Ask for Blinders: a letter to my mentee

Amber,

You texted me one night last month to ask if I ever feel discouraged when I see other people doing things I wish I were doing. This was a brave question I’ll try to address in as clear of terms as possible; at the heart of your text there are endless hours of conversation we could have about comparison and distraction and how it affects our creativity. It’s a feeling worth paying attention to, whenever it comes up.

So here, as promised, is my reply.

The short answer is yes, absolutely! I feel the pull of comparison regularly and that old familiar “not good enough” feeling that accompanies time spent checking in on people who have been given opportunities I wish were extended to me. Of course I do. And it’s normal that you feel that way too. It’s awful to experience the successes of others by the light of our phones that only seem to illuminate the dimness of our own perceived failures.

But we have a say in this: our feelings, while enormous, do not get to determine our future or our focus.

To re-route those feelings and redirect my focus, I need to put on blinders.

I have this pair of imaginary blinders I am able to put on whenever I need to see *just* what’s ahead of me. Tunnel vision to the extreme, if you will, but when I am operating in this mode I’m able to focus more fully on the goals set before me and readily believe anything is possible, no matter what’s going on around me.

The relentless optimism that’s been a benchmark of my personality since childhood certainly helps me envision a positive future outcome in most situations, but even so – it’s difficult to overcome the obstacles in my way when I’m looking to the right or to the left at what everyone else is doing.

I need blinders to guide my gaze, not because I’m some ultra-focused guru but because I know my personality well, all its hooks and hangups included. I know I have the attention span of a baby gnat, a wildly fluctuating level of self esteem, and that my relentless optimism will only take me so far before I fall into a pit of despair over missing an opportunity that was never for me in the first place.

Even home life distractions can plummet me into the pit. That’s why I need to block out literally anything that would distract or derail my plans. Here’s how it looks —

I’m nearsighted, which means without my glasses I can only see what’s directly in front of my face. As someone whose body functions at its most optimal level after 7-9 hours of sleep, I know getting to bed on time is important — but that’s not always a possibility since many nights I’m up late prepping confetti orders, editing photos, or talking through a problem that came up at work with Christian and can only be addressed once the rest of the world has gone to sleep. On those nights, I make the choice not to wear my glasses as I pad around the house doing the days’ final tasks. I turn my phone on silent around dinner time so I don’t have to check it for anything. I’ll set my alarm for the next day and walk around in the dark, semi-blind to anything not in front of my face, avoiding all clocks so I truly have no idea what time it is, even as I go to bed.

When my mind inevitably starts to spiral into anxiety about what time it could be, I reassure myself — “you will get enough rest”.

I blur my eyes when I walk past the kitchen, because for some reason I can always see the neon green numbers on the oven clock, and I want so badly to believe that I am getting a good night’s sleep (even if I’m not).

Maybe this is living in denial, but it works.

The tell? On mornings after nights like these, I barely notice I’m short on sleep.

The psychology behind what’s happening here is too advanced for my blog, but I feel that putting a form of blinders on is imperative to achieving a present mind and a maintained focus.

So last week when I got your text, I started thinking about allllll the ways I put blinders on in my creative life, too:

If you don’t tell your mentees you love them, are you even their mom-I mean-mentor??

Metaphorical blinders are the ticket. They’re SO useful to avoid the negative thoughts that come with social media consumption. My day could be going just fine until I slow my scroll to see an old friend up to new things, and immediately think “she’s shooting or writing or home today, and I want that”. Blinders are helful to combat any comparative thought that creeps into my head when I’m creeping around on my old business partner’s production company, wondering how and why THEY got the granola bar commercial that filmed in the mountains, and we didn’t?

Funny how comparing what they have to what I don’t makes me suspiciously forgetful of everything I’ve been given.

I could avoid being triggered by those thoughts altogether, if it wasn’t for my gosh darn twisted human curiosity to see what the ghosts in my closet are up to since I checked in on them last.

Give me blinders, I whisper like the quietest faint of a prayer as I minimize the app on my phone. I need something to stop me from giving a crap about who or what has or does not have what I do or do not EVEN WANT!

This searching in the past to avoid present problems is procrastination at its finest, but it’s also anxiety manifesting its ugly head, AGAIN. But the past is the past, and I would never trade what I’ve got now for what I left behind – so why do I keep revisiting it?

This cyclical behavior is not only reserved for social media deep dives on my enemies. I check in on frenemies as well to see who’s booked a podcast or speaking engagement or landed a bid for a photo shoot I didn’t even know was on the table.

I even get jealous when my real friends work with other people, as if it’s not their right to do so, and my right to work with whoever I want, too.

All told, I wind up wasting a lot of time looking to the right or to the left, when all I need to see is right in front of me.

I need blinders.

Horses need blinders, too. And since you know I’m a horse girl, here’s a lesson on the benefits of blinders for equestrian training — but first, my favorite horse girl meme (hello distraction!)

Okay back to horse blinders:

“Horse blinders are firm leather squares (or plastic cups) that attach to a horses bridle or hood to prevent a horse from seeing behind and beside him. Horses that pull wagons and carriages wear blinders to prevent them from being distracted or panicked by what they see behind the wagon.” This article on the different kind of blinders horses may wear throughout their lives sheds light on the reasons they’re needed.

