writer. I do find it interesting that I’ve come full circle, and I don’t believe it’s the slightest bit ironic that I’m now starting where I once, years ago, began.
A lot of my work is rooted in my experiences, and I want to share the lessons I’ve learned with the world. One of these lessons is about self-improvement. It’s a continuous process – you’re given one body and one mind and it’s up to you to nourish and cultivate a healthy environment for both. I can’t think of anything more interesting to talk about than a life-long process that has absolutely no end-point. There is always another direction in which we can stretch ourselves further.
One big thing I’ve learned while on my journey the past several years is that the well is never empty. After I wrote My Friend Fear, I felt depleted, exhausted by the emotion and vulnerability it took to write the book. I didn’t have much time in between handing in those files and beginning my next book, which I’m currently working on, but somewhere along the road I began to feel rejuvenated, excited to look inside myself and see what else was there. The lesson here, I think, is rest—and then action.
By continuously taking a step forward, I was able to reignite a fire within myself that I thought had gone out.
I feel motivated by possibility – the belief that there is so much I haven’t seen, so many people I haven’t met, and so many things I still have the chance to do.
Because it can be difficult to keep focus, I am diversified in my approach to stay motivated. I use Asana, an organizational app, to list all of my ideas and choose 2-3 manageable goals for each year. I create a combination of goals that is both fulfilling (a project I really want to do but that may have zero financial return) and pragmatic (1-2 projects or goals that may not be as dear to my heart but will provide income and stability) so I can live a healthy life, which is very dear to my heart.
I try to listen to myself. It becomes very clear, very quickly, when I am overwhelmed – stretched thin by the demands of work, friends, family, and pressures from the outside world.
In these times, I prioritize time to myself—I take a step back to regroup, decide what is meaningful to me and deserves focus, and then leave the rest behind.
In the past, I used to say “no” to every new opportunity out of fear – I was worried about failing, about being judged and criticized, about what others would think. In the last year, I’ve made a rule for myself: whenever I feel an urge to say no, I ask myself whether its because I don’t want to participate, or because I am afraid. If it’s because I’m afraid, then I have to do whatever it is—no exceptions. The only way to become more comfortable with fear is to get closer to it, so I try to do that as often as I can.
One bit of comfort I find always help to clear my mind so I can better assess opportunities and situations is going on walks. I’ve found walks to be, unfailingly, the one thing that always resets me and makes me feel more connected to myself.
Remember, time is finite, the only thing you can never replace or replenish – make sure you’re spending yours in a way that is meaningful to you.