I remember sitting in fifth-grade science back in the '80s when my teacher informed all of us that his lesson for the day was done, and we could use the remaining time in class to do whatever we wanted.
These were always my favorite moments in school — “free time,” which to most narcissistic middle schoolers meant “me time."
I pulled out my sketchbook (nothing more than a beat-up designated single-subject notebook) and started to draw. I don’t remember what I was drawing, exactly, but by that time I knew I was a credible artist, even by middle school standards.
The teacher slowly strolled down each aisle, curious what we were all doing with our “free time." He paused by my desk, watching me sketch for a moment. Usually, when this happened a compliment was soon to follow.
He said out loud for everyone to hear, “Find something constructive to do.”
I held onto this embarrassing moment for years. One sentence of careless discouragement made me question everything I understood about myself. I was not a good student like my siblings. I consistently pulled B's and C's, with the occasional D that I worked hard to keep my parents from noticing.
But my artwork, always A's. BIG A's.
And up until this fifth-grade moment I was determined to turn my artistic skills into not only a daily passion, but a reputable career. I put my makeshift sketchbook away and fumbled for a book to read so it appeared as though I was being “constructive."
The next few minutes felt like hours, even days. If the only talent I have is not constructive, then who am I, and what will I be? The one talent I felt I was blessed with was not sufficient in the eyes of a teacher, the most admired profession in my fifth-grade mind.
Perhaps he thought it was just a time-wasting hobby, or maybe he was threatened by my ability to depict him in an unflattering way. Regardless, this one phrase followed me well into my adult years as I tried to build a career.
I don’t know where this teacher is today. He wasn't around long. I assume (or at least hope) he is retired. I wonder if he has heard my name and seen my work. I was a finalist on the Food Network’s hit show Halloween Wars as a carving artist. I was on FOX NFL, ESPN and just about every local outlet for snow carving that went "viral." I have put smiles on the faces of over 260,000 people all over the world. I try to use my talents to help people, inspire people, employ people and entertain people during difficult times.
I'm not saving lives or the planet, but I try to use what I have to help in a productive way, to contribute.
I don’t list these credentials for praise (so please don't), but for contrast. I have worked hard to build a career using my God-given talents and honed skills. It hasn’t been easy and I have met my share of failures along the way, but I keep trying.
The bridge from passion to skill is called EFFORT. The next time you see a kid doodling, or daydreaming, or dancing, or acting, or whistling, or building with Legos or making a mess with glue and glitter, ENCOURAGE THEM.
That “unproductive hobby” could lead to a passion that makes the world a better place. If you can’t encourage them, go find something constructive to do.
(Eric Jones lives in West Clarksville.)