If anyone tells you that you can they are either some type of self help guru looking to part you from your money or they don’t have a firm grip on reality. Before you call me a cynic allow me to clear a few things up. First, I’ll start with a story from my past…
I was never a great student. Night School and Summer School enrollment was fairly commonplace for me. Although I feel that I’m a somewhat intelligent guy that has a pretty firm grasp on the English language I failed English in my senior year of high school and was not allowed to graduate with my class. I had to finish my schooling that summer and receive my diploma in late July. I did my time in Summer School and refused to pick up my diploma. Now I am friends with at least three high school teachers that still don’t know how to use “their”, “they’re” and “there” or “to”, “two” and “too” properly and yet I was too incompetent to graduate with my class. Yeah, after 27 years I guess I’m still bitter. My own damn fault I guess.
My inability to live up to my potential followed me into Junior College where I was a Commercial Art major. All my life I have been blessed with being a pretty decent artist. Anybody that remembers me from school, elementary on up, knows that I was always the kid who was the best artist in school. So, when it came to my college years I never really had to try. I would ace all of my studio art classes without even trying.
One semester I had a Life Drawing class that was two days a week. A three hour class on Mondays and Wednesdays. A good friend of mine got a radio show on a local college station on Wednesday mornings so like a loyal friend I would skip out on most of my Wednesday classes and spin punk rock records for the good folks in the greater Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania. The end of the semester was rolling around and one of the class requirements was to keep a sketchbook throughout the year which was to be handed in at your final review. We were each given 20 minute slots in which we were to meet with the instructor and discuss our assignments and present our sketchbooks. The thing was, I never started my sketchbook. We were supposed to have at least 100 drawings of a variety of still life’s and I didn’t have one. The night before my review I sat down with an assortment of different colored charcols, pencils, pens and brushes in order to make it look like I completed this over a considerable length of time. Within a few hours I banged out the 100 drawings. I’m sure I could have done better but most of the drawings weren’t half bad.
The next morning I strode into my final review with a sense of confidence. On all of my assignments I never scored below a high “B” so I assumed an “A” was in order with the addition of this killer sketchbook I had knocked out the night before. My instructor had all of my assignments spread out on a table in front of us. He picked up my sketchbook and flipped through about five pages, closed it, and threw it on top of the pile of my other assignments. I was shocked. Wasn’t he going to check out the rest of my awesomeness that I pissed out the night before?
“Y’know, this is really good. It’s a shame.” What the hell?! Why shame?! No shame! He then proceeded to show me how many days I had missed his class. Then he lectured me about my unused potential. Frankly that was a speech I had heard a million times before. In one ear, out the other. Then he hit me with it, “What kind of grade do you think you deserve?” Now before coming in here I was thinking A or B but I didn’t want to seem arrogant so I meekly replied “C?”.
“Nah, I was thinking more a D or an F. In fact, it’s real close. Are you a gambling man?” I stood silent not knowing how to answer. He pulled a quarter out of his pocket and flipped it in the air. “Call it.” I could barely squeak out the word “heads”. The coin landed. “Heads it is. You got a D. Get your stuff and get out of here.”
As I gathered my assignments in an awkward silence I felt him staring me down as I headed for the door. He then spoke the words that changed me. “Y’know, Carol comes to my class every day and busts her ass and she will never be half the artist you are.” Boom. Direct hit. You see, Carol was this 40 something housewife who probably had some free time now that her kids were in school all day and she decided to follow her true passion and do art. She was never very good. In fact, she was horrible. Me and my young punk buddies would catch a peek of her working on her assignments and snicker quietly behind her back. But Carol really tried. She would stay late after class and was always asking questions and seemed to really want to learn. The sad reality of the situation was that she made very little improvement. Yet she still tried. Every day she tried.
To put this into perspective let’s say I had a true passion for basketball. Let’s say I happen to have a best friend growing up by the name of Michael Jordan. Growing up we were inseparable, going to the same basketball camps, doing the same skills and drills, playing the same games of pick-up. By the time high school rolled around, and with both of us having equal amounts of court time and knowledge of the game, Michael would, with the utmost certainty, be the far better basketball player. There’s also a good chance that I might not even make the varsity team.
Why is life that way? I’m not sure. Some may think that we are born with certain talents and abilities and it’s up to us to figure them out. Sometimes I’ll watch those sad people in line at Walmart and wonder if that person is the World’s Greatest Pogo Stick Champion but they have no clue because they’ve never been on one. Kinda makes you see a little good in everyone. Once again though, I digress.
The gist of my little story is this… The person who is great is not the person who does something a few times and becomes great. The person who is great is the person who does something many times, sees little to no improvement, yet keeps at it day after day. That my friends is TRUE strength. I can only hope that Carol is out there somewhere making masterpieces that put my stuff to shame.
Thanks for listening.