By Caden Fabbi
We are not defined by what we are not.
I’m really bad at art: really, truly, horribly bad.
I remember a specific instance of my artistic struggle when I was sent to the Nevada Young Writer’s camp in the summer before third grade. The purpose of the camp was to improve the writing skills of young students who were interested in the language arts. I was actually pretty excited; I knew that creative writing was a strong skill of mine at that age. But when our teacher dropped the bomb that we would be completing an art project as an assignment throughout the week, I knew I was in trouble.
I had always been somewhat inadequate at art, and I knew it. My inability to draw straight lines or a congruent venn diagram was a clear indication of this. When I tried to make a ceramic vase in my elementary art class, it cracked in the kiln. I tried watercolor painting, and my finished product would usually turn out looking more like water than paint. I couldn’t even manage to create a satisfactory handprint turkey.
Nonetheless, I told myself that if there was a time to turn the tables, this would be it. I was ready to shock the world.
Our task was to get creative — to paint a pillowcase that represented something that we cared about. This part was cake for me; I was about to become a big brother! So, I decided that I would dedicate and gift my pillowcase to my unborn little sister. And I was thrilled about it. I was so thrilled, in fact, that I disregarded the fact that I had absolutely no artistic ability whatsoever, and I was well on my way to making the best. pillow. ever.
After a day of work and a couple more of anticipation, the time finally came to receive our completed, sewn-together pillows (we were not to be trusted with needles at that age). As other students began to receive their handiwork, I noticed trends. All of the girls had painted portraits of flowers, horses and ballerinas; the boys painted dogs, family and sports. I began to feel nervous, as I knew that my creation would, at the very least, be unique in comparison to everyone else’s. This was a nerve-wracking realization at my age.
Then it came. I quickly realized that inspiration was not the only requirement needed to assemble a strong work of art. To my horror, lying in front of me was a grotesque painting of three-distorted-looking orange zombie-human faces with yellow teeth and dots for eyes in front of a blackish-purple background. I immediately turned beet-red out of embarrassment, and I felt like all eyes in the classroom were on me. This pillow could be truly frightening for a typical toddler. I was humiliated with myself.
I came across the pillow fairly recently while cleaning out old things from my house. I don’t think I ever gave it to my sister; or if I did, she probably didn’t keep it for long. I don’t blame her. Recounting this story, I laughed at the memories, and especially at my embarrassment.
I am actually a person of many talents — music, on-stage, leadership and even some athletics. But even now, art is just not my forté. But as a confident adult man, I own the fact that I am completely inept at art projects — although, in the past 10 years since this experience, I’ve gained tremendous abilities in learning to trace and paint campaign signs.
Regardless, I think an important conclusion can be drawn from my story. Time and time again, I hear anecdotes of people that are insecure because they don’t feel smart enough, have body image issues or haven’t honed a particular skill, among other things.
My point is this: our weaknesses do not define us — unless we let them. But dwelling in our inadequacies only takes away from the time that we could be using to utilize our greatest strengths. Does Mark Zuckerberg sit there and sulk about how socially awkward he is? No; at least he shouldn’t. After all, he is a creator of one of the most successful social media outlets in history.
If I had let myself become insecure about my artistic deficiency long-term, I know that it would have eaten away at me. But what I’ve realized is that, for one, no one is good at everything, and two, we are all individually the creators of our own destiny and creating art was simply not a part of my destiny. So I let it go and focused on developing my strengths, and I’m a happier and more focused person because of it. If mankind were more focused on what we could do rather than what we can’t, our society would be overwhelmed with confidence and innovation.
Self-doubt can eat away at you if you let it. I know this from experience. But at the end of the day, we must realize that we are not defined by what we are not, and if we don’t enact this idea in our day-to-day lives, we are running a dangerous race with a finish line of self-apathy and insecurity.
For me, it was a troublesome pillow. For you, it could be, well, anything. But be on the look out for it, because the lessons learned from evaluating our inadequacies can be priceless.
Caden Fabbi studies political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.