When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher gave us an assignment to write a poem. For some reason, that poem really mattered to me. I had to get it right. I stayed up past my bedtime, and my mother ordered me to bed. “Just a little longer, Mom. I have to get this poem right.”  I’d never felt that way about an assignment before.

A day or two later, my teacher, Mrs. Irons, called me up in front of the entire class and said, “You did not write this poem. No fifth grade student could write a poem this good. You must have copied it out of a book. Now go home and write your own poem or you’re not getting a grade.”

I slunk red-faced back to my chair. I could hear kids laughing, and one boy said, “You cheated.” I did not cheat!  I sat at my desk fighting back tears of humiliation and anger, and then slowly something dawned on me. I lost focus on what was happening around me, because all I could hear was a voice in my head that kept saying, “Wow, you must be a really good writer.”

And that was it. From a moment of pain and frustration came a new direction for my life. I had found something I not only loved and cared about, but was good at.

There have been many more moments like that one, moments where something good came from bad, like the time my agent told me to give up on my book, Dancing in Combat Boots, prompting me to rewrite the book for the better. Or the time I fired my fourth and last agent and then turned to self-publishing, which became my career. Or the time I had to give up my office because the overhead was just too high, and that saved income helped me reorganize my business.

This artists’ journey, like any journey, is accompanied by its share of heartbreak and tears. Even my most fortunate and successful artist friends experience their share of disappointment and frustration. In our darkest moments, we have choices. We can give up, or we can trust that this newest setback is not a roadblock, it’s just a chance to change directions.

 

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