shades of orange

Every once in a while, I like to get out some colored pencils and a sketchbook and just let my hands play with the color. It’s more of doodling or just mindless scribbling to feel the pencil on the page than it is about creating a scene or any particular shapes. I’ll often find myself writing words, maybe questions or affirmations, or even just playing with the shading of color as I move the pencil back and forth on the page. 

This particular morning, I felt called to the color orange. I decided I’d do a portion of the page just shaded in the different tones of orange that were available in my colored pencil container. I pulled out the first 3 pencils, then another, then another, and even another. By the end, I had 7 different shades of orange just from this one small container of pencils! My surprise, well, caught me by surprise. 

I don’t think it’s that I was totally unaware there are different shades of orange, and yes, I know it’s well beyond the measly 7 that were in my container that day. I think it’s that my own lack of awareness caught my attention. Why did this seem so surprising and even revelatory?  Somehow, I’d shrunk down my awareness of just how many dang options were available. A veritable plethora of shades of orange! In a weird way, those shades of orange suddenly illuminated for me how much I had allowed tunnel vision to creep in recently around what was possible for me in my own life and career. I knew the busy-ness factor had increased recently, but I hadn’t quite noticed how much I had slipped into that pattern of decreasing my awareness of options until I paused and started to notice the colored pencils that had suddenly captivated my attention. I had been accepting things like calendar invites, early morning meetings, evening commitments, and even weekend activities that really didn’t feel that great for me. I’d stopped asking for additional support and had moved back into the mode of “I’ll do it all. It’s fine, it’s fine. Everything is fine.” 

Orange is commonly associated with the color of creation and creativity. It got me thinking about how many different ways there are to be creative. I get trapped in binary thinking a lot. I can either do this OR do that. I can either be this way OR I can be that way. It’s really limiting and incredibly frustrating because I end up feeling like I’m choosing the lesser of two evils rather than opting into something I really want. Coming at it from my colored pencil analogy, however, if I can consider that there is a range of possibilities and combinations and a host of different, creative approaches to moving out of some of these stuck areas rather than one obscure right answer I magically need to find, there’s much more movement and more open possibilities. 

For me, it gave me enough of a pause to zoom back out on how things had been going and how I had been operating. My only choices actually weren’t “have support” or “do everything by yourself.” There’s a whole array of options in between! I didn’t have to just say yes or just say no to every request for time- there are different ways I could approach those, too. 

Two thoughts on this experience come to mind clearly for me. First, if you are caught in the spin cycle of life getting life-y, where can you pause for a moment – just a moment! – and grab your proverbial colored pencils to give your mind a break? If we never step out of the hustle, we’re not going to be able to achieve that perspective that just might hold the key we’ve been looking for. What’s one small way you can step out of the swirl and zoom out a bit? Also, next time you’re stuck, trying to figure out the path forward, unsure of how to approach something, or simply wanting to define your next step, challenge yourself to see if you can find all the different shades of orange that might be possible. It may not be just two or three. There could be a whole pencil box of options. How can you combine those colors/options together to get the exact right shade of orange for you? 

- Nicole



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