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.
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.”
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.
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!
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