Ask yourself, “If I had the courage to be real with myself and set boundaries with my work, could I?”
We have all been in a place where our work seems to take priority over our lives or perhaps you’re currently stuck in that spot right now. When you see or hear the word “work” what do you feel? Does your body tense up? Does it make you feel uneasy?
I’ve always been the type of person to say “YES!” to everything. I remember slaving over projects constantly, never having time for myself to develop myself the way I wanted to. I thought by “doing all the things,” I would feel more fulfilled but all I really felt was exhaustion and fatigue. I realize now, I never set boundaries with my work. I never decided for myself that I have the power to say “no,” and take on the work that makes me happy.
In this week’s episode, I am joined by Susan Chiang, a watercolor artist and teacher. She’s built her business around sharing her love of watercolors with others so they can enjoy their creative processes and see improvement in their art. However, it wasn’t always like this. After leaving a draining corporate job, she decided it was time to move on as the stress and exhaustion started to take over her life and energy.
Looking back now, Susan realized things may not have gone as bad if she knew how to set boundaries at work. Susan shares with us her journey and how she created a business and lifestyle that works for her. You will also learn how to get a better understanding of how to achieve a better relationship with your work whether it’s new to you or you’re looking to take it up a notch.
[17:00] - We all carry a lot of self-doubt when it comes to our work.
[19:00] - Being vulnerable can be uncomfortable but it can help you grow.
[19:28] - Find your confidence by surrounding yourself with a community that fosters your growth.
[22:18] - Your attitude towards your work should not be an all-or-nothing attitude. Be more gentle with yourself and know that progress is not measured by failure. It’s your ability to get back up when you fall behind.
[22:42] - Everyone shows up in different ways. Consistency over time will get you further than if you quit something after a few attempts.
[24:32] - The rules are yours to make and break. Adjust the rules to work with your life.
For more information on the Make Time for Success podcast, visit:
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Dr. Christine Li [host] -
Susan Chiang [guest] -
If anyone would like to get started from scratch with watercolors, Susan offers a free Watercolor Basics Course (susanchiang.com/watercolorbasics). And if you already have a creative practice and want to join her low-stress once-a-month free challenge, join her Paint With Me Challenge (susanchiang.com/monthlychallenge).
Christine Li: 0:01
Hi, everyone, welcome back to the show. This is Episode Seven. If you've ever wondered if there might be a way to remove the feeling of pressure from your work, or if there were a way that you could work without feeling like you're inside a pressure cooker, I think you're going to really enjoy the wisdom of my special guest today. Her name is Susan Chang. She is a watercolor artist and a teacher. And I think the best thing that she does with her students from my vantage point is that she helps her students really enjoy the creative practice. And she helps them to open their mind to see how they're improving. I always learned something brilliant when I listened to Susan, and I think you're going to really enjoy her lessons about how to remove stress from your work life, how to start undoing your practice of perfectionism, and how to make sure self doubt doesn't get in the way of creating your art, your work, or your life. Let's go listen to this episode. I think it's a good one.
Christine Li: 1:22
I'm Dr. Christine Li and I'm a psychologist and a procrastination coach. I've helped 1000s of people move past procrastination and overwhelm so they could begin working to their potential. In this podcast, you're going to learn a powerful strategies for getting your mind, body and energy to work together so that you can focus on what's really important, and accomplish the goals you want to achieve. When you start living within your full power, you're going to see how being productive can be easy, and how you can create success on demand. Welcome to the make time for success podcast. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the show today, I am so happy to introduce you to my friend, Susan Chang, who is a lovely watercolor artist, entrepreneur, and great friend of mine, I'm so glad we got to meet about a year ago, we've stayed really close. And she's going to talk to you today about her practice her journey to success and how to create your own Welcome to the show, Susan.
Susan Chiang: 2:34
Thank you so much. I'm really excited to be here and very humbled that you asked me to be a guest on your podcast.
Christine Li: 2:42
Thank you so much. It's my honor to have you here. And you were my automatic pick for explaining the letter K of the smack solution, which is kindness to self because I think of you as one of the kindest people I've ever met. So thank you for being that way. And I can't wait to have everyone listen to your story. Please explain to us where you are now, where you've been and the lessons you've learned. Those are some big questions. But you have a wonderful story, please let us know what your journey has been.
