I had a Paradigm Shift About Money While Living Solo in Mexico

I had a revelation that rocked my world while doing an art residency in Mexico—and it had nothing to do with painting.

 

I was thrilled to be in Oaxaca, and I loved Mexico, but I wasn’t carefree. As an artist entrepreneur, my business cash flow ebbs and flows. I’m careful to always maintain personal savings, but it’s hard to not be anxious when my business cash flow dips too low. While in Oaxaca, it was dipping and one large reason for it was because a former collaborator owed me a large sum of money. I felt hurt and stressed about being stiffed by this person, even though I wasn’t the only victim.

The fact that I had recently gone through a big breakup also weighed me down even more. Some would say that dashing off to another country is a great escape, but I can testify that being a stranger in a foreign land where you barely speak the language and you don’t have close friends or family for support is not a magic breakup balm! It’s more like a recipe for loneliness.

My money anxiety was about to have a big relief—my licensing company was due to pay me a cushy check that would cover my business expenses for the next couple months. These infusions of security and cash flow are what artists (and all business owners) dream of!

And yet I clearly remember the day that the commission check was deposited into my bank account. I didn’t feel elated. I felt numb.

Where was the joy? Why wasn’t I reveling in feelings of security?

There I was, alone in Oaxaca and completely in love with Mexico, and so excited to keep exploring after finishing my residency in Puebla—and yet I was becoming more and more depressed.

 " Cholula " 30x30" mixed media on canvas, Mexico 2017

"Cholula" 30x30" mixed media on canvas, Mexico 2017

 

Just before I left for Mexico, I watched a documentary called Minimalism on Netflix. The film states that the things that we do and the things we think we want are due to unseen fears and desires. We spend time, energy, and lots of money acquiring things to fill a void, but since we aren’t addressing the core need/fear, we remain unfulfilled. These needs can be extrinsic (external), such as wanting approval from others, or wanting to be liked. They can also be intrinsic (internal), such as fears about being alone, fears of not being special, or fears of being unworthy.

I think the intrinsic fears are the scariest to tap into.

Minimalism was a thought-provoking movie, and I think some soul-searching questions that it brought up were percolating in me while I was in Mexico. When I felt no fulfillment at the five-figure commission payment, I came face-to-face with the void in me that had been left unfulfilled: my need for family.

There’s a wonderful quote by Rumi: “What you seek is seeking you.”

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I realized that what I had been seeking all along was something that I was already blessed with—a loving and supportive family. And yet I had been living away from them for more than 10 years, between college, living in the United Arab Emirates for three years, and other travel. I suddenly knew that I needed to be near them.

Shortly after this realization, I left Mexico and returned to my hometown. I had a lot of emotions and grief to face and work through, and I needed a lot of self work (and an amazing therapist) to get through it. I am glad to be living near my family now, and I still enjoy traveling both within the United States and internationally. In fact, think I enjoy travel even more now that I have grounded myself more firmly in a home base.

We all want things in life, but when we have a glimpse of insight into the root—our deepest needs and desires—it is truly profound, and it can right our course.

I won’t say that money doesn’t matter to me; I also know it’s a cliché to say that money doesn’t buy happiness. I respect money, and it can make life more convenient. I grew up in one of the poorest cities in New Jersey, and I’m very grateful for how far I’ve come. But in Mexico I realized money could not fix how I felt. Money is powerless to cure depression; it can’t help you love yourself; and to my surprise it didn’t even make me feel more secure.

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This post is about my experience, but I hope it gives you food for thought. What are the deepest motivations that you have for what you do—for your goals—for what you buy? Do you have a void in your life? If so, are you filling it with things that don’t serve you instead of making the needed changes or doing the inner work? These are deep questions that can lead to profound insights. I wish you the best!

Amira xox

P.S. Please comment below and/or share this post if you found it beneficial. Share the wealth! <33

What I Learned from Taking a Social Media Break This Week

 This gorgeous color wheel study, provided by one of my meticulous students. Thanks susan Gottschalk!

