Harnessing the Butterflies


Once long ago, I had a dream to do something creative with my life. As a child, I coloured, drew pictures, wrote stories and just knew that somehow that would continue to be part of my life.

At 18 I applied to art school. I wanted nothing more than to paint, even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

That was my first real memory of the butterflies; seized by anxiety and fear, I chose to trust and follow those elusive fluttery creatures.

But I didn’t fit the stereotype of a brooding, starving artist. I was smart, happy, in a relationship and looking forward to my future, which in the end did not go the way I’d planned.

The relationship ended and the art dream died, along with my positive outlook on life.

Bitter, cynical and more than a little jaded, I gave up my youthful dreams and joined the rat race. The stories I’d been telling myself were more real than any reality and I was stuck.

Fast forward six years; I’m sitting in a course trying to create a new future. The trying only created a headache, not a vision that inspired me in any way. The more I tried to come up with the right words, the right future, the less inspired I felt.

I sat in my chair resigned that I would ever have what I wanted in life. So I closed my eyes and I took a deep breath. Then another. I felt the pressure ease, my mind relax. I heard the voices of my group around me, but I just kept breathing.

In and out. . .and suddenly, I heard myself say, “I want to travel, meet people and take photographs.”

I looked up and people around me were smiling. At that moment I wasn’t quite sure why. It seemed insane, a pipe dream with no way of becoming reality.

But my group encouraged me to keep those words alive, even if I had no idea how to make it happen.

So I let myself dream.

For the first time in years, I imagined a future that made me feel good, that made my heart race just a little bit faster.

And I still had no idea how to make it happen.

girl lying in grass catching butterfliesCue butterflies.

I started by talking about it. I shared my idea with friends and the more I shared the more it became real.

It seemed like everyone was behind me, offering resources, cheering me on and keeping me focused when I strayed from the dream.

Six months later I was on a flight to Amsterdam to apprentice with a professional photographer. I had a job, a place to stay and a contact. I sat in my seat on the plane in a daze, wondering how the hell it had all come together. I was high on possibility.

And about to fall. Hard.

Three weeks into my apprenticeship, the boss turned out to have a major lack of integrity, hitting on me while his partner nursed their new baby upstairs. My Jekyll had become a Hyde, killing my hopes in a nanosecond.

My family and even a few of my chief supporters offered comfort and encouragement to return home. I’d given it a shot and now it was time to return to reality.

Reality. How that word makes me cringe.

And so I prepared to return home; my adventure over before it had begun. As I lay on my bed that night unable to sleep, the butterflies gathered once again.

What if I stayed?

What if I did what I’d come to do? – travel, meet people and take photographs.

The butterflies came to life and in that moment, in the face of uncertainty, self-doubt and the skepticism of many, I chose to stay.

Within 48 hours I had a new place to live, a new plan and the start of new friendships. It was the start of the best 4 months of my life.

What I started out viewing as a failure had become a detour.

You could say the butterflies lead me in the right direction. I’d say they’d done their work well.


This post was inspired by Ride the Butterflies by Jonathan Fields, who reminded me that the butterflies have been with me always.