Dear Younger Jennie,

When I was in college, I had a plan for how my life was going to go. I was going to get my degree in Studio Art, then move straight on to my MFA, which would lead me to a great job as a Professor of Studio Art somewhere, and I would spend all my time teaching and painting. Also somewhere in there I would have a husband and a family, and life would be good! I had a plan, and I knew how to get there. This should all sound familiar, it was your plan.

What I didn’t have was an understanding of my real priorities. If I asked you right now, you’d probably say that finishing school and relationships are a priority; but mostly you just haven’t thought about it. I remember letting culture inform me about what “should be” important in my life, and I took that as good enough. Having a career was important, having a family was important, having fun was important. Life just came at me (us?), and I made the choices I was “supposed” to make. The “good” choices. But in the end, that was not always the right choice for my life.

This is what I want to talk to you about, Jennie. Pay attention. Figure out what is truly important to you. Know your priorities. Know why they are your priorities, and think about how those priorities will enrich your life. THIS IS IMPORTANT! The everyday choices you make—big and small—will have a huge impact on our quality of life, our happiness, and our overall emotional well being. So ask yourself, “What is directing my choices?” Craft your priority list carefully, because misaligned priorities can have devastating emotional consequences. Success is how you define it. Don’t let anyone else tell you when you are succeeding. Let your life and your (real) priorities inform your idea of success.

Knowing the order of your priorities will sometimes make hard choices easier. Sometimes, it will require great sacrifices. Make them—trust me on this. Sometimes you will walk away from things you really want. It’s ok. There are better things waiting that you don’t even know you want yet.

In case you’re interested, below is the list I ended up with. It will look crazy to you, and there are big spoilers, so only keep reading if you’re willing to deal with that:

  • God (It’s true! You become a Christian, and it’s the best decision you ever make! No more agnosticism for you!!)
  • My marriage (To a pastor. Not kidding. It was a surprise to both of us!)
  • My health
  • Relationships with family and friends (And no kids, fyi, no matter how sure you are now)
  • Artwork/career (#5 of 5—can you believe it? No PhD, no MFA, I’m not a professor and even my home studio and I miss each other. But you will always be called to be an artist, and it’s fulfilling in ways you can’t even dream of yet.

Once you get your priorities in line, what seems unthinkable to you now will be the natural (although not always easy) path to take. I’m pretty positive I am more content than if I had stayed on your trajectory. There’s still plenty of creative freedom and a peace of mind you have yet to experience.

Love,

Jennie Kimbrough

P.S. On an unrelated note, get a business minor! You need it. A studio artist is self-employed, which means a businessperson. It’s not all “painting and the rest takes care of itself.” There are sales, taxes, shipping, networking, advertising, recordkeeping, and just lots and lots of business-y things you need to know. Take ALL the dang business classes, even though you don’t want to, because it will be worth it in the long run. To do what you love, sometimes you have to bear with what you don’t.

Author Bio

Jennie Kimbrough is an artist currently living in Boyne City, MI. She received her B.F.A. in 2004 from Missouri State University, and attended Wichita State University for graduate studies from 2005-2006. Her studio practice focuses on painting, while occasionally venturing into installation work. She works in both acrylic and encaustic with mixed medium elements. She is a member of CIVA. Her work has been featured in solo and group shows in Houston and the surrounding area, as well as Philadelphia, PA, Frederick, MD, Wichita, KS, Springfield, MO, Los Angeles, CA, Austin, TX, along with many other cities across the country.