Painting a circle
Photo: Ann Cutting
The first job I ever loved was teaching college students to draw. The young artistes would show up with zippers on their boots, motorcycle parts dangling from their ears, and dark passion straining their souls. Few were pleased by their initial assignments: hours and hours of drawing straight lines and circles.

"What is this, kindergarten?" they'd grumble to me, their lowly teaching assistant. "I want to make art!"

The professor, an artist named Will Reimann who's about as brilliant as people get, would respond by examining the lines they'd drawn. "Hmm," he'd say. "Are those straight?" Then he'd point at a circle and go in for the kill. "Is that actually round?"

I mean, you try it.

After a lifetime of drawing, I still can't freehand a perfect circle. Most beginners don't even come close. This isn't a problem; it's why God gave us erasers. The problem—and the crucial point Reimann wanted to illustrate—is that most would-be artists overlook the ripple in their "straight" lines, the lumpy perimeter of their so-called "circles." And if you don't see it, you can't fix it.

These days my job (another one I love!) involves teaching people to design their lives—which we all do every time we make a decision. "Hmm," I'll say, listening to a client's description of her career or relationship. "Is that really working?" Some people are taken aback, even offended by this. They've learned to look tactfully away from their own errors. They sketch out rough approximations of the life they want and call it close enough. But as a wise person once said, nothing changes until it becomes what it is. And the first step in creating your right life is acknowledging where you've gone wrong.

Knowing the Truth


Most of us can tell at a glance when a line isn't straight or a circle isn't round—unless we're the artist. The same goes for assessing our own "performance" in life: Accurate information becomes amazingly elusive. The last thing we want when we're feeling chubby is to know our actual weight. When we're overspending, we avoid our credit card statements like bird flu. And anytime I'm procrastinating, reminding me of my to-do list turns me from a peaceful computer-solitaire addict into a snarling attack bitch.

Of course, avoiding reality doesn't keep us truly ignorant—just vague. We try to blur the lines just enough to make our flaws effectively invisible, but on some level we're still aware that they're there. We let ourselves know just enough to know that we don't want to know. Psychologists call this denial.

While I try not to live in the land of denial myself, I am a frequent visitor. So I can tell you from experience that if you're feeling nervous about some part of your life while avoiding any hard facts related to it, you're due for a tiny intervention in your head.

Next: Discover your own imperfections