Image c/o Chimacum Tack – I love how this beauty’s blinders are a flower crown!

Learning about how horses approach the world while wearing blinders helped me draw a kind of connection to the way we approach our creative lives.

Other reasons horses (and creatives) need blinders:

-Horses have peripheral vision and can see on the sides of their heads (creepy, but go with me for the metaphor). This is helpful because they are prey animals and need to see who’s approaching and from where; but this also means horses are constanty on high alert! Horses are super anxious. Blinders force horses (and anxious creative types) to focus FORWARD, so they don’t get spooked (PHEW).

Sometimes a pony goes very well in an open bridle, isn’t spooky at all and is very confident BUT they are a lookie lou. They are gawking at everything around them or seem to be looking behind them more than they are looking ahead. In this case it’s less about using the blinders to block the cart behind them and more about using them to help the pony focus on going forward.

Article about the practicalities of horse blinders on Chimacum Tack

-Being a lookie lou can seriously derail your focus, but horses are also easily distracted by noise, traffic, and crowds. Sometimes, what the horse sees or hears prevents it from moving forward. Like horses, I can become paralyzed without blinders because of everything happening around me and the enormous weight of this load I’m pulling. I truly don’t know what to do next in those situations! Blinders eliminate distractions.

–Blinders help horses run at their own speed vs pacing with the pack approaching on all sides. Some trainers use blinders on their horses so they start and run faster, by making the horse believe she is further behind the pack she can’t see than she is in reality. Blinders keep horses running when they may want to give up.

-In war, horses are powerful, trustworthy creatures on a mission, often carrying weapons, equipment, and soldiers. But in times of battle, blinders have helped horses block approaching armies from view. The assumption is that distractions will arise – fear and comparison rest for no man, and certainly for no horse. That said, blinders eliminate the effectiveness of distractions.

This aligns with what I read in scripture —

No weapon that is formed against you will succeed;

— Isaiah 54:17A

That means, to me, that the enemies of my focus – distracion, comparison, jealousy, envy, and pride – will approach, but by faith they will not succeed in derailing the plan for my life.

I need to keep blinders on to keep my faith unshakeable, so I don’t live in fear of failure or falling behind. Blinders help horses (and me) stay on mission.

In reality, blinders are a boundary. Choosing to put a block on seeing – or caring – what other people are doing/saying/thinking increases awareness of the goodness in our own lives, and the opportunities that exist if we reach out our hands instead of wringing them in jealousy.

This mindset of wearing blinders means today, if I choose to open Instagram or any social media app, I will do so from a posture of gratitude for what I have, not in an effort to escape or mindlessly scroll for what I’m lacking. It means more often than not my phone is a tool for producing, not consuming – if you have an iPhone, check your screen time to see what distractions dictate much of your attention. It’s eye-opening to see the numbers!

Wearing blinders means keeping the peace of Christ in my heart, in an effort to keep my heart pure before God: undefiled by comparison, unaffected by anything or what anyone else is doing, ready to love my neighbor.

I need blinders, so I can truly see.

I’m so jealous of her,” a friend confesses late one night on the phone last week. “She’s so talented, and so nice, I don’t actually wish her any harm – I just wish I could do what she’s doing.”

“Pray for blinders,” I said in answer, as much for her as for myself. A daily refrain — blind me, so I can see.

As the story goes in the sacred text, Saul – a pharisee and rigorous keeper of religious law – was blinded on the road to Damascus where he was heading to execute followers of Jesus. For three days after a bright light struck his eyes, he walked in utter darkness – so when his eyes finally opened, he would be able to see. And when the scales fell off his eyes and he could see, really SEE, what God was doing? He became the one blessed to proclaim the goodness of God and the holiness of his only son to the unbelieving nations, and subsequently to the world. With this newfound vision and his restored sight, Saul also got his new name — Paul, the one we know about because he wrote so much of the second half of the Bible (Acts 9 recounts the story).

How good it is to see!

What a gift to be blinded by the light, and restored to sight by the one who sees us so completely.

Give us blinders, so we might see.

So to you, my mentee, a brave girl with more creativity in her pinky finger than many will ever acquire: ask Jesus to give you blinders, so you can see the vision of what’s before you and – by the grace of God – gain clarity on the next steps for your life.

Borrow my words if you need them but remember – God is closer than your breath, and your attentiveness is a prayer in and of itself.

Give me blinders to see only what’s in front of me, today. Fix my eyes on what’s for me and help me forget the rest, so I can be at rest with who you made me to be, no comparison.

A cross reference guide on how God guides us — these verses have become mantras in my life. I hope they help you, too.

“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Pieces I love from Psalm 116

Pray for blinders; then move forward with focus.

And this song, it’s so soothing and such a great place to end this letter.

What comes is better than what came before. — This song is so soothing and Cat Power’s cover is perfect

As I told you via text, I love you. Ask for blinders. Then trust: what comes is better than what came before.

Here for you,

-Your Mentor Kylee

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