Sometimes real life imitates art
Pop quiz: Think back a decade ago — what’s something someone said to you, back then, that has stuck in your head?
Was it something that, at the time, you thought you’d remember?
For me, two lessons that have remained lodged in my brain seemed pretty trivial at the time. And the odd thing is, I don’t even remember the names of the people who said them to me.
It’s weird, the things your memory latches onto. You can spend all your time doing the big, seemingly noteworthy things -- but then the stuff that sticks with you is in the tiny details.
It makes me wonder, often, what parts of growing up will stick with my stepkids. When they look back, what will they remember?
Will they remember how nervous my stepson was for the start of middle school, or how my stepdaughter struggled with learning to read (things that were/are a huge focus in my mind)? Or will they remember playing Transformers, or making slime with the neighbor, or the cat knocking everything off the basement shelf?
Or something else I didn’t even notice as an adult — but they noticed.
You can’t really predict what will stand out in your memory a decade from now.
That’s why it’s weird looking back a decade in the past.
THE BUSINESS PROFESSOR
Back then, I was in art school.
My graphic design professors and school newspaper advisor were the ones I spent the most time with. And they taught me a TON of valuable life lessons (including nudging me to apply for the job I have now).
But amid all my art classes and newspaper meetings, I had to take a business class. It was a required course, otherwise I wouldn’t have set foot in that room.
I don’t remember the professor’s name. But something he’d said has been popping into my mind recently. “People will tell you to focus on improving your weaknesses. But that’s wrong. I’m telling you, focus on improving your strengths.”
Find out what you’re good at, he said, and put your effort into becoming REALLY good at it. Instead of spreading out your energy trying to fix the things you aren’t strong in, accept that you can’t be strong in everything; just be really strong in ONE thing. (That sentiment is echoed in other sources too, like this article from Forbes.)
I didn’t quite believe it at the time, though. “Of course you’re supposed to fix your weaknesses,” I thought.
But lately, I’ve found myself embracing that approach more and more — for example, in my art style. These cat illustrations that go with my column every week? That’s what I’m good at: cute, friendly cartoons. I’m not so good at edgy, realistic or abstract pieces. I know that.
And I’m learning to be OK with it. Instead of being awkwardly mediocre across the board, I’m trying to hone in on what I’m good at.
And guess what? It fits other areas in life, too. As a stepmom, I’m good at being the affectionate, playful one. I’m not the cool, witty, funny, strong one. And I know that, too.
The kids’ dad is the funny one. Their mom is the cool one. Both of them are the strong ones.
And I need to learn to be OK with that. Again: Instead of being awkwardly mediocre across the board, I need to hone in on what I’m good at.
THE INTERNSHIP BOSS
Then there was my boss at my summer internship. His first name was Bruce. Don’t ask me his last name.
His quote that’s stuck in my head all these years: “Drawing is like any exercise; the more you work that muscle, the better you’ll get.”
At the time, I didn’t really believe him, either. “I can draw,” I told myself. “Anytime I pick up a pencil, I can draw SOMETHING. Why do I have to practice?”
(I didn’t say I was smart.)
But from the perspective of my cat illustrations: The more I draw them, the more I improve AND the easier it is to get them right. It feels more natural. That’s not to say it isn’t still a challenge sometimes, but the more I work it, that muscle memory grows.
And again, it isn’t just in art. The more I work at being a better stepmom, the more I improve AND the easier it is to get it right. It feels more natural, the more I work at it. That’s not to say it isn’t still a challenge sometimes, but I can figure my way through it.
Yep, it’s weird the things you remember as the years go by. And sometimes, they’re good life lessons. Go figure.
Email Emely Varosky at email@example.com.