When I think of the two words, ‘driven’ and ‘determined’, I think that driven applies to a singular focus. Someone who is driven sets a very challenging goal and then sticks to a plan of execution until they achieve the objective. I have known people who have referred to me as driven but I like to think of myself, not as driven, but as determined. Michael Jordan was driven. Even Jim Jones was driven. I was not.
I don’t consider the goals I’ve set as being too lofty or unachievable. I do however consider myself “determined”. Webster defines the word determined as being resolute and firm, of unwavering mind. Wow, my wife describes me in this manner, but she uses a different word – “stubborn.” In my life I have established a number of objectives and goals, goals which I don’t consider out of reach for almost anyone. Once I do set a target though, I don’t stop until I reach the goal. I have always been very certain of who I am and what I can and cannot do, what I am good at and what I am not and I’ve never been afraid of taking a calculated risk.
The very first time that I can remember publicly declaring who I was and what I was good at, and what I am not, came in the First Grade. I attended a small public elementary school named Fillmore Elementary in Hamilton, Ohio. The school was named after Millard Fillmore who apparently did not do much other than to look like Samantha’s dad on Bewitched. My first grade at Fillmore was one of excitement as I got to experience my very first romantic encounter with the opposite sex, a little vixen named Tammy (read me).
My recollection is that the school had only one, (possibly two), teachers who floated around to all classes in order to provide us exposure to ‘Art’, the Art Teacher. I seem to remember our art teacher’s name as being Mrs. Leugers. Mrs. Leugers was a somewhat tall, thin teacher with dark, leathery-looking skin. No doubt she was a sun worshipper, and probably a smoker as she had that raspy “smoker’s voice.” I don’t remember how many times per week Mrs Leugers visited our class, (I think it was twice), but for me it was always a time of high anxiety. Yes, even little first graders experience anxiety. Don’t believe me? Tell your toddler he’s going to get a spanking when his daddy comes home and watch him squirm. On art days it was just like that – today I was going to get a spanking.
So it was that one day during the week we had our normally scheduled art period and on this day we were all working with pencils or charcoal, or quite possibly it was just crayons. I don’t recall exactly but I do clearly recall that we were drawing. I had tried to do the assignment, I really did! I did my best to draw whatever it was we were told to draw but after what I considered to be my best attempt, I looked at my work and was horribly upset with myself. I knew my work sucked and no one could tell me otherwise. I just sat there looking at my picture and feeling worthless. Meanwhile I noticed all the other kids enjoying the distraction away from our usual Dick and Jane stories or our math exercises, having fun, making wonderful resemblances of drawings by Michelangelo, Rafael or Donatello. I continued to just sit there staring at my worthlessness.
After a few minutes of self loathing, Mrs Leugers made found her way to me. Seeing that I had obviously stopped performing and seeing that my ‘art’ was nowhere near where it should be, she stooped down and rested on her haunches and she asked me why I had stopped. “Because it’s bad. It doesn’t look anything like (whatever it was we were supposed to be drawing – for the sake of this story, let’s call it a Sneezle).” Mrs. Leugers picked up a pencil and with only a few swishes on the paper, she exclaimed – “look, see? It wasn’t so bad, you just needed to finish it. Now it looks just like a Sneezle.”
I hated Mrs. Leugers at that moment! I hated how easily she made that look. How in the world was she able to look at my pathetic rendition of a Sneezle and within only 7 seconds transform it into a Sneezle worthy of being hung up in the classroom, up above the chalkboard? Something inside this very ‘determined’ little boy of 6 years of age snapped and I made up my mind, right then and there, (and I’m swearing this to be true on the lives of my grandchildren), that I would never be good at art and I didn’t need to be!
I looked up at Mrs. Leugers and I made my public declaration to her. “I’m never going to use art. I don’t need to. I’m good at math!”
I remember this moment like it were yesterday because, like getting hit by a school bus the following year, this was a life-altering moment for me. This one was different though because it was self-chosen. At that moment in time, don’t ask me how I knew, but I just knew that I was so good at mathematics that I was not going to ever have to rely on my ‘artistic abilities’. I was 6 years old. And with that, Mrs. Leugers was stunned. She just looked at me and moved on.
Here I am now, a 55 year old man able to look back and draw on hindsight. Being a determined kid and a determined adult has certainly had its benefits. On very many occasions I set stretching goals for myself and did not give up until I achieved my primary objective, (a couple of times at the cost of my health due to stress). I can publicly declare today that this determination helped me earn my wife, got me through 11 years of night and correspondence school, pushed me to 3 degrees and as many certifications, encouraged me to stay true to my objectives in my working career, kept me from becoming a statistic on a chart of divorced marriages, being the best father I can be and so many other personal achievements.
Yes, being a determined person certainly has played to my advantage and has helped me to succeed and reach my personal goals….there are days though where I look at a piece of paper and privately wish to myself ‘I sure would love to be able to draw a Sneezle’. I’m sorry Mrs Leugers; I know you tried to help and you meant well, but the drawing of Sneezles is best left to those not so determined, (aka stubborn).
Suda is a MUCH better artist than I