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Monday, June 20, 2011

Beware the Awesomeness Thieves


In a recent conversation with my mom, she told me about one of her gifted students who refused to compete in the school's Book Challenge.  This girl loved to read, knew every book on the list intimately and had done well in the previous Book Challenge.  But she wouldn't enter this year.

When asked why, she simply said, "I can't win."

What? This girl was the heavy favorite to dominate the school contest with a strong chance to win at the state level.  So why did Brianna think she couldn't win?

"Of course you can win.  Everyone knows you'll win."

Brianna shook her head and said, "That's exactly what I mean.  It's so expected that even if I win easily it's no surprise.  By winning, I'm not 'winning'.  I'm just being Brianna, doing what Brianna does.  If there's no effort and no challenge then there's no victory."

"But if I don't win, even if I miss one answer, everyone says, 'I can't believe you didn't know that.'  It doesn't matter that they didn't know the answer either.  I'm Brianna.  I should have known it."

"I can't win."

As a teacher who cares about Brianna and respects the work she has put in over the years to develop her intellect and learn about books, my mom was understandably frustrated.  How many hours of TV, texting and tomfoolery did Brianna sacrifice so she could read?

This is just one example of potentially successful people feeling reluctant to try because if they fail it's not just a mistake, it's a major catastrophe leading to a loss of respect and threatening their identity.

All of a sudden he's not the guy that knows everything about (FILL IN THE BLANK), he's the guy you thought was smart.  He can't win.

A friend of mine, John Berry, is a professional artist. 

Boulders and Mesas

For the last ten years he's been a full-time landscape painter.  I can't count how many times I've heard people say things like:

"How would it be to have that schedule?"
"Must be nice to be your own boss."
"I wish I had artistic talent!"

Let's be clear.  John didn't wake up one day and realize he'd won a talent lottery.  He wasn't pricked by a radioactive paintbrush that transformed him into Super Painter Boy.  And to my knowledge, he didn't discover a magical beret that imbued him with unearned artistic ability (though I strongly believe he owns a secret stash of berets). 

This is NOT John 

Art has been a lifelong passion for John, and he's put in the hard work and study to improve.  Four years of college, a decade as a professional illustrator, fifteen years building a client base, putting up with gallery owners, improving his craft, and on and on.

I used to wonder if he ever felt like he couldn't win.  But I know him well enough now to realize that he meets his obligation as a successful creator by refusing to let them disparage his Awesomeness. 

I'm waiting for the day when John comes back with:

"How would that be to not have health insurance for your wife and kids?" 
"It must be nice to not know when your next paycheck will arrive." 
"I wish I could spend all my free time for about 10 years sketching, studying, and working on my weak points."

The truth is, we all make decisions and when we pick up one side of the stick, we pick up the other.  John chose to be a professional artist, and he's accepted everything that goes along with it.

To my fellow writers -- The next time you catch yourself saying: "I wish I could write an ending like Brandon Sanderson" or "It'd be easy if I had a mega contract with XYZ publisher like Stephen King", remember that Brandon Sanderson probably failed a hundred times before nailing the ending.  And Stephen King had to become an amazing writer before earning that mega contract.

So the next time you're tempted to say "How would that be..."  "Must be nice..." or "I wish I...", think of the hard work and sacrifice that went into the achievements you're about to downplay.

Oh yeah.  Brianna did not compete in the Reading Challenge.  When asked if she knew the answers, she said, "All except one."

I hope someday Brianna learns to defend her Awesomeness.  Never let them steal yours.



Emily said...

You make a really good point with this. I know that there are times I envy the success of others without thinking about all the time and effort that they put into it. This was great. Thanks.

Felt Family said...

This is good stuff! Not one hour ago I read an article on the front page of the Herald Journal today about North Logan 7th grader Hannah Anderson who won a national essay contest. The final paragraph regarding her decision to enter again next year:

Despite recognizing that people now have higher expectations of her work, she is ready to "rise to the challenge."

Yay for Hannah! She gets it!!

On another note: I went to Summerfest Saturday and there was an artist there who painted really fun somewhat macabre portraits of the Alice in Wonderland characters. Matt thought I was nuts when I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and grabbed his arm yelling, "Omigosh! There's Hatta (purple hat and all)! And the Cheshire Cat! And there's Cuora!" See what you've created??

Daniel Coleman said...

Emily - Thanks! It's amazing how often we fall into that trap.

Felts - I know who that artist is! I LOVE his Alice in Wonderland stuff. And you're absolutely right about Hannah. Glad to hear she's still going.

Truman Jensen said...

When I get sad, I stopped being sad and be awesome instead. True story. - Barney Stinson

Jaime evans said...

Love it, love u!! I believe anything is possible;) Inspired by u cuz!! Jaim

Josh Hoyt said...

Great post and you make some excellent points.