Redefining Success: Renew Your Character Daily

This is part of a Q&A series featuring women who have found success on their own terms in the mindful age. For more stories like this, click here.  

Most professional paths—no matter how authentic or independent—are about getting from A to B. But if you’re an artist, who decides your next steps and what dictates achievement?

For textile artist Michelle Li Murphy, success is less about gallery space and more about gratitude and grace. Once a Brooklyn-based hipster artist, she’s now a single mom designing exquisite hand-dyed silks in her small town storefront, Stonewall Studio. Although she sometimes misses her old life, Michelle can step away from a moment to see the mural she’s creating for herself, her daughter, and her art over the course of a lifetime.

How do you define success?

Being able to survive as an artist, get up, and come and go as I need to. I’ve been able to release myself from the way society defines success, a definition I find to be difficult and oppressive.

How is your definition continuing to evolve?

I’d like to peak as an artist in my 80s! That’s my retirement plan. I’m a slow burner taking the slow path, and it’s hard because we are in a fast-paced society with an aggressive agenda.

I always say no judging and comparing, because that’s a mirror. Sometimes I freak out and think, No I’m doing it wrong! That usually happens when I’m out of money. I’m isolated in an art studio. I miss Brooklyn. I miss the crew.

When I start comparing I rely on gratitude and think, having hot water is incredible! I have food! Then I can pop myself back and keep the eye on the prize: To be an artist and have a full and interesting life.

As an artist, what is the one gift you can offer that a traditional career can’t?

Always being able to make something. You can get out of your head and into your hands. It’s personal because you are always challenging yourself.

You learn to have faith. I don’t have a paycheck; I have no idea where my money is coming from. I have to trust that someone is going to need a dress, remember me, and call. I’m rolling the dice. It’s terrifying, but an interesting way to interact with the spirit of life and the universe. I get confirmation all the time, and it’s usually right when I really need money. You have to believe in it and work for it!

What was the most difficult moment for you?

I had my daughter, my husband had left me, and my father died. I left New York City because I couldn’t do [be an artist with a kid in the city]. I moved in with my grandparents in Maryland. That was the wall of despair. I found myself one night in this surreal experience. I would look around and think, “Where am I? Am I awake? Life feels like a dream and sleep feels like my real life.” I felt so derailed.

What do you consider your #ActuallySheCan moment?

It was that same moment! I thought I couldn’t do this anymore, and then, when I was down on the floor, gratitude kicked in: There’s heat. I’m not living in a tent, I’m not behind bars. I’m okay… There’s food… My family is here… This is my bottom, and I’m OK. I stopped feeling badly and told myself that it was time to start going the other way. I’m done being miserable! I’m OK! Now get up and do the dishes!

What is the best advice you have received that you wish to pass on?

I think advice is personal and specific. When you give it you should listen to it yourself. The I Ching offers solid advice from ancient Chinese masters. Go get yourself a copy. My favorite part is the concept of daily renewal of character. I love that.

What are words of inspiration for someone else facing a challenging moment in her life?

Start very small and do that daily. It’s called being mindful: Small decisions that have to do with daily renewal of character: Do your dishes, move your hands with a little more grace, stand up a little taller. Tiny fractions of difference will add up, just like a whole lifetime will add up.

Get a journal. Write your goals in it. Stretch, breath deeply, and tell your body I love you. Thank you. You’re doing well. Really mean it.

Written for ActuallySheCan by Julie Balter