I sat for a long time on this painting, trying to decide if it was finished. I often add some sort of phrase to my work, to underline the meaning. But I kept thinking it could mean different things to different people, and I didn’t want to limit them all by choosing just one.
Kim and I are initiators; we like to think of ourselves as self-reliant. This is a good trait to have when you encounter closed doors. Instead of accepting defeat, you look for another door, or a window that might have been left unlocked.
This trait, however, makes it difficult to accept gifts. By definition, a gift is not something you can buy or acquire through an act of will. Rather, it is bestowed upon us. It’s free and requires nothing in return except for us to humbly receive it with gratitude.
Although Kim and I have accomplished a lot through our own talents and persistence, the truth is that we wouldn’t be here were it not for the gifts of others.
Our friend Jenna followed us to Madison and donated years of her time to work with us — for free! — doing whatever was required to help us get this thing off the ground. Our friend Sue helped out by helping to subsidize Jenna’s living expenses that we weren’t able to cover.
We amassed $100,000 in debt in the building of this company. Much of it was used staying afloat, finding our way as a company, as we tinkered, looking for a working business model. Survival would not have been possible were it not for some generous personal loans and gifts from our friends and parents. The majority of that debt is now gone, but the gratitude to those people who showed their belief in us remains.
The successful launch of Penguins Can’t Fly was another uncomfortable moment when we had to ask for and rely on other people to help spread the word. We saw every sale, every share, every positive review, as a gift.
Kim and I have a hard time owing people. We’re happy to climb the tree ourselves and get our own damn apples, thank you very much. We also love dispensing our apples to others. It’s fun to be able to help someone along with no expectation of reciprocity.
But accepting help from someone else? That’s a different matter entirely.
It’s awkward and uncomfortable and frankly, a full-frontal assault on our pride in a society that worships self-made successes.
Which, like unicorn-riding leprechauns, don’t actually exist.
We were not made to be alone. We were created to help each other. That means being generous with our time, talents, and treasure, but it also means receiving those gifts from others in our own time of need, too.
And so for me, right now, this painting reminds me to be grateful for all the people who have helped us get to now and to stay open to the gifts we will need to accept in order to get to where we’re supposed to be.
It also reminds me that providence doesn’t usually come all at once in bunches. More often it arrives just in time, apple by apple.
Yeah, that’s what this painting means to me. I’m curious what it means to you. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your art, Jason. I had to smile when I read about how difficult it was for you to accept help as the last time I saw your family at an event, I gave Lucy an unopened bag of cookies from the event. She looked at me and said, “Are you sure?” I told her that I was sure and that she would be helping me out by taking them. I have not ever had to convince a child to take a bag of cookies before. :) And it reminded me of the saying that the apple does not fall far from the tree. By the way, this piece of art with an apple reminds me of how much work it takes to have balance in our lives while keeping our eyes on our goals and trying not to fall.
Julie Williams says
Thank you for such an amazing blog post! This message resonates so deeply in my life. I would not be where I am without all of the absolute amazing and incredible people in my life. Beautiful treasures who love lavishly and give generously. It is so hard to receive gifts without feeling like something of equal value is owed in return, but it is their generosity that inspires so many gifts to be paid forward to others.
When I looked at this work of art, I loved all of the open space between the fox and the apple on the tree. I saw that space as the size of the dream. There are many who would have walked by a tree or a dream that size and not even taken the time to go after the apple. But some of us set lofty goals and go after big dreams. While there may be distance and time and space in between where we are and where we’d like to get to, the dream is still possible. It may take time, patience, assistance of others and some tools & equipment that we do not yet have access to. It is not impossible if we keep our eyes open and focused, as well as holding our buckets out to collect what we can along the way.