Are you struggling​ with the need to Conform?

On Picking Up a Paintbrush

The bristles were dipped with care into azure blue.

Cobalt paint rolled an ocean wild, untamed

And this landlocked soul began to play.

A memory surfaced with recognisable hue.

Exhilaration slipped its eternal, anchor chain,

Freedom untied its moorings and cast off.

Over crisp, white paper, the brush strokes launched.

Sails, filled with new experiences to pursue,

Skimmed across rough canvas free to explore again.

With creativity close-hauled, this forgotten pleasure set off.


A while ago, I was given the opportunity to explore the painting technique of Mark Rothko.  Rothko mixed his paints on the canvas, where he formed his blocks of intense colour. The technique required a ‘go for it’ attitude; a willingness to experiment without a clear idea of the outcome. At that moment, I realised that I had become trapped.

In the past, I loved to grab hold of a brush and let it wander over a large sheet of paper. The pictures and drawings were never meant for anyone else’s eyes. It was the pure pleasure of the process; of getting a blank piece of paper, turning on some music or responding to an idea in my head and then, see what would happen.  In recent years, this has transformed into writing. Ideas or words will suddenly pop into my head, or a moment will grab my attention and require my thoughts.

Yet, there was something in the experience of picking up a paintbrush that was different. It served to remind me that I had let conformity creep quietly into my life and it was so subtle that I barely recognised its presence. First, conforming to what I perceive to be other people’s expectations. People pleasing is a self-defeating habit for me. I am the oldest sibling in my family and keeping the peace; managing others expectations was learned at home. Second, outside pressures to conform had worn me down. Many times, it felt to me, that my performance and the subsequent outcome was judged by the ever-changing, inconsistent requirements of others. However much I tried to ‘please’ it never felt enough. Slowing, I came to realise how much I was unhappy with my professional life.

The opportunity to paint served to remind me that I had forgotten something. I had forgotten a part of myself. The part of me that thrives on being creative, on being curious. Ken Robinson(2009) says you cannot discover your self if you’re trapped in a compulsion to conform. He says you cannot be yourself in a swarm.

During the process of painting,  I was only focused on applying paint to paper, on exploring possibilities, on being curious. I was not trapped by the need to meet other’s expectations. I was definitely not seeking approval and the feeling was glorious!

Are you trapped in the need to conform?


Robinson, K. and Aronica, L. (2009) The Element: How finding your passion changes everything. Penguin.