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Life Crafting: Sculpting Yourself Into a Masterpiece

The greatest works of art come not from what you do with your hands, but what you do with your life.

by Janice Holly Booth

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Art is often said to be the most enduring proof of our uniqueness as humans. None of Earth’s other creatures have the ability to conjure such majestic triumphs as the Taj Mahal, the Sistine Chapel or a Beethoven symphony. That’s because creating art requires the ability to envision a reality more promising than the one you’re in. While many of us might not be blessed with a composer’s ear, a painter’s eye or an inventor’s mind, each of us is born with our own unique aesthetic. That aesthetic can help craft the essence of who we are.

The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.

Robert Henri, American painter and teacher

Erwin Raphael McManus, author of The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life Into a Work of Art, says, “Though we may create many beautiful works of art, the most important works of art to which we will ever give ourselves are the lives we live.” The trick lies in turning life crafting from an unconscious to a conscious endeavor. You may not (and probably should not) aspire to be a walking Mona Lisa or statue of David. But you can transform your spirit, mind and body into a design of your own choosing.

See also: Design a Life You Will Love

Draw on Your Soul to Paint Your Life

You may be tone deaf or unable to draw a stick figure or stack one block on top of another. But McManus insists you only need one thing to be an artisan, and it lies deep within. “Art exists to remind us that that we have a soul,” he says. “[Our soul] drives our imaginations, emotions and thoughts toward the highest ideals of what it means to be human.” Simply stated: We reach deep within our souls to explore who we really are and how we present ourselves to the world. If we have an internal muse, it rests within our soul.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

Think about historical figures, such as Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., whose words and ideologies continue to resonate even though they are gone. Now think about the people you know who love what they do and do it exceptionally well. Maybe it’s your local florist, a favorite teacher or the neighborhood auto mechanic. From legendary leaders to Navajo blanket weavers, people who connect to the artisan within leave their marks on the world, even if it’s only their small corner of it.

To begin what McManus calls “the hard work of greatness,” consider his checklist for exploring the landscape that will reveal your artisan soul.  

Make love the unifying principle of your life—let love inform all your motives, decisions and actions. Set time apart to be alone —begin with 15 minutes a day to decompress and reconnect with your spiritual core. Take time to see and absorb the beauty and wonder around you. Do more of the things you love and less of what kills your spirit. Spend more time with people who inspire you and less time with those who hold you back. Decide who you want to become: What is the story you want to tell through your life? Write a declaration of who you are and share it with a trusted friend. Write a manifesto declaring the kind of world you will create. Identify everything you could do now to craft your life into a closer reflection of the one you long to live. Make every small change you can to move your life into an expression of your passion and longings. Find a place to serve—someone or some organization that moves you closer to living out your passion.

Declutter Your Mental Landscape

While it sounds quite fun and evolved to “search for the artisan within,” what happens when real life interferes and roadblocks appear? Courage, resilience and tenacity are just a few of the mental traits you need to clear the path when reality rolls boulders your way. Psychotherapist Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, suffered through the death of her mother, her husband and her father-in-law in a span of ten years. She remembers thinking, “Here we go again.’ I didn’t want to go through such a staggering loss all over again.” Grief had pushed her closer to the edge than she was prepared for, and she decided to push back.

So she sat down and wrote a list of 13 things to banish from her thoughts and actions in order to achieve mental strength and clarity. Morin posted these insights on her blog, which went viral. Clearly, she had touched a nerve. By decluttering your mental space, Morin insists you can “take back your power, embrace change, face your fears, and train your brain for happiness and success.” 

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.

Barbara Kingsolver, an award-winning American novelist

Enhance Your Body Art (and We Don’t Mean Tattoos)

Sculptors and potters often say that when they begin a project, they don’t really know what will happen; they wait for the marble or clay to reveal the mysterious form hidden within. Our bodies can be like that too: Inside is a miraculous, spectacular sculpture waiting to be revealed. We’re not talking about turning your abs into a washboard or toning the undersides of your bat-wing arms. We’re talking about discovering and uncovering the indomitable life force that lies within.

Extreme examples of this include Nik Wallenda, the tightrope walker who continues to defy gravity, peril and injunctions with his stunts, and Diana Nyad, the athlete who at age 64 became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage. When you watch them, you feel your skin prickle or a tear form in the corner of your eye. That’s because you are witnessing much more than a wirewalker or an endurance swimmer. You are observing greatness manifested through their bodies. And it is speaking to the same greatness in you.

But those people, you may argue, are exceptional. They have talents you don’t have. Some might even call them prodigies. True, Wallenda and Nyad have spent their lives perfecting their art. Is it possible to discover what makes you most alive when you’re at the midpoint of your life?

Nik Wallenda defies gravity and performs a near-miracle on a high wire over Sarasota Ford this past December. , Photo by Tim Boyles/Getty Images

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

J.K. Rowling, British novelist and creator of the Harry Potter series

The answer is yes. Beverly Sobelman, a software developer for Microsoft, became an aerial silk artist at 40 and now teaches the skill to others. Becky Holder competed in her first Olympic equestrian event at age 39 and now rides for Team USA, despite an ongoing battle with weight—proof that your body need not be perfect in order to become extraordinary.

Even if your body is not your medium, there’s still good reason to pay attention to it. No matter how we craft life into a work of art, your body will be coming along for the ride. 

Create Your Mind-Soul-Body Collage

One way to connect mind, body and spirit is through the ancient tradition of yoga, which is now recognized by mainstream medicine as a cure for many ills. It’s used to treat sexual dysfunction in couples; to aid soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder; to help cancer patients relieve stress; and to keep elderly individuals mobile longer. And the list goes on. Likewise, in your life-crafting journey it might be one of the best ways to help your body express its greatness, even if you can’t touch your toes.

Too busy to slow down? After discovering how to recraft her own life through yoga,  former news anchor turned yoga teacher Christine Chen created a series of yoga-on-the-go poses that anyone can work into their daily routine. Many folks start yoga for the physical benefits, she says, and then find that they get a spiritual and emotional boost as well. “It gives you the tools to see, to make choices, to discern, to live better,” Chen says. Check out our slide show for some ways you can relieve pain, reduce stress, and add joy to your day.

See also: Change Your Life Without Losing Your Mind

Deciding to craft your life into a work of art isn’t easy, but it’s necessary if you want your life to resonate while you’re here and long after you’re gone. The courage lies within and draws on mental as well as physical strength. McManus would sum it up this way: Just think of yourself as a canvas upon which you paint your life. Make it your greatest work of art. And never relinquish your artisan soul. 

The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.

W.M. Lewis, American teacher and politician