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What a Missing Painting Taught Me About Validation and Acceptance

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There’s this art museum in town. It’s a really interesting concept — the entire place is pitch black, except for some low lights on the walkway and a spotlight on each piece of art. It’s set up like a wide hallway.

I am part of a group of 12 that was chosen to paint our own piece of canvas to be displayed. The museum displays a group of paintings for a week at a time and at the end of that time, we’ll all receive notes left by visitors.

I finished my painting. I’m nervous but excited for this opportunity!

Today the art will be set up.

One by one, the paintings will be hung. One by one the spotlights will be placed underneath the paintings.

Day 1. As people walk through the hall, they are in awe at the talent displayed. Notes are left, tears are shed, it’s an amazing experience.

Days pass. On the last day, the artists are invited to see their art, stand next to it and read the notes left for them. I make my way inside the doors and suddenly, I feel like someone just punched me in the gut. I feel sick, I just want to run home.

I do not see my painting on the wall.

Instead, I see many different beautiful canvases full of colors and drawings, and the spotlight shining brightly on each section. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11… 12? Where’s the 12th painting? Where is my painting? I look where the 12th painting should be, but it’s just a dark space. No notes left behind. No one is there looking at my creation.

I am overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. Was my painting that bad? Did I somehow forget to hand my painting over to the right person? No! I did all of that right. I’m sweating. I can feel my heart beating and I swear everyone can hear it. Boom, boom, boom.

I handed my painting in to the correct place, on time. What’s the deal?

As I stand at the entrance of the museum, I see people come and go. Entering the building, exiting the building. Entering, exiting.

The show is over. The week is gone. This is it. I’ve been waiting for this day since I found out I was accepted for this!

Then, for the first time this week, the lights are turned on. Suddenly I feel like I am choking. As I look forward, there it is.
With all the lights in the museum on, I clearly see painting #12. It’s been there all along.

I look around and see a lot of confused faces. It all starts to make sense.

I did paint a beautiful piece of art, by the way. I did turn it in to the right place at the right time. I did everything right.
The notes start piling up underneath my artwork.

Turns out, the spotlight wasn’t connected correctly. Somehow, some way the team responsible for ensuring a proper setup skipped over this particular light.

This is why my painting was never shown — until now.

Then, they did something I never thought would happen. All the lights were turned off again. This time, only the spotlight of painting #12 was set on.

It was amazing. Awesome.

I had been made to feel like I wasn’t enough. Like there must have been something wrong with what I did. Like I somehow made a mistake.

It wasn’t me.

This is what validation feels like.

Getty image by Archidea Frame.

Originally published: February 19, 2020
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