This gorgeous color wheel study, provided by one of my meticulous students. Thanks susan Gottschalk!

Last weekend I had the honor of teaching a 3-day workshop for the first time at the Donna Downey Studios in North Carolina. It was a glorious occasion and I painted with some of the sweetest ladies I could have hoped for. Stepping away from the online side of things for the weekend and engaging with artists in person was a much-needed change of pace.

After reflecting on such an intense year, and recognizing that in a few short days I would be starting my 30 paintings in 30 days challenge, I decided to reign it in and cancel all work-related Instagram and Facebook activity for a week. Well, 4 days to be exact but that's basically a business week over here.

Here's what I learned:

  1.  Managing two Instagram accounts, a Facebook group of 1,900+ artists, and keeping up with my account here is a full time job. 
  2. I need to hire more help and fast. Having support staff to help manage the different facets of my art business and consulting is crucial for me to stay in shape.
  3. I was able to be way more productive in my business when I unplugged for a few days. 
  4. I was able to focus on self-care more easily. I caught up with a few healthcare visits, visited my grandma, and spent my 29th birthday at the mall like a normal person. (PS I treated myself to some Madewell jeans for the first time and I did not know a pair of jeans could make you so happy. They cost a pretty penny, but you will never want to put your toosh in another piece of denim again.)
  5. I got out of the addictive loop of likes and comments and also couldn't run to them when I needed a distraction.
  6.  My time felt like my own for the first time in a long time.
  7. It is slightly scary to think the online world has imploded and may build up your anxiety to check it even for a second 
  8. I have more self-control than I thought I did. And coming back to the "work" that is social media is hard. 
  9. Social media is still a vital part of my business and how I support myself, but it is not the only part.

Have you ever tAKEN a social media hiatus?

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I intend to schedule more of these throughout the rest of this year. I never realized how much time and energy I was expending. It's nice just to be able to tell people, email me at info@amirarahim.com if you need anything and walk away. 


#AMIRAPAINTS30DAYS

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Today marks the first day of my self-inflicted 30 paintings in 30 days challenge 😝 and so you can expect me to make up for the absence this week with a months worth of original paintings from my studio to flood your screens.

If you'd like to get on my collector list for the 30 paintings and get special updates on new originals from my studio this month, sign up below:

After this I'll probably want a pina colada off the coast of Jamaica. Like for real 🌴🌴🌴

7 Bad Habits Holding Back Your Instagram Growth

#1 You're still doing "Follow-for-follow"

Back in the day (okay really just a few years ago), it was very common to see people visiting each other's IG feeds and immediately commenting "Hey, follow for follow?". Meaning, they'd follow you if you follow them back. Even worse, sometimes, you'd follow someone only to realize weeks later that they've unfollowed you already and this was just a technique employed to grow their own numbers. This is not a winning strategy for growing your Instagram audience and will only stress you out. Instead, focus on building a long-lasting community of raving fans, aka "your tribe."

#2 You're posting too little

This probably could have been number 1, because it is the most common concern I hear from artists just starting to get serious about their social media. Many newcomers feel like they will turn people off if suddenly they ONLY share their creative pursuits or new venture. And even more so, many people fear that sharing 3-5 times per day is excessive. Yet, the reality is that we are being marketed to constantly and successful businesses understand that you must vie for your ideal market's attention. The best way to do this is to post frequently and consistently throughout the day to insure that at least one of your posts are seen that day.

#3 You're posting too much

Have you ever scrolled down your timeline only to see the same person sharing 3 or 4 photos within the span of a couple of minutes? It feels a bit spammy, right? It's like you haven't shared anything all week and you're trying to make up for it by flooding people's screens. I have certainly unfollowed accounts because of this and really advise against overwhelming people's feeds. It's much better to space out a few posts throughout the day since people check their phones multiple times of the day as well (as noted in the point prior).

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#4 You don't have a vision for your feed

Some feeds are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get :P. Meaning it's all over the place and not in a good way! One minute there's a picture of a cat. The next day it's a weird mushroom you found in the woods during your morning stroll. And the next it's your latest outfit find from the mall. While it may be entertaining for the people closes to you, this isn't building a brand. Instagram is no longer a platform for personal blogging. If you run a personal blog, that is different. But for the rest of us, we can't be surprised when no one is pays attention to our art the one time we do share it. It's because they can't decide what's the most important thing on your feed and neither can you.

#5 You post selfies regularly

Everyone loves a good selfie. Indeed, Instagram is probably responsible for the creation of the term. If you treat your Instagram account like a personal blog, then selfies are more than okay. But for most of us, our audience and potential clientele would much rather see what you're working on than your face. Harsh, but true. But the beauty of this is that you can share quality photos even on days when you don't feel so glamorous because it's about your work!

#6 You don't take your photography seriously

Eventually, as you start to follow more and more successful accounts on Instagram you will develop a better eye for photography. You don't have to be a professional photographer, but some basic ideas on lighting, negative space, composition, and balance goes a long way. Interestingly enough, due to social media, we've become more selective in the quality of photo and video content we consume. So yes, the days of getting by with crappy photos on Instagram are over. If you haven't already, catch up!

#7 You rely on apps, comment pods, or paid shortcuts

This may be a bit controversial, so I will preface this by saying "to each his own." Whatever works for you at the end of the day, right? Paying for followers and other quick-fix apps is certainly a route that many people choose to take. If you've made the decision, however, to build an engaged and loyal community, then it's going to take a bit more strategy and patience.

Strategies on how to create viral content, engineer engagement, and create consistently high-quality content is exactly what I teach in my upcoming Instagram for Artists course.

5 Mistakes I Made in My Art Business + FREE Instagram Course!

I've been meaning to write this blog post for several weeks now. It started out as 10 mistakes because there have been many and I will undoubtedly make some more, but I couldn't arrive at an even 10. I just returned from a trip to Cuba as a celebration to myself for accomplishing something which I'll share later. It took soooo much effort for me to book this trip. I could think of every reason not to do it, but in the end, I knew I was resisting it because it felt "too good". I'll be getting into that later as well. As a full-time artist for 3 years now, I can share a lot of the ups and downs and lessons along the way. If they resonate with you, cool. If you'd like to add to this list, please share some in the comments. As awkward as it can get on social media, I still believe in the value of transparency and sharing your story. SO here's mine. Mistakes first

#1 Undercharging/undervaluing my work

This is a touchy one because, after all, what is the "value" of art in a monetary sense? There are so many factors that goes into pricing artwork. Experience. Status. Target audience. Market. Financial climate. Heck, even the artist's pulse (still alive?). And so, while there is no finite way to gauge what to charge, I made the mistake like so many artists starting out of charging way below what I really wanted for a given painting. The downside is that when you continue to sell yourself short, it becomes a habit and it can be harder down the road to raise your prices in time for your new mindset.

#2 Not celebrating the little wins

This one has probably been said a thousand times before. But I noticed something. Celebrating wins should start small because just like the point above, it becomes a habit. I remember the first time I actually let a positive email sink in. I was two years into my business, in the hustle and bustle of every day tasks, and like so many other fan emails, I was going to archive this one and keep it moving. But it hit me: this person took a moment out of their life to share how much my work meant to them. I was so focused on not letting the praise get to me, because I didn't feel like I deserved it, or that I had put in enough skin in the game so-to-speak. This is very self-sabotaging. When something less than ideal would show up in my inbox or messages, I would focus on it for days at a time. But a positive remark, an unexpected sale, or reaching a new milestone, I would quickly gloss over it and keep my "eyes on the prize." Except there was no prize in sight. This is it. This is the prize, every single day I get to do what I love, and it took me a few years to realize that.

#3 Neglecting to pay myself

A rookie mistake, no doubt, but one that many small business owners make in the beginning. I was paying everyone else but myself. It wasn't until I got a bookkeeper upon my return back to the USA in 2016 did I decide to get more intentional about my finances. Up until this point, any sales I made from my art circled right back into my business, expenses, more supplies, courses, etc. But I had no idea how much money I, the artist, was actually earning. I realized the need to separate myself from the art entity and the best way to do that is by paying myself a salary every few weeks. It's also pretty standard procedure for any business owner in the US. But again, rookie mistake (hire a bookkeeper). Now, it feels nice to actually pay myself and set money aside for me personally. I have a healthy balance and separation from my personal finances and my professional ones. I also feel rewarded for my hard work each time I send myself a salary.

#4 Comparing myself to other artists online

The internet makes it really easy to "measure" yourself up to someone else. The problem is, we're only seeing a snapshot of what people choose to share with us online. Very few people I followed online chose to be candid about the realities of running an art business. A closer look at private Facebook groups and comments reveal a completely different reality beyond the shiny photos. Panic attacks, insomnia, poor health, self-doubt, and a complete neglect of other interests outside of making money, just to name a few. The more I would look to other artists for validation and camaraderie, the more isolated I began to feel. Instead, I needed to focus on what was in front of me and what mattered most.

Today, I realize that I don't want a business like someone else's. I want a business that's uniquely mine and crafted from the heart. That means a lot of days of not knowing what the future holds, but I owe it to myself to embrace that unknown and enjoy the journey that is my own. 

#5 Not documenting my work 

I remember the first time I was approached by a licensing company. It was in 2014, I was one year into selling my artwork online, and I was completely unprepared. I was hiring a photographer to come and capture my work, but turns out, he was not a true professional and many of the images I had paid him for were useless to the licensing company. I had to scrounge around the city and collect back my work from collectors, luckily many of which were still in town, and re-shoot everything. It was a costly lesson, but a necessary one. Now, I have my work professionally photographed by a local photographer who specializes in documenting artwork. This is vital for the longevity and integrity of my business and helps protect my rights as an artist.

Can you think of any more mistakes to add?

Also, remember that win I mentioned earlier? I recently celebrated it and I'm happy to say that I paid off my student loans. When I graduated university years ago, I thought it would take me the next two decades to pay off my debt. I even derailed going to law school because I didn't want to add to the tab. I never imagined I'd be able to do it in 3 years and let alone from my art sales. It may not be that big of a deal to some people, but to me, as the first person in my family to attend college, I am so grateful. Thanks to the many collectors and patrons who have supported me these past few years, this dream has become a reality. No doubt, much of my traction has been because of social media. I've shared almost everyday online, particularly on Facebook and Instagram. 

Instagram got me my first licensing deal.

I sell paintings on Instagram every month.

I've built a community of fans on Instagram. 

This platform means a lot to me and so many other creatives, and it is here to stay. I'm obsessed with teaching people how to use the platform, and last year I decided to offer online trainings to other artists to use the platform more effectively. 

Now, we're launching a free 7-day program to inspire you to post more effectively. If you'd like to join the #insanelyinspiredinstagram tribe, please visit the course site below. 

👉👉👉 Click here to enroll.

May Studio Update

Fresh Paint

New work from my studio

The weather is warming up and so is my easel! I've been plugging away on a new collection and I'm excited with what's been showing up on my canvas so far. These paintings have a decidedly softer feel, while still being as colorful as ever.

I'm experimenting with more texture and whites in my work. It is a challenge but I have some visions in my head that I'm determined to see come to life. I think this month is going to be a bright and colorful one. Some of these paintings I use a brisk motion with my palette knife to finish, and others, I am slowly sweeping over with my brush, one thick stroke at a time.

There's something about these pieces that makes me want to keep going. I'll be back in a few days with more to share but would love your thoughts on the latest additions so far.

The titles are all listed in my shop with some like "Something like Intuition", "Show me a better way" and "Sunday in Central Park".