• Sue Shanahan

Introducing Porch Light Profiles

Updated: Sep 5


“Let nothing dim the light within.” - Maya Angelou


The idea for Porch Light Profiles: Creatives Who Follow Their Heart and Light Up the World came to me in 2017. I’d been struggling to make my way as an artist for many years and was utterly discouraged. My push to have a steady income was just not materializing. I followed every business formula I could find and had become frustrated with trying to force my goals into being. I looked to others for direction so often that I had little connection to what felt right for me in my heart. The only thing I was certain of was that I was driven to share my artistic gifts with the world and my plans weren’t working.

The truth is I had abandoned myself long ago. There were many reasons for this. Most of them stemmed from the fears I had had drummed into me as a child. The rules from my parents, church, school, and society at large induced a constant state of self-criticism. I could never measure up. I was raised in an era where being female meant being encouraged to be selfless. No higher honor could be bestowed upon one then being referred to as a “saint.” That meant regularly putting everyone and everything before one’s own self. I routinely monitored my behavior and felt guilty when I went against what was expected of me. By the time I reached adulthood, I had done such a good job of dimming my light that there was nothing left of me to shine.

In retrospect, I see that my parents had been held captive by the same kind of societal belief systems. Who they were on the inside was never considered either. I resented the facade they lived behind for years. Today I see them through different eyes. They were caught up in something bigger than themselves. All of their expectations for their children were in place to ensure that we were socially acceptable. That not only served to protect us, but also netted them social approval.

Growing up with my mother was not easy. In hindsight, I see that she was cast in a role that she felt she had no choice but to play. A few months after she married my father she was pregnant. She immediately left her job as society editor at the local newspaper, a job she loved. Being a good Catholic, she had four children in four years. Any dreams for a career evaporated. I’m told that her inner circle referred to as “the Madonna.” I can only imagine the pressure she must have felt. Reared in privilege, she was ill prepared for the demands of being a stay-at-home mother of four. The “happily ever after” she was promised never materialized. She must have been furious with the life of drudgery that became her lot. Her anger had to go somewhere. Often, it was directed at me. I was a sensitive child, and I don’t think she quite knew what to do with me. Being the perfect mother meant having perfect children. I learned to stay out of her way and tried to fit in.

Now looking back I see how these awarenesses brought me to the realization that my writing and illustrating had become more about prestige than expressing my authentic self. It seemed so important to have others’ approval that I had turned my back on the joy of the artistic process I had known as a child. I longed to again create with abandon and see where it took me. I needed to reconnect to my soul. That was harder than it sounded. I had been taking my cues from the outside for so long that I no longer remembered how to listen to my heart. I had to find a way to live from the inside out.

It came to me that a good place to begin freeing myself from past conditioning was by loving myself. I had read several books about the importance of self-love. I could see it was a quality I seriously lacked. How could I trust my instincts if I didn’t value who I was? To undo that, I began treating myself with the same kindness that I treated my own children with. Instead of goal setting, I stayed in the now and took on only those projects that felt uplifting. If a choice felt heavy, that signaled a “no” on my moving forward with it. I was reclaiming the core of my being lost in following others’ expectations.

The thought of changing my behavior at a deep level felt overwhelming to me. I could see that I needed support in this new way of living. To unblock myself, I had to see how unblocked people lived. I began reading about creatives who had found success by being themselves. I soon learned that they were living in the exact opposite manner from the way I had been living. Studying them confirmed that I was on the right track about the importance of self-love. Without exception, every one of them moved through life with a healthy dose of it.

That’s when the concept for Porch Light Profiles began to take form. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could actually have a conversation with creatives about their journeys? Sitting under a cozy porch light would be the ideal place to get up close and personal. The imagery of a glowing light was the perfect metaphor for the radiance that emanates from within. Surely others would be fascinated by what I learned from them. I couldn’t be the only person on Earth struggling to be true to themselves. I set my sights on questioning individuals who are not influenced by “shoulds” from the culture. They instead live by their inner light. I needed to know if their life’s work was ignited by that.

Even though my blog appeared regularly in the Huffington Post, I was still so insecure that I was having trouble accepting the fact that along with being a visual artist, I was also a writer. So while suffering from what I could only call “imposter syndrome,” I began using my experience as a blogger to schedule interviews. To my surprise many of the authors, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs that I contacted were on board. Talking to them confirmed a good deal to me. Their success stemmed from doing what they loved and following where it led them. Their careers weren’t masterminded. They unfolded. Instead of taking directions from what society told them to do, they answered the call from within. That’s not to say they didn’t work hard. The people included in these pages are some of the hardest working people I know. Being fully themselves, they act from a place of strength and power. There is a huge difference between producing from societal directives and creating from the ingenuity born of the heart.

Interviewing people like entertainer Dolly Parton, singer/songwriter Allison Russell, singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, singer/songwriter duo The Avett Brothers, actor Rainn Wilson, new thought minister Michael Bernard Beckwith, author Mitch Albom, artist Mary Engelbreit and author Martha Beck has been most illuminating. The foundation for success for most of them was being born into loving families who believed in them. The ones who weren’t figured out how to give that love to themselves. Each of their stories makes the case that many of us are living life backward. Instead of manufacturing a detailed step-by-step plan on how to realize our goals, we need to relax and allow our purpose to unfold. We all have a deep calling that is anchored in who we are. The path is lighted as we go.

In the logical world, following your bliss seems like a good way to starve. I was taught that the only way to keep yourself financially secure is by staying in line with the cultural rules of survival. But it’s a new day. I am part of a paradigm that is emerging. Many of us are no longer willing to set aside our dreams to fit into a mold. No longer is college a sure way to prepare yourself for your career path. So many graduates are unable to find jobs in their chosen fields. Oftentimes they end up in professions that hadn’t even existed before they first signed up for classes. The days of getting a degree and plugging into a job for the next 30 years are gone. There is a good chance that your company will try to outsource any position it can. The only things that can’t be outsourced are your creative impulses. Your imaginative powers are gold.

My subjects’ lives prove that following the “still small voice within” is how they manifested their dreams. They all had a knowing that their gifts flowed through them from a Higher Source. Honoring that Source doesn’t necessarily mean that they follow the tenants of traditional religion. What it does mean is that they don’t control the process but let something greater than themselves take the reins.

I hope that in reading these profiles, you learn the same thing that I did in writing them. It is safe to share your deepest self with humanity. In fact, that is why we are here. Doing what lights us up is a partnership with the Divine. I am no longer chasing a future that I think will make me happy. I’ve found that living itself is the prize. When we allow ourselves to shine, others can’t help but be drawn to us. In that state of being, it doesn’t take much effort to figure out how to share our gifts with the world. Like moths to a flame, they will find you.

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*Text and images © Sue Shanahan.


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