Lessons learned from ignoring a gut feeling

Painting before the changesTowards the end of the year, a friend and I bought a couple of tickets to attend Paint Nites together. We went to one in December, and our paintings came out nice – we both had fun. I hung mine at my new office in school. In early January I had this idea to paint another canvas as a wedding gift. I checked the calendar and sent my friend a couple of options, one on a Tuesday and one on a Wednesday, I was leaving on a trip to the wedding that Thursday. She chose Wednesday, and even though I wasn’t sure that it was the painting or teacher I wanted, or that the day before my trip was the best option for me, I agreed to that evening.

I was also debating if the bride and groom would enjoy it as I had never met the groom, and I’m not that close to the bride to know her tastes either. I booked the night anyway. On that Tuesday evening my friend texted me that she realized she couldn’t make it on Wednesday. By then, my intuition and/or gut feeling was saying don’t go, stay home, start packing, this is not the best time to go, and I don’t remember the other assertive thoughts I chose to ignore. Who won? The parts of me that 1- didn’t want to waste the ticket (once booked, you can’t reschedule it), 2- thought it was really cool to give someone my own painting as a wedding gift.

Several people didn’t show, and I sat very close to the instructor, as per his request. He was drinking a lot (drinking is part of the evening); sometimes it took him a long time to show us the next steps, and since I wasn’t drinking, I grew frustrated. I had planned a few changes to the original painting. I was going to try to paint what could seem like a couple on the bridge, and paint some tiny hearts next to them. However, the brushes they give us are too big for small details, and the hearts I painted were too big and looked awkward. I kept trying to improve and modify them, but it wasn’t looking good at all. By then I decided I wouldn’t give it to anyone, and maybe would just hang it at my place. (The photo at the top of this post is from when the class ended and I stopped trying to fix it.)

Before I packed to leave, I told the instructor that I had planned to give it as a wedding gift, but I didn’t like the end result. He said: I know what to do. He sat down, mixed red and white, and proceeded to paint on top of the hearts I had painted, and also drew new pink hearts, including the one close to the root of the tree (which I love). I was not able to stop him, and ask that he simply show me what to do. In my mind, I had a conversation with myself that he was good, he knew how to hold the brush, he knew how to have it do what he wanted (I rarely can), and that the painting indeed had improved.

Even though it did look much nicer, I was left with a feeling of defeat. That was no longer MY painting. Every time someone looked at it, I’d have to say: by the way, these hearts were painted by my teacher.  My energy was down, but I decided to figure out later what to do with the painting. It was raining, and although I had an umbrella, the painting got wet. By the time I got to the subway, the painting was ruined in a few parts. At this point I thought I should trash it, but I didn’t. I also realized that it was no accident that it was raining, and perhaps it was even a gift, so that I wouldn’t have to “explain” the painting to anyone:

Painting after it was modified

I kept asking myself what was the lesson? What did I have to learn from this?

  • LISTEN TO and follow my intuition. I hadn’t spent that much money on the ticket, that it would be the end of the world to “waste” it. Honoring me and how I felt would have been more important than to show up to something I wasn’t up for.
  • SPEAK UP. Before the instructor started painting on my canvas, I could have asked him to wait, and told him that I’d rather he showed me what he had in mind, so that I could have somewhat kept ownership of my painting. Granted that we are all painting something that someone else already created, but I always try to add my own touches (though not very successfully this time), in order to make it feel mine.
  • CHANGE my mind. Throughout the planning, asking my friend, and going to the event, I was constantly debating if it was truly a good move to give the painting as a wedding gift. Afterwards I realized that no, it wasn’t a good idea at least for this particular couple. It would have been fine, and it is fine to change my mind even after the effort, time and money it took to create it.
  • KEEP the lesson. Somehow I convinced myself not to trash the painting on my way home, imagining that someday I could bring it to the classroom and tell the story of a ruined painting, and that even with a plan, things can go wrong. What we do about it is what matters. I wrote this article.

What lessons can you keep from when you ignore or defy your intuition, and in hindsight realize what you have done? What other lessons can you take from my experience? Feel free to share in the comments.


Elisa Balabram

PS. I signed the painting after I got home.

2 Responses to “Lessons learned from ignoring a gut feeling”

  1. Lara Says:

    I like yours so much better before he changed it! Thank you for sharing this story. A great reminder!

  2. Elisa Balabram Elisa Balabram Says:

    Hi Lara,

    Thank you! We are always looking for the lessons, right?


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