“I believe everybody’s light is bright as a child. It’s really bright and pure. And then slowly you are influenced by who everyone wants you to be. Over time if not nurtured and protected your light dims. And then there is nothing left of you to shine.” – Kimothy Joy
Kimothy Joy’s mom, Merri, had a huge personality. Her vibrance could not be contained. When she died of breast cancer in 2009, Kimothy was lost. Her mom’s dying words, “Go have fun, Kimmy,” seemed like an impossible task. Kimothy wasn’t ready to lose her best friend and anchor. She was only 25 years old. Up until then, things had been going along as planned. Shattered for the first time, Kimothy saw that those plans weren’t even made by her. “Losing my mom magnified my lack of self-awareness and identity. It sent me into a black hole of grief, self-destruction and eventually, on a quest to know my true self.”
Kimothy began questioning everything she thought she knew. She felt like a Russian nesting doll. The real Kimothy had been covered up with layer upon layer of belief systems that had nothing to do with who she genuinely was. She had fit herself into a mold created by others. Kimothy Joy was a good girl. She had forfeited her soul for that title.
She had been taking directions from the outside for so long that she had no idea how to rekindle the connection within. Kimothy set out on a journey of self-discovery. Digging deep meant coming to terms with feelings that were hard to look at. For starters she wasn’t happy in her marriage. She was attracted to someone else. She readied herself to tell her high school sweetheart that she wanted a divorce. She was terrified of the flack she would get from the people around her. They had only been married for a year and a half. He was the right guy but not the right guy for her. Looking back Kimothy says deep inside she always knew that the marriage wasn’t going to last. “It was a small voice, and I just ignored it. But that voice was so clear in my mind, ‘This isn’t it.’ And I still got married.”
After her divorce and a few more relationships, Kimothy decided to hit pause on dating for a year. She could see that never being alone was a distraction from listening to herself. She learned to savor solitude, read more, travel solo and hang out with friends who energized her. She began painting with watercolors. Creating for enjoyment was a revelation. Previously Kimothy thought doing something just for fun was a waste of time. She had always felt so much pressure to make money that she never allowed herself to play. Watercolor and pen quickly became powerful tools for healing and self-discovery. Painting became an outlet to express her emotions that didn’t feel safe to talk about in the past.
After the presidential election in 2016, healing herself through painting took on an even larger role in her life. Kimothy was shocked by what a woman running for president looked like in this country. The disrespect, shaming, and superficial sexist commentary pointed at Hillary Clinton horrified her. All of it. To rebuild hope within herself Kimothy began painting images of strong women throughout history. “I wanted to tap into their stories, their work, and their power.” She began posting portraits with quotations on Instagram to remind the collective of what females are made of. She was thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive response they got.
To Kimothy’s delight the Huffington Post began sharing her portraits. Next, the website, “Join the Uproar” reached out for permission to make her illustrations available as free downloads. The website was collecting feminist artwork that could be printed out and used on posters at women’s marches across the country. Without a moment’s hesitation Kimothy said, “Yes.” That generous act would soon land her a literary agent.
At the same time, Kimothy began shining a light on women, her soon-to-be agent, Cindy Uh, dedicated her career to amplifying diverse female voices. Cindy and her sister were planning to walk in the Women’s March in Washington D.C. that January. Downloading Kimothy’s art from “Join the Uproar,” they made signs using her images to carry at the event.
During the march, Cindy was asked so many times about Kimothy’s art that the night she returned home she looked her up online. In an email, Cindy told Kimothy that she really wanted to support her in making a book out of her women’s portraits. The email was waiting for Kimothy when she returned from the Denver Women’s March. She couldn’t believe what she was reading. “I thought, Oh my God, this is a dream! When I was painting those portraits, I actually envisioned them being made into a book. I had even put together a template of what it could look like. I did a cover and everything!” With Cindy as her agent, That’s What She Said: Wise Words from Influential Women was published in 2018. It’s design stayed true to Kimothy’s original concept.
Coming from the heart meant Kimothy was no longer taking directions from the outside. She was honoring what felt right to her. “Feelings are the breadcrumbs that lead you to where you need to go. Don’t judge them. Just follow the nudges. Tap into your inner being because it knows before you know.”
There are a myriad of ways to do that, Kimothy discovered. Painting with watercolors is still at the top of her list. She makes a practice of turning off her electronic devices. The quiet leaves an opening for insights from the Universe to come in. Being in nature is another way she listens. But her most profound awarenesses come through meditation.
“I meditate daily, but in my own way. I never went to a workshop or anything. Maybe we should call meditating something else so it’s not so intimidating for everybody. Even going for a walk and listening to the wind blowing through the trees can be meditative. When you slow down you can hear the messages and cues from your inner being. Getting quiet, with no distractions is when I get lit up with ideas.”
Kimothy says there is nothing inherently special about her. We all have gifts and talents. What sets her apart is she is willing to go within and “follow the breadcrumbs.“ “When I began connecting to my inner light, my whole world expanded. Things that I never thought were possible happened and continue to happen when I keep coming from within.”
Sharing her good fortune is something that she feels called to do. 10% of the profits from her online shop go to organizations that work to empower women and girls. Kimothy passes on insights about life and her art to schools across the nation. In the past she spoke in person, today she is shifting to presentations on Zoom.
“If I can minimize some of the suffering that I experienced when I was young, it’s so worth it. Usually it’s just as simple as telling students to, “Follow your bliss.” There’s so much to be found in that phrase. It is counterintuitive to what everybody else is teaching, especially to college kids. The old careers that appeared to be safe are no longer holding up. If you are going to make it up why not make a living by doing something that makes you feel alive? I wish I would have heard that message.”
Since her mom’s death, Kimothy’s life has opened up. Her wings are unfurled. She is now navigating the terrain of motherhood. She has a huge following on Instagram, a creative design firm and recently scored a deal for her second book. Rekindling the connection to her heart has changed everything. Since her mom’s passing, Kimothy has figured out that coming from her center and living in joy are one and the same. She has taken her mother’s dying words to “have fun” to heart. She had the word “joy” tattooed on her wrist, in her mom’s handwriting, as a reminder. Embracing life and living her truth are working well for her. Anyone ready to fly should be taking notes.
Coming up next: Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner at Backstage Capital, a seed investment fund that backs up underrepresented startup founders. Author of It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage
All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com
Text and artwork © Sue Shanahan