Artist Melissa Mitchell On Owning Your Path In Life:"You Can't Get Invested In Someone Else's Story"
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
I interviewed Melissa Mitchell on a rainy Tuesday in February. As I made the hour-long drive to her home in a thunderstorm a part of me wondered, Why didn't I just do this over the phone? But within minutes of stepping into her personal abode, which she doesn't allow just anyone to enter, I knew there was a reason I was chatting with the "Master Manifesting Artist" face to face. The messages she poured into me that evening were too big to receive via 4G mobile lines.
At the time of our interview, Melissa was preparing for her exhibit at the Mayor’s Gallery at Atlanta City Hall. The pieces in the collection, titled "Embracing My Darkness to Find My Light," were each named after children who were loaded onto a particular slave ship in 1820 that she had recently discovered -- a rare occurrence, given the history of Africans in America and the intentional erasure of our names. But while Melissa stood firm in her vision for the collection, which is an extension of her ancestral esthetic, she admitted to questioning whether her artwork was enough.
"I still feel really intimidated now," she told me. "I feel like I'm not charging enough, I feel like I'm not skilled enough. Even now, I'm not afraid, but I'm looking at my canvas asking are these good enough to go to the mayor's office, everybody's eyes are going to be on it. It's scary, but it's also like, you know what, this is what it is. You called me, this is what you're going to get. So you have to hit that turning point. I'm Melissa, and this is all I have to give."
For the artist and designer whose wearable art (leggings, kimonos, headwraps, dresses, shirts, face masks, etc.) under her brand Abeille Creations have been seen on Lupita Nyong'o, Karen Civil, and Rebecca Gross, and who's had campaigns with major brands such as Ford, Nike, Pepsi, and Spanx, the question as she moves through life isn't really about being enough but fulfilling her purpose. And by extension, helping others fulfill theirs.
"For me, it's beyond enough. I am who I'm supposed to be. I'm called to do this," Melissa said, pointing out how our purposes are intertwined. "You're like a Harriet [Tubman] in your field. Even to write these stories about the average person. I don't have to be a celebrity to get a story and you're using your platform to empower me. That becomes a feather in both of our hats.
"It's like, I found a woman and I became a part of her story and it's just being a blessing to other people," she added. "I'm not so super special, you're not super special, I'm just doing what God asked me to do. It makes me unique, so even beyond being enough, I am exactly who I'm supposed to be, whether that's good or bad or enough. That for me is the biggest thing, just owning my space and my path."
Part of owning her path is making peace with the fact that she's not yet a wife or mother -- a state of being which has left many women in their late 20s and 30s to feel as though they're less than.
"It's like, you're successful, but," said Melissa, whose been featured in more than 40 art showcases and has murals in every corner of Atlanta, from M Bar and Lounge to Shaw Temple AME Church. "I'm not exactly content about it, but I can't focus all my energy on not being married and not having kids. I have to be content. Soon, I'll be exhausted with kids and a man so let me embrace this time."
A key aspect of embracing phases in life where you're not quite where you want to be is making sure you "Don't let your shortcomings become your narrative," Melissa said referring to so-called destination addicts who always talk about what their life will be like as soon they get a man, a job, a house, a car, or hit some other arbitrary life milestone. The other aspect is appreciating the time you have with those you love and making peace with their absence from your life when that time comes.
"I think about my dad, I made him his last meal. I made him a smoothie before he left the house. So I'm very deliberate with my time," shared Melissa, whose father passed away unexpectedly in 2010. "If people are in and out of your life then we just gotta let them go. It's a very scary feeling but I can't stay in that place too long."
Going back to the concept of being enough, Melissa said the very idea of wondering whether or not you're enough suggests you've subscribed to someone else's idea of what being enough is.
"Being enough is really defining what enough even looks like. You can list all of your attributes and that's enough. You can list one attribute and that's enough. The world is looking for my exact DNA makeup to be a part of this puzzle. Nobody else fits that piece but you, but me. So it's not even about being enough, you're cookie cutter for that one slot on earth where you're supposed to be. I fit because I'm me."
If that mindset sounds too radical, chances are you're wrapped up in comparing your life to others rather than appreciating your own path. And for that conundrum, Melissa has a simple remedy: "Get off social media."
"It will make you think you're so behind, she explained perfectly. "You can't get invested in someone else's story, focus on your own stuff. My story is going to be beautiful. Everybody's going to know it's God, I'm going to know it's God, and I'm not going to worry about it. That's just how we have to stay the course. It's so easy to be like, why not me, and when and why -- I'm not about to get caught up with that."
For more on Melissa and her journey, pick up her new book, “Color and Manifest: Using the power of coloring to manifest your wildest dreams.”