Behind the Scenes

An Update from “The Middle” + My Word for 2021

We almost made it to the end of 2020! Can you believe it? Every year since I started Lily & Val I have been writing a year-end re-cap or review. I list out all the things that happened that year in my business and any major personal milestones. But this year, as with most things in 2020, it’s different. I don’t have much to list, no big “goals” that were accomplished, but my heart has been working through transformation and personal growth. So, instead of sharing a re-cap, I thought I’d share an “update from the middle.” Read on and I’ll explain what I mean…

Valerie McKeehan in her studio painting with soft pastels

In June I shared a vulnerable post. I admitted how I thought about quitting my business and the journey I’ve been on to rediscover myself as an artist and business owner. This was a defining moment, pushing through my fear in discussing the new chapter of Lily & Val and sharing my story. From that post:

I don’t have everything figured out, which makes me hesitant. I’m still in the middle, albeit the path is filled with glimmers of light and I can mentally process better. But truthfully, I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point of “arrival”.  I share this because maybe you need permission to start a journey without your own arrival plotted out. And that’s the beauty and the stress of life. We change.

So, as the ending of the year is upon us, I thought I would give an update and take you along in the sometimes murky waters of this journey. I don’t have things tied up neatly with a bow, but I want to continue to share in case it is helpful for the path you are on as well. As my Dad says “we go with the light we’re given.” And that is what I am trying to do each day.

I have been reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and I underlined this quote: Often the result of daring greatly isn’t a victory march as much as it is a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue. Oh how I resonated with this!!

If there is a predominant feeling for me in 2020, it would be freedom. Ironic maybe for a year of lockdowns and regulations, but mentally, I’ve breathed a sigh of relief and felt an immense pressure lifted from my shoulders! I do not take that for granted.

Valerie McKeehan Pittsburgh based artist

But just as the quote says, the battle fatigue is real. In the day-to-day, there has been second-guessing and inner struggle. The truth is, slowing down and taking a step back has been scary. I think about all the business things I have learned through the years and frankly, I’m doing so much “wrong.” As a first-born rule follower, this doesn’t sit well. My inner dialogue becomes things like: “You should be sending more email. Your audience is not growing at all. You are going to become irrelevant. You already are irrelevant. Your message is confusing. You are too scattered. You aren’t offering anything of value. You need to spend more time marketing. You aren’t posting to social media enough. You need to release more products. You need to do more, More, MORE.”

When these voices become unbearably loud, I begin to slip back into old ways as a salve for my need to control. But each time I’ve done this, a roadblock seems to appear out of nowhere and brings me back. It’s hard to describe, but it’s not a matter of being afraid of a challenge or turning away when things get tough. I’m not afraid of hard work, but this is something different. It’s an abrupt stop that doesn’t feel right. This has happened so many times, it’s almost comical but makes me feel confident that the path I’m on now is the right one for me. Authenticity is always the right path. Recognizing and honoring my own capacity is also the right path. And maybe at this moment, those things break the “rules.” Maybe that’s okay. Maybe there are no rules.

Valerie McKeehan owner of Lily & Val

There are a few things that have felt right and have been life-giving this year. I feel lighter when I think about them! Intuitively I know I need to dig into and follow those things and on the flip side, pay close attention when something makes me feel heavy.

I’m going to call this my “2020 Light List”…

(There are more on this list for me, but here are three things that stand out.)

Defining my purpose & leaning into it

Early in 2020, I went through a practice thanks to The Joy of Missing Out, which helped me define my mission statement and purpose. I realized that expressing my creativity and sharing it with the world around me is my mission. That may seem simple, but it was actually very deep and enlightening. The reason is that the creativity needed to stem from an authentic place of joy and love from my soul. It was as much about the process of creating and the internal environment from where the art was coming out of as it was the result. For years, I have been wrapped up in the result and I felt empty.

Because of this epiphany, I spent the year digging deeper into what it means to be an artist and create from your soul. I traded business books and marketing courses for books about art and humanity…silencing Instagram accounts telling me what I should be doing to promote my business in favor of photographers, painters, florists, and artists of all kinds putting beauty into this world! Here’s a little excerpt from one of the books that had quite an impact…

Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!

Rainier Maria Rilke
Valerie McKeehan Pastel Painting

Trying something new / being a beginner

Many of you probably know that I took up painting with soft pastels this year and mostly landscapes! Oh, how life-giving this has been to have zero pressure and pour myself into something new and exciting. I’ve been able to use painting as a means to express emotion when I didn’t have the words for hand lettering (which has been often in 2020) and lose myself in the process of creating. Not to mention, I am utterly smitten with the medium. They are like fancy crayons for adults and I can’t resist them just as I couldn’t back then. As with chalk art, nothing is separating my hands from the medium. I can connect with the marks in such a tactile way, learning the feel of the pigment, the changes when pressure is applied, and how each one lays on the surface a bit differently. It’s dusty, raw and messy! To see beauty emerge from the dust is like magic. In a way, it’s also a metaphor for life…beauty in the mundane, beauty in the mess.

Another milestone was selling original paintings! I will never forget the feeling of selling that first one and each one after that has been just a thrill. WOW, it blows me away to know that I have original paintings out there in the world – these pieces that are so special to me and represent a specific moment in time. What an honor. I will continue practicing, learning, and offering more paintings in 2021!

Soft Pastel Painting by Valerie McKeehan

My faith

I can’t create this list without mentioning the deepening of my faith. There have been personal heartaches this year and I know we’ve all experienced that in some way. What do you do when life feels so heavy you could crumble right under it? I’ve learned to lean into God’s promises in new ways this year. I started Bible Journaling back in March and that was helpful for processing when my head was spinning. The online services at Northway Christian Community have been a source of comfort as well. I’m grateful for my church family whether we are together or apart.

I believe with all my heart that God has a plan for each of us and the plan is good because He is good. Sometimes (most of the time) I don’t see what He is doing, but I trust that His way is best. Each one of us was created for a purpose that only we can fulfill. It won’t look like anyone else. The world needs who YOU were meant to be.

It was really helpful to make this list and realize even in such a tough year, a lot of good did happen. Maybe trying this exercise is something that will be helpful for you too.

My Word of the Year

Another exercise that has been helpful to me at the end of each year is choosing a word to represent the coming year. Instead of a lengthy list of resolutions, this word can act as a compass for my actions. Last year, my word was actually the phrase “humble & deep”. This year’s word came quite easily: courage.

I’ve heard it said that courage is not an absence of fear. Quite the contrary! Instead, courageous people may feel fear, but they do not let it define them or hold them back. I mentioned the book Daring Greatly earlier and it is about vulnerability requiring a great deal of courage. I think slowing down takes courage, trying again after a failure, letting yourself be seen, sharing your heart, expressing your needs to others, asking for help, reaching out to someone. All courageous. I would like my 2021 to be a courageous year, breaking more rules, no doubt.

Word of the year- Courage

P.S. This image will be January’s free desktop download. Stay tuned!

Valerie McKeehan Owner of Lily & Val

I can’t say it enough, but I want to thank you all for coming alongside me in this journey that has been 2020. Thank you for giving me the space to share my heart, my artwork, and for every single encouraging word that I’ve heard from you. None of it goes unnoticed. Here’s to sunnier days ahead! (If you’d like to share the 2021 graphic just click on it and it will open a larger version in a new window.)

Happy New Year, my friends!

2021 hand lettered graphic

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