Meera Lee Patel and the Quest for Connection
Making a world where creativity and happiness coexist
In moments of doubt and insecurity, I remind myself that no other person can think like me, nurture friendships like me, express themselves like me, create as I do.
Meera Lee Patel is a natural philosopher—and a truly eloquent and compassionate one at that. She is a is a self-taught artist, writer, and internationally recognized best-selling author. She also publishes Dear Somebody here on Substack. Her latest book is Go Your Own Way: A Journal for Building Self-Confidence.
Meera and I share preoccupations around creativity and the anxieties that often go hand-in-hand with putting creative work at the center of one’s identity. I was thrilled to get a chance to speak with her.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. All pull quotes are taken from Go Your Own Way and a previous book, How it Feels to Find Yourself: Navigating Life’s Changes with Purpose, Clarity and Heart.
You’ve written several books addressing themes related to mustering the courage and conviction to be creative—and to be whoever you want to become. Why are these your preoccupations?
There is no escape, there’s no true overcoming of fear or self-doubt or any of these emotions and dilemmas that overwhelm us. I think it’s more about learning to live with them and learning to live alongside them. I write about these themes because they’re the ones I’m learning to grapple with. I make the work I make because I need it and because I see how many other people in my life, despite the life stage they’re in—older, younger, parents, any of it—need it.
You need to get to know yourself, you need to know how you operate and what is of value to you because that’s the only place [from which] to make decisions that align with your values. If you don’t do that, it’s easy to live somebody else’s life, to become somebody else, and that’s where loathing and self-doubt have room to settle in.
Life is a process, not a race.
We often talk about “finding” courage, as though it were loose change under a couch cushion. But what does it take, really, to “find” courage. What steps or actions can we take to help us do what we must, when every part of us wants to look the other way?
It’s not something you do once and it’s checked off your list. It’s something we have to do over and over again. Like any muscle, it does become easier and you can find it quicker the more you practice it. I think finding courage is really finding a part of yourself that is hiding. I think it becomes easier if you know yourself and trust in your beliefs, and have an outline that you operate in the world under—a philosophy, a hierarchy of values and priorities.
Another way to think about courage is asking yourself to look past this moment in time and think about who do I want to be ten years from now, five years from now? What kind of life do I want to live? Can you let that idea dictate the actions you’re going to take, the habits you’re going to cultivate, the mindset you’re going to operate under. It’s a quick way to reset your perspective. You are finding courage now to build the life you want to live in the future.
Courage is not about summoning bravery or staring fear in the face. I think it’s more about maintaining perspective—remembering that discomfort and happiness are both temporary. Instead, work toward building character, identifying what kind of person you want to be. I want to be someone who doesn’t buckle under pressure, to be somebody who is generous, thoughtful, or empathetic, or looks for good in others even when they’re not presenting that goodness to me or for me. Those kinds of umbrellas help you make courageous choices and to live with courage, even when it’s difficult—especially when there’s no immediate reward other than the satisfaction that you’re becoming more the person you want to be.
How do you keep going? Turn your face to the sun and rain; search for meaning in both. If you look for it, it’s always there. Let go of “should.” Make peace with change. Rest as needed. And then begin again.
Much of the time, people are in denial about doubt and fear. What can we say to them?
[In denial] we’re playing from the shallow parts of ourselves, the parts that are giving in to habitual thought patterns, our weakest thought patterns, because it is much easier to fall into those cycles. ‘Oh my gosh, what do I do, I don’t like this feeling…,’ when you know what you have to do—lean into discomfort. It’s not going to go away, present itself with a different face each time. Your job is to accept the discomfort, know that it doesn’t feel good and that you have to keep moving forward.
In American culture, we’re taught to hide weakness and vulnerability. How can we recognize the fear and doubt that’s inside kindred souls, when we all work so hard to mask it on social media and so forth?
I think American culture is built largely around façade, in hiding who you are, in wanting to be somebody else, and if the culture wins, then you have decided to be somebody else so badly that you’ve perhaps even forgotten who you are, you’ve forgotten the foundation of yourself.
Introspection, which is always a part of my work, is going to be about looking inside yourself because that’s only where you can find the truth and stand up to these outside voices telling you to be somebody else.
I’m the daughter of Indian immigrants. When I think about American culture coopting Eastern culture, I think about yoga. How we start and end a lot of yoga practices with namaste, which literally translated from Sanskrit means: I bow to you, I honor you. Bowing before somebody is lowering yourself; it is a sign of humility. Losing that humility, losing that vulnerability, that’s kind of where we start to lose ourselves.
If you can say I feel vulnerable, I’m opening myself up to disappointment, to rejection, and you choose to do that anyway, then you’re extending the opportunity to the other person to do the same to you, while you’re also strengthening and sharpening your ability to see the multifacetedness of other people.
The more you work on strengthening and sharpening your own perception, locating your roots, understanding your motivations, you’ll be able to pick this out in others.
What advice would you give your 12-year-old self, on the cusp of adolescence, about living bravely and fully?
I think I would really ask myself to focus on making myself proud instead of trying to make others proud, even my parents. I would learn to love myself instead of asking or looking for love from others. I spent a lot of time feeling like an outsider and I wish I’d spent more time building community of my own. I would ask myself to be brave, but to know that being brave is listening to yourself, especially when the world is trying really hard to stamp out your own voice.
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