CBS News recently reported that Malcolm Mitchell, a star football player for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, has joined a book club of middle-age women. It all started when one of the women chatted him up at a Barnes & Noble. She told him about the club she'd just joined, and he asked if he could join, too. And he did.
I love this.
When the reporter asked what accomplishment Mitchell was most proud of, he answered that it was reading the entire Hunger Games series in two days. The reporter pointed out his amazing skill on the gridiron, and Mitchell's reply made me tear up.
"That came natural. That's a gift. I had to work to read."
Mitchell started college at a junior-high reading level and was determined to change that. So he did. Through hard work and determination, and being called a nerd, he improved his reading. Now, he always has a book with him. He hangs out at Barnes & Noble. He reads books he wouldn't pick for himself and plants himself in a group of older women to talk about those books. His mind is wide open and willing. He is courageous.
I learned to read very young and very easily. I never thought reading was hard. It was like breathing or swallowing or scratching an itch. It came to me naturally. It was a gift. I'm grateful for it but not particularly proud of being able to read. It's a means to an end...it's how I get at stories and entertain myself and learn lots of other things. Like Mitchell with his gift for football, I honed and refined my gift through years of college and graduate school. But the gift of being able to read--of making sense of squiggly lines on pages of books--I take for granted every single day.
When I was growing up, many things that came easily weren't particularly interesting to me. I could do them and was happy when I succeeded at them, but my biggest sources of pride were the things I had to work at, the things I struggled for.
During my senior year in high school, I found myself drowning in academic overload. I'd signed up for too many AP classes and felt crushed by the homework and pressure to keep my grades up for college. Midway through the year, my advisor suggested I drop one class. I chose to drop physics because that was my easiest class...the only one that wasn't Advanced Placement. It was boring, and so I didn't care about it. The physics teacher told me it didn't make sense to drop my easiest A, and perhaps for him, it didn't. But for me it was the only option.
We value most what we work hardest for. Perhaps that's the reason I am so very proud of my crafty accomplishments. I've worked hard to teach myself design principles and made a lot of garbage in the process. I'm proud that my craft area feels like home now...it was a huge struggle for me to gain confidence in myself as a creator of paper art, to let go of my fear of failure.
I'm also proud of my writing. But in very real and weird ways, writing presents an even bigger challenge. I've not achieved that same confidence in it that I've achieved in crafting. It's scary to put words out there, to plan a book and follow through with it, to be vulnerable and honest and open and overcome the barriers I've erected in my self-identity as a writer. It's much safer to write advertising copy or sales articles about memory chips or an analysis of Chaucer's proto-feminism or blog posts about bad mommy karma or why I don't own fine china.
Writing actual books? Those things I've carried around with me my entire life like security blankets or pacifiers or oxygen tanks? Can I create one of those precious objects?
Sure I can. The fear, however, comes from wondering how good it will be, wondering how it will be received, wondering if anyone will read it, worrying that someone might not like it, worrying that I might not like it. The fear comes from putting a big project out there, exposing it to public opinion. The fear of failure looms larger at my computer than it does at my craft table.
When a card doesn't work, I toss it in the trash and move on. How will I feel if I spend months or even years writing something that has to be tossed in the trash?
THAT takes courage.
Malcolm Mitchell has that kind of courage. He saw a lack in his education, one most people around him likely didn't care about at all as long as he was performing well on the football field. After all, the average American reads at a junior-high level. It's not like he was functionally illiterate. Still, he decided to overcome his deficit and he did, and whole worlds have opened up for him...even the world of the middle-age women's book club.
Thank you, Malcolm Mitchell, for inspiring me. I love your courage, your refusal to settle for average, your willingness to connect with others and put yourself out there in life.
It's time to write.
What are you most proud of? Where in your life have you chosen to limit yourself, play it safe? Do you find courage in Mitchell's story, or is there some other story that hit you over the head with inspiration? A book, perhaps?