Susan Chiang: 3:20
Oh, my goodness, you're going to stop me if I ramble too long, right? Yes, I have a tendency to maybe go off track here. But the story, I'll try to keep it short. So for I guess, for almost 13 years, I worked in a corporate job as an architect, and I, I didn't hate it. I loved it. I thought it was really fun. But I also worked really hard and hard meaning and this isn't it's not, you know, the most hours anybody could work, obviously. But to me, it felt like a lot of hours. And it would be like I'd get into the office at eight. And then I wouldn't go home until 10 or 11pm. And I would work on weekends too. And that was pretty standard. And you know, when you're young, it's fine, like right out of school. But I was still doing this, you know, over 10 years of after working in the industry and it started to wear on me. I have a chronic condition that affects my kidneys. And when I get really stressed, my body kind of starts to shut down. And it isn't the first time that has happened. So I sort of you know, as I got older, I got more and more aware that these things would happen. And kind of the last three years before I quit my corporate job, where the most stressed that I had been in a very, very long time. And it basically caused my body to kind of go into overdrive, and it started shutting down and I could tell I could tell when I was working that my body was like No, you've pushed me way too far again, and I just decided that I would, I would quit. And I was like I, you know, I can't keep doing this to myself, I don't see a way out. And I, and at the time, I mean, I could go into this too, but I look back on it. And I realized that at the time, it was me. But when, in the moment when I was in it, I blamed everybody else, you know, I saw it was this, you know, this corporate system, I was in all this stuff. And I felt very, very much like a victim. But it wasn't until after I left that I found this sort of freedom and this clarity that allowed me to just kind of push the reset button. And I stumbled into creating what I have now. And in a way, even though when I really look back on it, I think I always really wanted to have my own business and do something in the online space. I just didn't know what it was they took all these other forms before and then it would like start and then it would kind of go away or I would give up on it. And this time, because I had the chance this like opportunity that I had the time to do this. I was actually like going in and out of the doctor's office for almost a year, I had a kidney biopsy done that year. And I just found this time, all of a sudden, that I could actually try this for real. And so I did it. And I started and it was very slow to start with. I didn't know what I was doing. Anyways, long story short, a couple years later, I ended up here. And now I just really feel like I've created a life where I have so much more control over how much anxiety I feel and how much stress I have in my day to day life. Obviously, there's still going to be stress no matter what, but it's just not at the level that would push my body to a point where it's gonna shut down or attack itself. I mean, essentially, my immune system attacks itself, which is why I have this problem. But I just feel like it prevents my self from getting to that point. And I just feel really lucky and grateful that I was able to end up where I am today. So
Christine Li: 7:10
it's actually such a beautiful story. I've never heard you say it in one breath, I think and I love that you were able to do this for yourself, and to be able to find the space in your life to find something that works with your body, and with your creativity and with your life. So, so happy to hear that. Could you describe some of the rigors of your corporate career and the fact that you were an architect? And what kinds of issues around control and stress there were?
Susan Chiang: 7:49
Yeah. Let me try and let me try and think about this. So I had I had to say this. So I think it's funny because and probably this is true for any any profession because especially a profession, like architecture, I feel like it's very romanticized, in a way, right. People think that, oh, it's this, like beautiful profession where all you get to do is, you know, design buildings and create beautiful things. And, and yes, I think that that there that is true, but then the day to day of it is actually quite, it can be quite stressful. And like any job, I think that it depends highly on who is overseeing the process. So your boss, basically, right? Mm hmm. And I think I don't think he's ever gonna listen to this, or find this podcast, but he was really, I think the driving force behind them Why? Okay, so I said this earlier in the intro, or in my introduction to my story, but I had blamed everybody else right when I was in it. And it partly comes out here where I do feel like he was a big reason why it was stressful. But it was also my choice whether or not to draw boundaries or not. And I didn't draw the right boundaries. But going back to that, that was sort of one of the reasons why it was so stressful. It probably the main reason, and I wasn't the only one, everybody around me experienced the same thing. Just other people I could see now looking back with a lot more clarity that other people handled it better than I did. They had more rigid boundaries, and they knew how to protect themselves and their own energy. But if anybody is familiar with the artists way, by Julia Cameron, it's this book on, you know, kind of rediscovering your own artistic self. She actually describes certain types of people in your life that are toxic to your creativity. And she basically described him like to a tee. And, you know, I don't know it's just another one of those things that You don't see until you're actually out of it. But reading that chapter, that