A few years ago, I did possibly the craziest thing I have ever done in my life – I got a tattoo. For some of you this may be perfectly normal, but for me it was a really big deal.
I’ve fancied a tattoo for quite a while now, but while I love risk – and I take small ones all the time – I avoid big risks. I am sensible, weigh consequences in advance and often have a back-up plan too. And a tattoo, well that’s a tad too permanent!
But I’m tired of being sensible. I take anti-allergy tablets on a hike (in case someone gets stung), band-aids (in case anyone gets a blister), snack bars (in case someone gets hungry). And I ALWAYS look before I leap.
And maybe that’s a good thing. But I’m also fun and spontaneous. And this side of me, the vibrant, ‘excited about life’ me always gets stuffed back in the box for another time. Which never comes…
So, I took a risk and got a tattoo. And it did not go well! Let me tell you the story…
First, after weeks of research, planning, designing and finding the perfect tattoo artist in the perfect parlour that stank reassuringly of disinfectant, it was time.
The day I went in, we agreed the size, design and placement – and I loved it. I was scared, but excited. The adrenalin is pumping because I’m scared of needles, and I’m in a tattoo parlour! There’s just me, the twenty-something male tattoo artist and one other heavy metal looking dude who plays in a local rock band. Bullet for My Valentine blasts out of the speakers.
The design gets traced onto my arm (see right) and I think to myself, you’re safe now – you know exactly what you’re getting and you like his art – relax.
Then, just before we start the tattoo artist says, “I’ll need to highlight with some blue”. And I say, “You mean just around the flower petals to make them stand out?” (it’s a white flower). And he says yes, so I say OK, I trust you. And we’re off! I have already decided not to look as I want a surprise – and there’s the whole being scared of needles thing…
6 hours and a few bathroom breaks later he says, “All done!” and as I look down I am horrified! This is not blue ‘highlights’, this is a smack in your face honking great blue slab. The moth and flower are as I wanted, but it is not the vibrant moth and subtle white flower effect I wanted.
I feel like such a fool. *&%$!@#! Idiot! Stupid! What were you thinking? My critic goes all-out and within seconds my stomach is churning and I feel panicky. I say absolutely nothing. What would be the point? It’s permanent. Done. Dusted. He can’t undo it. All I can do is cause a scene and I don’t have it in me.
If only I had looked just ONCE during the SIX HOURS! If only I had asked him what he meant by “highlighting”. If only… I want to go home.
My hubbie picked me up and I burst into tears waiting at the bus-stop. What have I DONE? I felt nauseous for about 36 hours before the self-criticism and anxiety began to wear off, barely sleeping overnight.
But as luck would have it, I had a chat with a friend the next morning – who happened to be a coach. She kindly offered to coach me, and here’s what I’ve learned from my tattoo mishap:
- I am sensible, considerate and thoughtful AND I am ALSO a bit wild.
- I like to challenge the status quo – and I do this in business. But in my personal life I hold my real self back – a lot. I’m a lot weirder (odder, stranger?) than most people realise and I hide that in order to ‘fit in’.
- I’m creative, fun and entrepreneurial, but my head almost always rules my heart so I make sensible, logical and pragmatic decisions at the expense of my passion and enthusiasm.
- I LOVE to take risks, to try, but I only take ‘safe’ risks because I worry what people will think or what might happen.
- I stifle myself. Constantly. There has been a big cost over the years of not being myself, of hiding parts of me. And my tattoo has just ‘outed’ me!
For once I just wanted to do something wild and unexpected. Getting a tattoo was a way of claiming myself back.
I also learned that we cannot prepare for everything. And when things go irrevocably wrong, after the ‘grief’ (mourning what you wished for instead), we are left with a choice – resistance or acceptance. Only once we accept the unacceptable, can we forgive, look for the learnings and move forwards – this is true transformation.
Moths transform from caterpillars into beautiful creatures of the night. It reminds me that if we keep working on accepting our dark sides, transformation will come. The white chrysanthemum is a beautiful but ‘messy’ flower. It reminds me that beauty is not organized and perfect, to let go and allow things to be.
And now when I look at my tattoo I also have the blue background to remind me that I really am a risk-taker! And crucially to forgive myself when I make mistakes, BECAUSE:
Sometimes, no matter how much we research, plan and prepare – even when things seem like a done deal – things can and do go wrong. AND most importantly I (you, me, we) can all handle it, learn and grow from it when it does!
PS. If you have had a similar experience, what did you learn? We’d love to hear your comments below!
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