In the early 1990s I moved to upstate New York from Manhattan. The shock of seeing mountains and trees instead of skyscrapers and sewers awakened a sudden urge to learn watercolor. (Until that time, my experience in painting had been in high school art classes.)
In the beginning of the watercolor journey, I had clarity of intention. I wasn't aiming at fame or commercial success but to approach painting as a kind of active meditation. Since I was aware of the healing power of color, I believed that working directly with pigments would provide balance and vibrancy to my life. Finally, the flowing nature of watercolor appealed strongly to me.
It was important for me to have these clear intentions. It would have been also good if I'd remembered them.
While I was learning technique and developing talent, I loved painting. After a while, though, I fell prey to the lure of exhibitions and sales. I started to get less enjoyment from painting.
One of my errors was that I didn't consciously decide that I wanted my work to appear in shows and to sell them. I drifted into that longing without owning it and deliberately setting goals. My much greater error was allowing the idea of material success to both overpower and diminish the joy in the act of creation.
This is the fallacy of deferred gratification, which can be expressed as "I will be happy when ————." The foundation of this fallacy is that idea that one struggles and suffers in the service of some distant notion of happiness. Happiness is there and then, not here and now. In other words, it's never, because by the time one reaches a goal (like being juried into an artists' association, selling the first painting, etc.), one can too easily decide that the real goal is a show of one's own, the winning of an award, or whatever sits on the distant mountaintop you must scale.
I'm not speaking against goals. I'm speaking for balance and the idea that any goal that crushes the joy of creating is way too heavy.
Look at your life. Where is joy missing?
In narrow terms, maybe you used to play the piano, but when you realized you weren't going to play Carnegie Hall, you stopped.
In more general terms, maybe you used to love your job, but you became very competitive, and the idea of promotion became more important than the creativity of problem solving.
Maybe you had children because you wanted to help new beings grow and flourish, but somewhere around the 900th load of diapers, the joy drained away.
Don't let your survey discourage you. That area of your life is like a fire that's gone out from lack of tending. Go back to your original intentions and re-experience. Poke that fire until sparks begin flying. If you commit yourself to this revival, a steady flame will begin to burn. Warm yourself before it, and don't forget to add more wood.