little section in her book, it really made me laugh, because I realized what I had been able to do by leaving was to get rid of a toxic person, like somebody who's very, very toxic in my life for a couple years. And it was part of that healing process, right to move away from these people. And I feel like in that kind of environment, and I feel like all of that was part of the journey towards kind of becoming healed through creativity and things like that. I'm totally off topic, I'm gonna go back, I promise. But, you know, that was one of the things that made it the most stressful, but, you know, you look back on and you're like, well, he was stressed, too, right? Because the nature of our work is stressful, you're designing, and you're creating something that is very, very subjective space, aesthetics, and how things function in a space, they're all actually quite subjective. And when you deal with anything subjective, and you ask people to buy into your idea, you know, you can't always necessarily see eye to eye. And so I think that's, you know, that's hard. It's hard to deal with, especially if you yourself, and I'm talking about me, I had more perfectionist tendencies before, but it's like, I want everything to be perfect, I want it to be perfect. In my eyes, I want it to be perfect for the client, I want them to love it. And when those things are very hard to match meet up. And then you're also trying to fulfill expectations that your boss has of you. So you're trying to please a lot of different parties. And even though you try as hard as you can, and you the way that you're trying is by sacrificing time, and then you realize that time is never going to get you to the result ever. And then you're unable to accept that that's what makes it hard. And that's when it comes back to me saying, you know, it really was on me, like it was on me to be able to learn how to let go more and to draw better boundaries and things like that. But I wasn't able to in that moment in my life. I think if I went back, I think I would be able to do it better now. But you know, I'm not sure. Maybe I would just return to the same habits again. Oh, no,
Christine Li: 12:19
I think you described the way that stress kind of takes over really well that you let time kind of get away, and you keep pushing, pushing, pushing for these extreme results without limits. And then that's a recipe for feeling like you're going to freak out. Like, there's no hope. I don't know how it must have felt. But I'm just thinking that it must have been very, very stressful to have to cope with that day in and day out.
Susan Chiang: 12:48
Yeah, you described it absolutely correctly. And it's like one of those you get so focused on the singular task that you forget to look at the big picture and look at as a whole, because oftentimes, as a whole, it's fine, everything's gonna be fine. And, you know, we had this like funny saying, when the whole team would be stressed, and people would be like, you know, it's just a paint color, nobody's gonna die over color. But that's how it feels right? In the moment. You're just like, Oh, my gosh, I have to get this color. Right? And if you know that you don't, you really don't fit in the moment.
Christine Li: 13:27
Okay, so now let's transition into describing your current business with watercolor and being an artist and having a membership and a teaching practice within that membership. Have those old habits come with you? What changes have you made in how you do your work?
Susan Chiang: 13:50
Okay, good question. When I first started, those habits are still there, the tendency to be super hyper focused on one thing, instead of looking at the big picture, and then spending way too much time and getting lost, that happened all the time, I would say, for a year or two, maybe even two. And it took me a while and honestly I say this to all my friends who will listen, but I tell them that doing this entrepreneurship, starting my own business, it has forced me to do self development work that I never would have done otherwise. And I have changed so much as a person as a direct result of trying to create this business for myself and getting to where I am today. And I still feel in some ways, quite new. You know, I still feel like very green to it all. Even though I have been trying to do this for a couple years now. And like you mentioned I do have a membership. I have a community of people. I basically guide other watercolor artists with their watercolor practice, so people who want to learn a new style, or get better, those are my people. And I absolutely love serving them. But it took me a lot of letting go of my perfectionism and being able to kind of say, you know, this is this is good enough, and I'm good enough, and my work is good enough to put out there. And if I wasn't able to do that, if I wasn't able to break through that barrier, then I definitely know I wouldn't be where I am today. So, you know, I just feel like I said, I feel like, I don't know if this is actually even really answering your question. But I just I think I would just wanted to share with your listeners that I feel like doing this has been difficult in many ways, but not difficult, in a bad way difficult in such a healthy way for me,
Christine Li: 15:56
yes, I could even hear the difference in the sound of your voice when you're talking about your corporate job. versus when you're talking about the watercolor membership and your work there. It felt like you were really in your voice. And I love that because I think you're really finding yourself. And it's really been a wonderful journey for you. Could you tell me and tell the listeners what you've discovered in working with your members because I'm sure in their own maybe struggle or journey with how to find their own style, their own practice and how to feel confident about what they're doing?
