Don’t Be Afraid to Paint Your Own Shoes


Magic ShoesDuring the last class of the spring semester, I told the students “don’t be afraid to paint your own shoes”. Many of the students were graduating then, or will by the end of the year. It was my way of encouraging them to be authentic, to keep learning, to continue growing and pursuing their chosen careers and passions, and to be themselves. I was wearing the shoes I painted last year, and wrote about here.

When I first started wearing those shoes, part of me was concerned about what others would think. There have been some disapproving comments: “one side looks much better than the other” or “but they’re different!” To which, I’d answer: “they are not different, they are a full painting – you can’t have a garden without the sun, right?” And they would leave me alone. As I felt more at peace with my own artwork, I got more reassuring and supportive responses. Several people said that I should sell them. While I’m not there yet, I may start with a T-shirt collection. In the meantime, I do like the idea of expressing my creativity this way.

I especially enjoy when people say “what a great idea!” I take the opportunity to tell them what kind of paint, and shoes to purchase, so that they can create their own. The photo of this post is a new pair I painted last week. Although those who saw me wearing them for the first time didn’t quite guess exactly what I was attempting to paint, several have described the story I intended to tell. When that happened, I felt seen, and it touched my heart.

I think it’s been a lifelong journey (still ongoing), to let go of masks, to allow myself to share who I am, through writing, through my art, teachings, presence. The more I’m able to express my creativity, the more joyful I feel. It is worth the effort. In the case of clothes and shoes, I have had to move through the fear of being labeled crazy, or odd, or the one with no sense of fashion, and/or to accept that others may see me that way. And maybe I’m all of those things, but when I’m wearing my designs (shoes, T-shirts, leggings), I giggle. They may bring joy to others as well, isn’t it all that matters?

How are you showing up authentically in your life? What are the layers of labels, and judgments you need to let go of, in order to conquer the fear and do it?

Things to consider that may help you overcome the fear of being judged, shamed, or seen a certain way:

  • Take a moment to sit with the feelings that come up for you. Give them space to be. Breathe into them. Allow them to be, and to transform;
  • Remind yourself that by showing up more as yourself, you will encourage others to do the same;
  • Trust that coming out of hiding will allow you to experience a new level of joy. Also, consider the alternative: Isn’t it exhausting and lonely to hide? (I’m a work in progress on this one)
  • Allow yourself the experience of you supporting you, and notice your capacity for self-love expanding;
  • Remind yourself that how others see you has more to do with them than with you;
  • Consider if letting go of relationships in your life that don’t allow your authentic self to shine makes sense;
  • Remember how short life is, and how freeing it could be to express yourself fully now;
  • Have deep compassion for yourself when you doubt, shame, judge self, or have any not loving thoughts towards where you are in each moment;
  • Give yourself permission to play, and to make mistakes. I can rarely execute my paintings as I imagine them, but it hasn’t stopped me from painting.
  • Reach out for support;
  • And if still in doubt, remind yourself that Elisa wears shoes that, to some people, don’t match, and she does it with a smile.

What would the world be like if all of us gave ourselves permission to ethically and lovingly “paint and wear our own shoes”?

Namaste and much love,

Elisa Balabram

PS. Feel free to share how you express your creativity, and show up authentically in your life.

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