When most of us were children there was a time when we could do anything. We could indulge our passions and rest secure in the knowledge that of COURSE the world would love what we did. We were brilliant artists, writers, explorers, actors, scientists, dancers, bakers, magicians...and so on.
And then reality hit. We weren't always brilliant and the world wasn't always going to love us. I can remember the moment that first dawned on me.
It was third grade and I was an AUTHOR. I knew that my imagination was second to none; my words could sparkle on the paper and people would see what a genius I truly was. The Young Authors contest was MADE for me! Write a book and out of all of the schools in the county a certain number of students would be selected to be whisked away for a day of learning about writing with a Real Live Author. Swoon!
I wrote and illustrated my masterpiece, a story about a magical fallen tree in the middle of a pasture. Anything could happen when you found shelter in the hollow formed by the roots of the tree. It was a story of hope, of safety, of finding a home. It did not win and I was devastated. It seems I wasn't an author after all, especially since the winning stories were really quite dull.
That was the year I started to care about what others thought about me. Oh, not just because of a failed story, it was also the year I got glasses, the year I endured taunts of "Four Eyes!" The year that I learned to be afraid of failure, of not measuring up to what other people wanted me to be.
For years I stopped thinking of myself as a writer. I wrote the occasional poem for an assignment, blocking out the compliments of my teachers because I was NOT a writer. I cared too much to voluntarily share my work, to abandon myself to words when it wasn't required.
In college I tiptoed into the realm of writing again, entering a poem in our college paper's contest and winning first prize. But it was a fluke. What if I tried again and was rejected? I cared too much to try again. I filled notebook after notebook with the angst ridden poetry of youth, but never showed it to a soul (and in some cases that perhaps was for the best). In creative writing class I hid my true feelings and wrote what I thought I ought to be writing, and it stunk. It lacked the spark and the bite of a soul set free on paper. I settled for acceptable instead of what my heart wanted to say.
And now I am grown, and the fear of what others will think has grown with me. The fear of rejection, of not being good enough. Year after year I tell myself this secret, "If I could be ANYTHING, I would be a writer." I have been a dental office receptionist, a CPA, a bookkeeper, a mother. I have never been a writer. I care too much about rejection.
The other week Gates came to me with a picture he had drawn for National Geographic Kids magazine, a picture he wanted to send in to their kids' Art Zone. I balked and stalled and tried to think of ways to not send it in because how would he handle it if his masterpiece was rejected? If they didn't publish it? Still, he persisted. Why wouldn't they love what he had drawn?
Today I acknowledged to myself that this was MY issue. And as his mother it is my job to keep him from caring what others think about him as long as possible. It's my job to let him test his talents or lack thereof on the world, to let him rise or fall on his own.
So we prepared it for mailing. "You have to understand that they may not pick your picture," I said.
"Will you be proud of me if they do?" he asked.
"Of course I will."
"And will you be proud of me if they don't?"
"I will still be proud of you if they don't."
"Because you are braver than I am. Because I want so many times to have the courage to send something in to a magazine but don't because I am afraid they won't like it. But you are brave enough to try, and that is why I am proud of you."
"Even if they don't pick it?"
Even if they don't, my dear, even if they don't. And may you always keep that excitement to share yourself with the world. May you never let yourself be too burdened by what others might think.
|The Giant Sahara Dessert by Gates|