Susan Chiang: 16:33
Yeah, yeah. So I think, you know, to be really honest, I think I'm still trying to figure out how to describe what I'm seeing and what I see their experience as, but because the membership is is still new, it's almost one year old. But I've had such a great experience with the people who are in it and actively working with me. And I think what I see is that, and this is very common, right, I think, because I saw it in myself too. And I still see it in myself that we all carry a lot of self doubt. And while I think you know, it's kind of a shame, right? We, for the most part, people kind of assume that you're not that good. Like, oh, I'm just I'm not that good. Like I'm not, you know, I'm just mediocre. And this is especially true when it comes to art, right? You just take yourself down before anybody else takes you down, right? For anyone ever. And the thing that's funny is nobody's ever going to say like, okay, fine, maybe somebody that's really mean or like an internet troll will tell you this, but I think it's very seldom that you're going to hear someone say, Oh, your art sucks, like this is ugly, because it's subjective. And, you know, they say this is very true. They say art is in the eye of the beholder. And it is it's true. Because all of our art is so different, right? We all have our own style. And so I think people struggle when they come in. And I know a lot of people are just, they just say, oh, like, I know, this isn't good, but or I'm just a beginner, or I'm just starting out and I look at their work. I'm like, you're not a beginner, you're not just starting out. This is fantastic. But I think people just don't realize that because we're so hard on ourselves, especially people who are making art and wanting to be creative, it's a vulnerable thing to do, right to begin with. And I think what happens and what I've seen with the people who are part of my community is that I'm really, it's funny, like, I am supposed to be the teacher, right? I'm supposed to be teaching you how to paint with watercolors. But really, I feel like we all including them, right? They have the skills, they just need the confidence and the arena in which to show up in and so a lot of my community tells me, you know, I don't have anywhere to share my work, or I don't want to share it on Instagram. So this feels like a safe space to share it. And what happens which is amazing is once I see them start to share it, their confidence changes. Because once you put your work out there if it's feels safe to you, and then you start to share it and you start to get feedback. Or people tell you what parts of it that they enjoy and interpret make their own interpretations, you start to realize, oh, there's like value in what I'm doing. there's value in my own work. And there's value in other people's work because you admire their work just as much as they admire yours. So I think what the community has really done is given people a place that's safe for them to share their work. And then that in turn, makes them build the confidence that we all should probably already have, but we don't and I think that what's nice is it helps them grow that and if that's a tool, it just makes me really happy that that maybe it's not my teaching that's making them better. It's just the fact that they have a space and a community and that makes them continue to pursue Their art and and then the continuous pursuit of their art, in turn will make them just progress more and more.
Christine Li: 20:07
Yes, and I think you're probably the best teacher that they could ever have. You're so lovely. And I think you're so wise and kind, I think your kindness really comes through in everything you say, and in your beautiful work. And if our listeners are on Instagram, follow Susan's beautiful work and her community. She's at Susan Chang, ch, i n g underscore, and you'll see she's got a wonderful following. And she's so creative with just where her eye wants to look. She does nature and she does pictures, and she does animal portraits. And she's also at the same time reflecting about the process of being an artist and looking at things and trying new things. So that she can develop. So thank you, Susan, for being public, with your art and being public with your journey and your style. And for being so open with us today.
Susan Chiang: 21:16
Oh, you're so welcome. I hope that there is something there that was helpful for your listeners. And I just enjoy talking to you.
Christine Li: 21:28
The same for me. I'm going to ask a few more questions. Because I want to grab some more wisdom from you. What would you say to listeners who are struggling with trying to figure out how to be more consistent in their practice, whether it's a creative practice, or a health practice, or a personal development habit that they're just picking up? And then they're dropping? They're picking up and they're dropping? What advice would you share there?
Susan Chiang: 21:57
I think my first piece of advice for this would be that it shouldn't be hopefully approached as an all or nothing sort of energy, if that makes sense. So a lot of people say I'm going to sketch every day. And then they fall off the wagon for two days. And then it's over. You know, I didn't I didn't do it every day. So now I just can't keep going. And I think I learned that lesson because I would tell myself, Oh, I have to I have to do this every single day. And then when I didn't. And if I skipped it, or if I missed it, I'd feel like oh, no, now I have to make up for it. And then I could never kind of catch up, and then it would just cause me to give up the entire practice. And so I think approaching it by being more gentle with yourself and realizing that it's probably not going to be daily. But that when you skip a day, it's just a hiccup. And you can get back on track tomorrow, right? Tomorrow's a new day, even the day after still a new day. And I feel like if you approach it with that kind of energy and that kind of attitude, instead of saying I failed, just say this is part of the process, then it kind of ensures that you're able to keep going. Because I feel like when you label it a failure or you label it, like I like somehow failed today, it kind