An Essay On (My) Life, The Universe And Everything

Katherine Herriman

I’ve been feeling somewhat adrift this year. Since quitting my full-time job 4 years ago to live nomadically in Europe, I’ve always had forward momentum in my life. In the first couple of years it was all I could do to just focus on re-designing my entire life, my entire me. Becoming an artist. Struggling with learning technique, learning mediums, remembering how to draw. Drowning in information about blogging and selling online and scaling that learning curve. All the while living in foreign countries and just trying to soak it all in.

Then, last year I opened my Etsy shop and I had that to focus on. So far this year my only real goal or forward momentum has been to make paintings and list them in my Etsy shop. As it turns out, this isn’t enough. I’ve been feeling deeply unmotivated this year.

All year, I’ve had a sense of emptiness. Travelling Europe the way we did was such an enormous dream of mine; something I’ve dreamt about since I was a child. And whilst we were doing it our lives had an inherent meaning. We were living a dream. Throughout this year when I tried to come up with a similarly compelling dream for my art I couldn’t think of anything. Artist-me grew up on a diet of Kelly Rae Roberts’ teachings; the main doctrine being to “dream big”. I think maybe I don’t want big. Maybe vagabonding around Europe was my big.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve struggled with defining success, knowing what it looks like for me. This of course has a lot to do with not having any goal posts. I’ve read a lot of other people’s definitions of success and the few that have resonated somewhat with me I’ve made note of. One in particular I read on The Minimalists blog is:

Happiness + Constant Improvement + Contribution = Success

On Happiness

I mostly like this emotional equation, although I have a problem with “happiness”. Happiness seems like a meta-category of a lot of different things to me. More like a result than an action. The other two elements of the equation are or can be actionable verbs, whereas “happiness” is something that happens to you as a result of other things. I feel the need to break “happiness” down to its lowest common denominator. I think a more useful understanding of what I think the author means by “happiness” is this from Tim Ferriss:

“Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase… When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss”, I propose that they are, in fact referring to the same singular concept: excitement… The question you should be asking isn’t, ‘What do I want?’ or ‘What are my goals?’ but ‘What would excite me’?”

On Constant Improvement

This one’s a no-brainer. If my work was to stagnate and my art didn’t improve from this point forth there could be no happiness.

On Contribution

I believe that “contribution” is about meaning. It’s hard to find meaning in one’s life if it isn’t intersecting with anyone else’s. Like excitement/happiness I think “meaning” would be a more accurate word here as I believe “contribution” is simply the most obvious way of creating meaning. Another possible synonym is “connection”. Connection to something bigger than oneself.

I much prefer the equation with these tweaks:

Excitement + Constant Improvement + Meaning = Success

Why The Hell Are You Doing All This?

When rifling through the blog posts I’ve saved on this topic I came across one titled, “Unmotivated to Get Shit Done? Here’s Why”. I actually find this blog post a bit obnoxious, possibly solely because it quotes “The Millionaire Fastlane”, which sounds like the epitome of douch-baggery. However, the essence of the post is: “Those magical cocaine-blowing-insanely-focused people have a strong sense of why.”

Yeah, I don’t know what cocaine blowing is either. Isn’t that the opposite of what you’re supposed to do with cocaine. Or is that the point? Anyway…

Why The Hell Am I Creating Art?

  • Because I believe most things human-made detract from the beauty in the world and that makes me sad.
  • Because when I wasn’t creating I would become angry-jealous when I saw wonderful things I wish I had made/could make.
  • Because art is the only thing I’ve been vaguely above-average at.
  • Because the frustration of not being able to translate inspiration into action is one of the worst feelings in the world and the joy of the converse is one of the best.
  • Because before I ever began painting, art supply stores would fill me with a deep sense of yearning and I inexplicably enjoyed just being surrounded by art materials.
  • Because I remember feeling a deep sense of disappointment with reality as a child and I’ve never lost the wish that it was little bit more magical, a little bit stranger, a little bit more artful.

Completing the Equation

I feel like clarifying my “Why” has answered the “Meaning” part of the equation for me. As long as I keep painting I can’t not fulfil the “Constant Improvement” factor. Which just leaves “Excitement”. I essentially started this blog post saying that nothing excited me. That was true until just a few days ago.

When we were still in Nettle (our motorhome in Europe for any newbs), Mike told me of a children’s picture book he remembered very fondly. The way he described it made me intensely curious to check it out when we got back to Australia. I only remembered this a few days ago when we were staying with Mike’s mother in his childhood home and asked if she knew where it was. She put her hand on it almost immediately. That night we went to bed, and read the book out loud. It was delightful and magical and ridiculous and so so inspiring. It was the type of children’s book I’d be deeply proud to have created myself and the thought of making my own truly excited me.

I’m going to write a children’s book.


The irony that this blog post exists next to one in my sidebar titled “The Big List of Dreams” is not lost on me. However, if you read it you’ll learn that I was participating, with some skepticism, in an online group which not only subscribed to the “Dream Big” philosophy but extended it to “Dream Broad”. Turns out, I’m more of a depth girl, myself. I have no idea why this post has persisted in the “Popular Posts” category for as long as it has.

4 Comments An Essay On (My) Life, The Universe And Everything

  1. zage

    Lately i’ve been struggling with similar questions, my artistic field being creating music.

    I don’t know what success is, maybe I like to call that happiness, or better: satisfaction, fulfillment.

    I love the “excitement” part of your equation. Actually I’ve been referring to it by another name: Fun. Fun is what I think is the real engine of it all, the one thing we learn as a child and that we have to hold tight to as an adult. Strangely it seems to fit with your children’s book project :)

    Sorry but I don’t have enough confidence with english to articulate my thinking better than this :)

    Good luck, from Italy!


    1. Katherine

      Zage! How delightful to hear from you :) Michael and I are still gutted that we never made it back to Padova to spend a good chunk of time with you beautiful people. That’s a really good point you made about “satisfaction” or “fulfilment”. Although I feel like I have to focus more on “constant improvement” or I’ll go crazy. I’m still not sure I’ve experienced true, deep satisfaction with my work, although I’m beginning to get a taste of it. I still feel like that’s sometime in the future for me. So if I needed “satisfaction” with my work to be happy I’d be miserable. And I have been miserable because of this. Hence my emphasis on “constant improvement”.

      Fun, yes. I think you’re right :)

      Love to everyone in Padova from us!

  2. Tara

    Katherine, I can really relate to this post.

    After we finished our timberframe workshop for the year, and after my kickstarter was launched, both Tyler and I felt an intense feeling of being utterly adrift. It was only after a couple days experiencing this weird empty aimless sensation, that we were able to name it for what it was– quiet and relaxation, devoid of intense pursuit of a goal. It didn’t feel right, but we leaned into it, and now it’s pretty great. That being said, I’m already planning my next book and a zillion other projects…

    Anyway, don’t underestimate the immense amount of emotional change involved in moving back to a stationary lifestyle after your vagabonding one. In my case anyway, it was a huge, really long transitional period during which everything feels off. So be gentle on yourself, and give yourself permission to feel out of wack.

    I am so happy for you that you’ve decided to write a children’s book! I can totally imagine you writing strange and beautiful stories for kids. I think the project will be marvelous, and I can’t wait to read it and admire all those lovely, weird, whimsical illustrations. :-)


  3. Katherine

    Tara, you lovely lady – I’ve been meaning to email you. Since like, we got back from America! You and Tyler are some of “those magical cocaine-blowing-insanely-focused people”. You guys have such clarity . So is it true: do you have a strong sense of why? :)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *