February 21, 2012

Interview: Lisa Fraser

Thanks to my dear friend Lisa Fraser for the interview. I think she's amazing...and I think you'll agree. Enjoy!

Where do you live and what do you do?

I live in the Big Apple! I'm in the NYC neighborhood of Harlem, on the island of Manhattan just about a mile north of Central Park. I say all this for those who may (like myself prior to moving to NYC) have no idea where things are in New York (Boroughs? Harlem isn't its own borough like Brooklyn? Wait, NYC is an ISLAND?). It's sort of messy west of the Mississippi, so it's to be expected. 

I am:
1) A full time art student at Janus Collaborative School of Art. It's a small private studio in Harlem that focuses on classical realism, and all we do is paint and draw the human figure. All day, every day. It's a challenging venture, but sometimes I stand in front of my easel and feel the absolute thrill of doing what I want to do with my life (after a long long slog in the corporate world). I'm slowly and surely building up a body of work and will be supporting myself full time with my art at some misty future date.
2) I'm a singer-songwriter! I'm a performing and recording artist (lisafraser.com) and try to play shows as much as possible. Actually, that's not true...I try not to play too many shows right now because I'm a full-time student (see #1 above). Music is my passion, and I'm gearing up to record another full album this summer with producer Scott Wiley of UT fame. I'm a huge fan of his remarkable work, and am thrilled to record with him. 
3) I'm an Instructional Designer (curriculum development and training), and just ended a job doing this on the east coast for years. I'm finishing up a masters degree (M.Ed.) in Instructional Design and pick up projects here and there to pay the bills in the summer. 
Do you feel like you have a personal cause or mission that keeps you motivated in life?

Absolutely. So I've got a personal mission statement that I wrote a few years ago on the advice of Mr. Steven Covey (he mentions it in his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" of which I've read less than half...how effective of me) that I try to read every morning (which ends up being about one day a week many weeks, and almost daily when I'm on a roll for short spurts). In this mission statement I talk about the person I am (and want to be) spiritually, emotionally, socially, financially, physically, morally, work-wise, etc. I've got a paragraph for each topic, and the version of this statement I use now has gone through many revisions. I think the key with writing something like this is to end up with something that feels like a beautiful, encouraging companion instead of a harsh critic. When I read it I feel more noble, loved and inspired, and it seems like that's the best kind of guide to have. 

I've always looked for people I admire in my life, and really tried to figure out what made them that way and then try to do things in my own life that would shape my character in those ways. I've obviously failed as well as succeeded, and it's been a fantastic rule of thumb. So many beautiful people and ideals to emulate. 

My Religion, Your Religion by Lisa Fraser
What question or questions have helped define who you are?

I have often asked myself if I see myself as I believe God sees me, and if I'm seeing and treating others in a way that helps them recognize the way God sees them. I can't imagine a more powerful paradigm, even if you're not a theist.

I also try to really shake off fears and expectations of my life when I'm imagining what I want. If I can get into a space where I have the courage to really practice my imagination, I come up with ideas of where I want to go and who I want to be that are sometimes scary because they're so far away, or so different from what I've grown up with. But, getting myself into a space where my core self is really able to honestly answer the question of "who do I want to be?" and "what do I want my life to look like when I look back on it at age 85?" is really important in order to not short change myself. If we let our 85 year old self tell our current self to really go for our dreams, we'll make more life decisions that will embrace growth and adventure instead of regret and fear.

Do you have a mentor or role model that has inspired you to do hard things? How have they helped you?

Yes, but not just one. My role model right now is my city, and the people in it. As funny as that sounds, being in a place where lots of people around me are pursuing their educational or artistic or occupational dreams helps me recognize that it's a very normal, doable thing. I think the best thing you can do when you have a dream or a goal (especially one that feels scary or overwhelming) is find the company of people (through books, online, movies, etc, or even in person) that are doing exactly what you want to do and be around them. Suddenly (or gradually) you start to recognize that it's really normal, and the dream starts being real instead of being put on a pedestal. My art teachers are at a place in their career that I want to be, and so being around them helps me realize that being an artist is a very doable reality (a concept that I certainly did not grow up with, and that took me a long time to really believe).  

I believe strongly in interviewing people. I don't mean formally, though that can help too. Any time I meet or talk with someone who's doing or being something I want to be or do, I grill them (politely)! Getting comfortable with this approach to the world around us equips us with constant teachers. 

What things bring you the greatest happiness? What is your personal philosophy about happiness?  

My greatest happiness comes from feelings of spiritual connection with God, myself, and others. I'm absolutely nuts about the outdoors, and I think some of my greatest happiness comes from being outside with people I love, or being by myself. My happiness also comes from the choices I've made concerning my career--I made a deliberate and somewhat risky jump from a stable corporate job (and salary) to being an art student. I'm leaps and bounds happier. I think the happiness comes not so much from the specific kinds of changes I made, but from the process of claiming my life as my own, and listening to my own heart and mind as the authority in my life.  My personal philosophy about happiness is very much a product of my current set of circumstances, but overall I believe happiness comes in learning how to trust and take good care of ourselves and our life and dreams, and doing the same for others. 

If you had "had the chance," what would you tell yourself ten years ago, to prepare yourself for where you are today?

Ha! I'd tell myself to stop worrying about getting married, let God take care of that, and jump feet first into any and all adventures that my heart drew me to. I think I've mostly done that, but I wish I'd worried less about my marital status in my 20's and really let myself enjoy my life and unparalleled opportunities all that much more. I'd tell myself not to date just to date (because I was nervous about my single status and figured i should throw my time after ineffective prospects as well as more interesting ones), and to value my time and spend it on the things and people I valued most. 

Biggest fear?

My biggest fear is not learning how to be present. It's something I struggle with, I have been a deeply anxious person for as long as I can remember. It's not something anyone else ever really sees or senses, so it's easy to coast along without addressing it. But, for my own happiness and sense of peace, I'd like to learn how to be more present and peaceful. :)  

Wildest dream?

Ha! I feel like I'm in a place living a life I'd never have dared imagined as a kid, or even in my 20's. I'm studying art in NYC with some of the best teachers in the world, and recording and performing my songs with great musicians. It's taken me years of working and worrying to get here, and now that I'm here I think I could've done without all the worrying! I'm planning (specifically--these things are written down and sketched out) on doing lots of traveling in the next few years, and doing collaborative art projects in different countries, and that's been a dream of mine for years. I'm also planning some interviewing projects with religious folk in the US, in order to explore my love for anthropology, people, and religious experience. I guess what I mean is that I have concrete plans for all my "wildest dreams" and they're on my trajectory for the next few years. I plan to leave no stone unturned as far as my "big" dreams go. They're all so doable! :)

I'd really like some land some day to have a home and studio on, some gardening, and a place to host artistic, scholarly, musical, or social gatherings. This is probably my most far-away goal, but I'm starting to look at my finances now in order to make a game plan for land purchase in the next few years. I may have to sell stuff door-to-door during the summer to raise the funds! 

What advice do you have for single women?

I feel really passionately that single women have really uniquely beautiful lives, in that they have free time and resources (in America) that lots of other people might not have. We have the perfect combination of power and enthusiasm and time to really make our lives spectacular--a luxury few have, and few have ever had in the past. I believe to my bones that single women should build radiant lives out of their brightest and most beautiful dreams. And I believe that any effort to change our lives (even turn the Titanic around, if our lives are very different than the lives we want) is worth it. Education, experience, money--these are all things we may need to spend a lot of time working for. It's important to recognize that the years will go by regardless of how we spend our time, so we should be able to look back in 5 or 10 years and have accomplished our goals and dreams. 

If you aren't sure how to manage time and resources and goal-setting in order to turn your dreams into activity and then into concrete realities (or if you're simply battling apathy or fear), do some research into books/videos and lectures that are all about turning ideas into reality. Check out books about goal setting, time management, self-help and psychology, finding your authentic self and occupations. There are countless books for sale about these topics, some excellent, that line the shelves of bookstores and libraries. Become an expert! Cultivate the learned skill of turning imagined things into real things in your life, and then help others do it too. Read, practice, read, practice. 

Sometimes taking our own lives into our hands feels like letting go of hoping that someone else (a future romantic partner perhaps) will take care of us. It's important to recognize this and even mourn it if we need to, and then step into our own adulthood and take the driver's seat. When and if marriage and family comes, we will be infinitely better qualified to play those roles with strength, grace and skill. 

It's increasingly tragic to me that so much time and energy is spent mourning for a kind of life (marriage and kids) that will likely not come sooner if we invest more worry. I deeply believe that time and energy spent towards beautifying our lives and selves, and building the kingdom of God is a better investment in any kind of future (romantic or otherwise) than doing a lot of "waiting" is. 

Last but not least, I think it's important to find a way to financially support ourselves in ways that will allow us to meet our goals, create financial security and safety for ourselves, and provide beauty in our lives. We all have different kinds of lives we want, so our financial needs will all be different. Time and money spent on education to get us to a stable place of employment is always worth it. 

Samples of my artistic work can be found at my website, lisafraser.com. Stay tuned for more soon!


  1. What a beautiful interview! And your painting is absolutely gorgeous!!!

    My favorite part:

    I believe to my bones that single women should build radiant lives out of their brightest and most beautiful dreams. And I believe that any effort to change our lives (even turn the Titanic around, if our lives are very different than the lives we want) is worth it. Education, experience, money--these are all things we may need to spend a lot of time working for. It's important to recognize that the years will go by regardless of how we spend our time, so we should be able to look back in 5 or 10 years and have accomplished our goals and dreams.

  2. LOOOOOVE this! Great advice and a very inspiring post and LIFE! Wish everyone I know could read this. It's so easy to get caught on worst case scenario paths when in reality, we have so much of the best case scenarios around us every minute, if we open our eyes to the opportunities. Thanks Lise and H!