As a kid, my parents always told me “You can do anything you put your mind to.” And for the duration of my childhood, I believed them. From soccer and tennis, to writing stories and ceramics, I did it all. But after college, and after trying to find employment during the recession, my attitude changed. I no longer believed in myself and I was afraid to try new things—that is, until last weekend when I went with 500 of my fellow employees to volunteer at the Kansas City Zoo.
I am a writer and have long considered writing to be my primary (if not my only) skill. Yes I can edit and research with the best of them. I consider myself to be a fairly versatile writer—except for poetry.
I used to love poetry and wrote “bad” poetry all the time until I took a poetry class in college. Now don’t get me wrong, I can take criticism in stride (I majored in Creative Writing), but I happen to be one of those people who needs a little encouragement alongside the critique. Something like, “Hey these 5 things need to be improved. But I really like your use of alliteration.” I just want to know that I’m doing something right. In that class, I received no positive feedback and therefore abandoned poetry all together.
Poetry is important in my company because we create products requiring verse and prose. In my present role, I do a lot of sales writing. My mentor informed me that if I want to move to another role, I would have to do this intense creative portfolio. I am extremely intimidated by this creative portfolio because of my past experiences with poetry and my more recent lack of confidence. But after last weekend, my mind is starting to change.
For our day at the zoo, I could have signed up for a wide variety of projects: planting flowers, moving mulch, painting buildings etc. I decided to be brave and sign up for the “Artist’s Project.” They wanted a group of people to make mosaics. I kept telling myself that if they allowed 12 year olds to sign up, then surely I could master it. And I have always wanted to learn to make a mosaic.
I felt pretty confident about my decision until I woke up Saturday morning. As we walked into the giant storage shed, I wondered if I made a mistake, if I should transfer to another group and just plant flowers or rake mulch. I was to be working alongside some of our company’s most talented artists and didn’t want to embarrass myself. After they explained the project to us, I walked around the room to pick out my design. My brain pulsed with self-doubt. I wanted a simple one but all the easy ones were taken by the kids. Finally, I settled on a duck. This duck was probably of medium difficulty compared to the other designs around the room. To me, it looked incredibly intricate.
I sat down and began to break plates, fitting pieces into place in my mosaic. For a while, I couldn’t tell if I was doing a good job or not, or if you would even be able to tell that I had created something that began as a duck.
Our mosaics will be used at the big zoo auction later this year, so I knew it had to be good. As time went by and the pieces fell into place, I could see my duck come to life. People walked around checking out projects and I actually got a lot of compliments! I turned my creation this way and that, admiring my handiwork before I covered it with grout.
I’ve never thought of myself as an artist or as much else other than a writer. But on Saturday, I started to think, “Hey I can do this!” By the end of the day, I had a really cool mosaic that I hoped would help bring a lot of money to the zoo this summer.
As I cleaned my work space, I started to think about the other things in my life that I didn’t think I could do. My writing has been severely crippled due to the 3 years it took to find a job after grad school. I finished my Master’s degree right before the recession hit. I applied to hundreds of jobs during those three years without a peep and rarely even a rejection letter.
With all of this rejection and disappointment, I started to believe that I had no skills to offer, that I really wasn’t good at the whole writing thing—that there would never be a place for me in the world. I would cry at night and wonder what I was going to do with myself. I abandoned my writing.
I kept trying, though I didn’t believe it possible. The day I received my job offer, I had to ask the HR rep to repeat herself because I could hardly believe my ears. I was driving down the street and had to pull over because I couldn’t see through my tears.
I will celebrate my one year anniversary at my job on Wednesday. And although I am still recovering from those tumultuous 3 years, my confidence in my skills and myself is growing. And now, after my simple little mosaic duck, I feel like I can even tackle more daunting things like the creative portfolio for work or my novel. And maybe I won’t completely embarrass myself. I’m starting to believe again that I do have something valuable to offer to my job and to the world.
And the truth is, so do you. Don’t forget what your parents told you as a kid—I know I shouldn’t have. Even though you’re all grown up, it still applies today. You can do anything you set your mind to! And don’t ever let the world tell you otherwise.