Choose Your Words Wisely

Choose Your Words Wisely

As I picked up the class catalog for planning my oldest’s HS Freshman schedule, it instantly took me back to high school.  Those awkward, stress-free, fun days.  It just reminded me of how unsure of myself I was at that time in my life.  High school is stressful enough, let alone trying to find yourself amidst the hundreds of others trying to find themselves as well.  I’m not gonna lie, I had a small panic attack thinking about my son possibly experiencing the same thing!    

As I was reliving those high school days, I think what hit home the most was how influential several teachers were to me and how UN-influential a few were.  At that moment, I focused more on the ones who crushed my dreams, rather than the ones who encouraged them.  Why?  Because I don’t want my own kids to be discouraged!  One teacher in particular that was discouraging to me, was my art teacher, Mrs. M. (The initial has been changed to keep her anonymity.)  

{Back story:  My entire life, I’ve always loved to draw.  To make crafts.  To color.  Really, to do anything that involved art supplies.  I’m slightly OCD when it comes to my art supplies.  You know how some people collect figurines?  I collect art supplies.  A big honkin’ box of Crayola crayons is like my version of a Hummel or a Fabergé egg.}

Mrs. M, my high school art teacher, was (in my head) the epitome of cool.  She was a free spirit.  Hippy-esque, if you will.  She was everything that I wasn’t.  What was I?  I was a perky, run-of-the-mill cheerleader with really big hair.  I’m sure I was a walking stereotype to her, and because of that, I feel she unfairly judged me.  (disclaimer: this is purely my opinion)

She was not a fan of mine.  She critiqued my work to death.  I know I was not her most talented student, but it’s not like I was drawing stick figures, either!  She told me I was afraid of color and that I wasn’t applying myself.  She seemed to come up with everything she could to devastate me.  The last & final blow was when she told me “You need to re-do this, this is trash.  Y’know what, don’t bother.  You have no business being in this class.”  (to this day, those words still ring loudly in my ears)  So, because I had like, ZERO self-confidence, I let her win.  I enrolled in Graphic Design the next semester.  Lo & behold, I was told that I had great talent & should really think about pursuing this as a career.  Wait.  What?!  This new teacher had faith in me, and encouraged me.  Really?!  My work did nothing but improve.  Isn’t it amazing what a little encouragement and kind words can do?

I’m not saying that if Mrs. M. would’ve given me encouraging words that my work would’ve improved enough to her standards, but she didn’t care enough to try.  Why?  I’ve always wondered.  All of these years, I’ve sort of stewed over this, but I guess it’s because I’m now looking at it from a parental point of view.  Would I ever do something like that to my kids or want my kids’ teachers or other adults in their lives to do that to them?  HELL NO!  But as a student, you’re taught to respect your teachers.  How could I say anything to her when she held my grade in her hands?  I was a weenie!  {Disclaimer:  I don’t want any of my teacher friends to think I’m in any way bashing all teachers – I’m not!  In all my years of schooling, I’ve only had 2 teachers who have really discouraged me… one in HS, and one in college… and I rolled over & let both of them win – a decision I regret fully to this day.}

So, flash-forward 20-something years… my entire life, I had always wanted a really nice camera.  I had a point & shoot, and while it took decent pictures, I wasn’t seeing the pictures that I saw in my head.  The point & shoot brought everything into focus, but what I really wanted was just to bring certain things into focus.  And for that, I needed a lens.  

I took a leap of faith by taking pictures for one of my best friends & her family.  Long story short, a small photography career was born.  I bought the nice camera (learned how it worked – man, those things can be confusing!), and started seeing those pictures I’d always seen in my head.  I’m not a professional.  I’m self-taught, and am always learning new things.  My style has evolved over the past couple of years, and I imagine it will continue to do so in the years to come.  New techniques & styles are always being discovered, right?  I digress.  I have fun taking pictures & I love meeting new people.  I love capturing moments that may otherwise go unnoticed.  

I have to say that while I can see everything in color, much like everyone else, my favorite photos are black & white.  Why?  It’s simple.  They tell more of a story.  They’re real.  Sometimes they’re harsh & unflattering, and sometimes they’re soft & beautiful.  But they’re always real.  

All of these years, Mrs. M’s voice has been in the back of my mind, making me doubt myself.  Making me think that I didn’t have any talent.  But you know what?  I’ve discovered that while maybe I’m not the mural-painting artiste that she is, I’m an artist in my own field.  And afraid of color?  I’m not.  I just like to be real.  And sometimes being real means being exposed in a harsh light… not a tutti-frutti color wheel where things can be hidden.  I don’t think I need to paint something in a vivid color to prove my self-worth.

So to Mrs. M, I only have these words of advice… choose your words wisely.  While you crushed my dreams of ever thinking I had talent in your eyes (and honestly, how many other students dreams did you crush??), you pushed me to do something I never thought I’d do.  To be an artist.  And you know what?  I do have talent.  And you know what else?  It doesn’t have to be in color.  But thank you, Mrs. M, for making me doubt myself all of these years.  It is a wonderful feeling when my clients tell me that I’ve captured their sons/daughters/families in their true form.  Those moments captured in time tell a beautiful story.  Real stories.  Their stories.

Clearly, I still have issues with Mrs. M’s discouraging words, and this helped to get it out.  But I’m looking ahead to what my kids will experience in high school, and I have to pray that they will hear encouraging words, and not discouraging words.  It also reminds me, that as a parent, my children hear my words & these words (at least the ones they actually hear & not the ones that sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher) will stay with them for their entire lives.  Same goes for my friends and family.  It’s hard to take back those words that fall out of our mouths without chewing on them for a while.  And clearly, people will always remember “those” words.  I just keep going back to the saying that my parents tried to pound into my head while I was growing up (and of course, I’m sure I rolled my eyes & scoffed)…  “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  So this reminder goes to me as well… choose your words wisely.  Make sure they’re kind.  Make sure they’re encouraging.  Make sure that if you say them, make them have meaning.  I’m not going to lie & say I’ve never said mean things, or that things haven’t come out the way I had intended… but over the past couple of years & events in my life that have taken place, I have taken a great amount of time to taste the words that are rolling around on my tongue.  I’m doing my best to keep the “not nice” thoughts to myself. 

The moral to this gouge your eyes out long post is this: encourage, don’t discourage; build up, don’t tear down.  It reaps WAY bigger benefits, and y’know what?  It’s physically impossible to be down when you’re seeing someone else smile!  

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