“Up you go,” he said with a sadistic tone.
He had no idea my fear of heights, and he couldn’t see from where he stood that various areas on my body were beginning to break out in a sweat. The machine whined as I ascended to the vaulted ceiling of the main lobby. I was hoping my spirit would just keep on going up and out of the building rather than face what was coming next.
Clutched in my damp hand was the project that I had spent hours laboring over the entire weekend. The previous Friday our class had been assigned the task of creating a structure that would support an egg from breaking when dropped from a high place. We were given a box of toothpicks, a rubber band and were told we had to supply our own glue to hold it all together.
It was my senior year of college, and I had procrastinated taking an art class. I was months away from obtaining my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, and the class was a requirement for graduating. Because of my dislike of the subject and my lack of skill, I had waited a bit too long. All of the other art courses had filled, so I was left to join one that combined art with physics. A deadly combination for a person who is not gifted in either arena.
As I was hoisted upward on a cherry picker in the middle of the campus main hall, I was expected to free my creation to see how it fared when smashing into the ground. I was being graded on function as well as a beautiful design. Neither of those would have described the piece of junk I was about to heft over the ledge to its demise. I found myself mentally apologizing to the egg that was about to be sacrificed in the ordeal.
“Let it go!” He shouted up at me.
I looked down to see that a crowd had gathered. It was bad enough that I had to do this in front of my classmates but the entire school had turned out for cheap entertainment.
My index and middle fingertips were numb from burning myself on the hot glue gun I had used. It looked like I had spent a total of five minutes working on it, when in reality it had sucked up all of my time from Friday evening onward. When my alarm sounded Monday morning I would have rather made a trip to the dentist for a root canal.
I dangled the object of my disdain and dropped it. I watched as it rocketed to the ground picking up momentum along the way. It bounced and rolled. That part actually went how I had envisioned. One of the instructors bent over to examine the white oval that hung suspended in the middle with the rubber band.
“It barely cracked, but it still broke. Bring her down!”
If the egg had survived the fall I would have been guaranteed an A. Because it had a hairline crack, the teacher was gracious enough to give me a C.
“Nice try,” he said with a quick smile as if to say: Let’s move on to better talent.
Up next was an Art major. Of course, she had done what we all should have thought to do. She had spent hours breaking her toothpicks into small pieces that she glued together. It was a massive looking hairball that when she let it go, it floated to the ground and the egg never budged. She had thrown in the rubber band just because she had to.
Both of the instructors applauded and smiled as if she had just presented them with the Mona Lisa while the rest of us non-art majors stood around feeling inadequate.
That was only our first project of many. Going forward another element of misery was added into the mix. For every assignment we did, we were required to get up in front of the class with our final product and explain why we had designed it the way we did.
This caused me many problems. For one, I had no confidence in what I was building. Second, I am artistically challenged. And, I had no explanation for the monstrosities I was turning out. I didn’t even know what to say about how messed up it looked. To make matters more complicated, there were two instructors in charge instead of one. We had to win them both over to get a good grade.
No project was without its oddity. We were given random materials that made absolutely no sense to work with. For example, I was given different shaped boxes and told to build something that would show how a person’s life would evolve from childhood to death. The best I could do was glue them all together and paint the last box black and call it a day. I could tell by their furrowed eyebrows they weren’t impressed, but for some unknown reason, my C average was holding tight. Angels and unknown forces must have been at work.
The only project I ever felt somewhat good about was a bridge I made from red solo cups. On the day I was to turn it in, I slammed it in my car door on the way out of the parking lot. My excuse was not accepted, and I saw them fighting off annoyance.
At one point, a girl who was as anxiety riddled over the class as I was, got up to present. I witnessed the two professors rip her to shreds. They mocked her, told her it was a piece of useless work and excused her abruptly. One of them laughed as he used his pen to mark down her grade on his sheet. I saw her face turn various colors before she fled the room crying.
That was the day that I decided not to care anymore. I knew I wasn’t any good, and I knew I could work myself to a frazzle and never achieve above average. I made the decision to formulate the best story I could about what I was showing to the two. If they believed my tall tale, then maybe my grade would improve, otherwise, I wasn’t going to put my heart into any of it anymore.
The next day in class as we spent our time constructing, the girl who had been publicly demeaned came to me and said,
“I just wanted to come back and say goodbye to you. You were always so nice to me. I am dropping this class.”
“You can’t,” I said. “You won’t graduate.” I wasn’t the only one who had waited too long.
“I don’t care. I am not going to let them do that to me again.”
“Just stay and get through it,” I said. “It isn’t worth quitting now.”
She insisted on leaving and wouldn’t listen. Although it sounded tempting to depart, I wanted to graduate that spring. I was tired of school, so I had to get past these two clowns to do so.
The only way out was to get weird and fake my way through. I also decided to turn a blind eye to the artists who were planning on making a career in the field. I had to nod and smile at their work and remember to not compare anything I did with what they were doing. I solely relied on my story telling abilities to convince the instructors of the greatness of my work.
I saw the magic of this happen instantly on the next project. Standing in front of the firing squad, I made up the biggest fabrication I could come up with. I went into great detail as to why I chose colors, patterns and layout. At the final word, I swallowed hard wondering when I was going to be reprimanded for a job poorly done. Instead, they started arguing with each other.
“I like what she did with that side of it. It really represents life in true form.”
“That isn’t what she meant to do. She did that as an abstraction. It is to symbolize life not show it in its true form.”
I ended up sitting down as they yelled at each other over my creation that I had no clue what it even represented. This repeated itself time and again. I would sell them hogwash, they would argue, and I would then be out of the limelight. This is how I survived the course and earned a B. I guess my degree in psychology was the right direction to go since I was so good at using it to change their behavior toward me.
Many years afterward, I was talking to my mom about how much I hated that class.
She said, “I thought it was good for you.”
“What?! Why? They were mean to the students.”
“It took away your fear of public speaking. When will you ever be heckled by an audience? It took away your anxiety about getting up to talk.”
She had a point. And, it made me realize something else as well. When I decided to not worry over every single detail, I did better. I still did the best I could, but I relaxed. I allowed my imagination to take over to the point that I actually enjoyed the mess I was making. I also quit comparing myself to the award winners. I became my own individual instead of a competitor.
We are called to a divine path that our Creator has crafted just for each and every one of us. If only we would let it unfold as it should without looking to the right or the left to see what everyone else is up to. Put forth your best where you are, don’t quit when it seems too tough, and know that according to Ephesians 2:10, you are God’s masterpiece.