of puts a negative spin on it. And and creating should be such a fun thing or any kind of like habit that we're trying to pick up a personal or self development or whatever it is, it's supposed to be for the betterment of ourselves. And so, you know, why do we tend to make it like such a stressful or like, a bad thing? Like, oh, you're bad with like, you know, like that feeling of you're a bad person, because you didn't do it consistently. But you know, consistency over time, it's still consistent. If you continue to show up, and you missed a day or two, it's okay. But it's not consistent if you started every single day, and then you gave up like day 28 and then never did it again. That's not consistent. Right. So yeah, I think looking at consistency over the long term. But then my second tip for this, especially if it is a practice that you can shorten, so something like drying. And I guess you could even apply it to things like exercising or something like that, is that if you just do a little bit, it still counts, right? And then you can feel good about it. You could check that box off if you'd like to have your boxes checked, which I do. But it doesn't have to be a 30 minute session. It could be a five minute Doodle, right? It could even be like the rules are yours to make. And the rules are yours to break, especially if it's your own practice, right. So if it's for drawing, you know, it doesn't have to be 30 minutes. Like I said, it could be like a, like a blind contour Doodle, which means you don't even look at your paper and you're just like doodling something that doesn't even look like a real thing. Like that could count, right? And you could just tell yourself, I did it. I did what I was supposed to do, and I'll come back tomorrow and maybe tomorrow will be a 30 minute session. And you could even do things like I'm just saying organize my desk and like, I'm going to set my sketchbook out and it's going to be ready for me tomorrow. Maybe today I don't put anything down, but at least I came in to my room, I like touched my sketchbook and put it out. And I tried to show up, right I like showed up in a different way, it still counts. So I feel like you know, just adjust the rules to work with your life and, and just know that you can keep going that you can always come back and try again. You know,
Christine Li: 25:28
I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. I think you have summarized over the course of our interview all of the major factors involved in doing well. And ending up feeling calm with at the end and calm and satisfied with the results that you get for yourself. I have taken notes. My notes include letting go of perfectionism, letting go of self doubt, because self doubt really is a blocker from taking care of yourself and doing well. being gentle with yourself. And staying positive when you're trying to build habits and strengthen them. And I want to thank you again for sharing your wisdom and your experience with us. It's a beautiful story, and beautiful work that you're doing. Thank you so much.
Susan Chiang: 26:22
Thank you so much for having me.
Christine Li: 26:25
Can you let us know how we can stay in touch with you? How we can work with you if you have any materials that might be great for beginners?
Susan Chiang: 26:34
Yeah, sure. So if anybody is looking to just start with watercolors, I actually have a free course that you can just take, actually is a few lessons out of my longer beginners course. And you can find that at Susan chang.com. And then it's going to be forward slash, I believe it's watercolor basics. Yes. So it's Susan Chang, CH i n g.com. forward slash watercolor basics. And that's a completely free sort of class that you can just get started with watercolors, it gives you all of the basic supplies and things like that in case you're interested. And if anybody is just already watercolor, if you're already being creative, or even just painting in general, it doesn't have to be watercolor, I have a free challenge. So I provide a monthly photo that you can take inspiration from and then create from that photo. And you could see what everybody else is creating too, which is it's really fun to compare sort of not comparing a bad way but to look at what you've created and to look at somebody else's perspective on the same reference photograph. And that one is called the paint with me challenge. And you can find more information on it by going to Susan Chang comm forward slash p w. m. Challenge. So P w. m stands for paint with me. And that's it. And then oh, you already mentioned my Instagram, but you can follow me on Instagram if you'd like I love meeting people there. It's at Susan Chang with an underscore.
Christine Li: 28:08
Beautiful and I love seeing Susan Chang's paint with me challenge results because you did Yeah, I do. I could you see for maybe three or four examples of the same cabin done in different hand and in different style. And I just love that. I think it's really fun.
Susan Chiang: 28:26
Yeah, me too. I love it. It's always a really, really nice, like a pleasant surprise. See, like, Oh, this person did it this way. And this person did it this other way. So,
Christine Li: 28:35
yeah. Okay, great. Well, thank you so much again, and we will stay in touch. Thanks so much, Susan.
Susan Chiang: 28:42
Christine Li: 28:44
Thank you for listening to this episode of The make time for success podcast. If you enjoyed what you've heard, you can subscribe to make sure you get notified of upcoming episodes. You can also visit our website, make time for success podcast.com for past episodes, show notes and all the resources we mentioned on the show. Feel free to connect with me over on Instagram too. You can find me there under the name procrastination coach. Send me a DM and let me know what your thoughts are about the episodes you've been listening to. And let me know any topics that you might like me to talk about on the show. I'd love to hear all about how you're making time for success. Talk to you soon.
Watercolor Artist and Teacher
Susan Chiang is an artist and teacher who loves sharing her love of watercolors with others so that they can enjoy their creative practices and see improvement in their art.