Before there were 12 options for coloring books ranging from cute elephants to soul opening chakras at every hipster store you walk into, I would sit with my 64 pack of Crayola crayons (sharpener on the back of the box and all), and color my heart out. My summer vacations were marked by how many colorful Minnies, Goofies, and my least favorite, Winnie the Poohs I could bring to life on the otherwise dull white pages of coloring books. To Pooh’s his defense, I only disliked him because “Pooh” is so close to “pum” which means fart in Portuguese.
He always seemed like such a wimp. As airy as a fart. I was a tough kid, so that never meshed well with my personal motto.
Anyways, in my coloring rampages from the months of June until August throughout my childhood, I learned three things that even my quarter-of-a-life-lived self can appreciate.
You can always fix the mess you make
People will always try to veer you off path
Little by little, persistence pays off
While growing up, I had (and still slightly have) this complex: I felt like I had no natural talent. From ages six to eight, I learned quickly that of all three children that my mom had, I was seemingly the defected one. There was nothing actually wrong with me, I just didn’t have some prodigy-like powers my brother and sister displayed at a young age.
My sister: could sing circles around the Whitney Houston types before, during, and after puberty. She has the kind of voice that you wished you had, fully knowing it could carry you to stardom. Beyoncé level stardom.
My brother: has been drawing masterpieces since the age of three. Nobody knows how, why, or where the creations he translates from his brain onto paper come from, but he’s always been the kind of talent you can’t teach.
In fact, they were both so talented, it was hard to fit in.
So as young as six years old, I was on a quest to find out what my superpower was. I wanted to be known for “that one thing” I was naturally better at than everyone else.
Nights were spent with tears swelled up in my eyes to the point I realized I needed glasses (fun fact: I actually found out I had bad eyesight one night while crying, wondering why everything looked clearer with tears in my eyes).
Ok, yes I was an extremely emotional Cancerian child who would cry so much at nothing, they nicknamed me “butta” because I would melt at any sign of sadness.
But still, that shit was sad.
Somehow, coloring cleared somethings up that helped me get over my sadness and start getting smarter.
Lesson 1: You can always fix your mistakes
My quest for my natural talent led me to this one particular afternoon as my seven year old self. My sister and I were coloring these intricate Mandalas, because I am after all, the daughter of Brazilian hippies. Despite my best efforts to color within the lines, I smudged (probably because my older sister pushed my arms, which I’ll get to in the next lesson), but regardless of how it happened, the damage was done.
What came after the mess? You guessed it, I was on the verge of tears about it. Ugh I was such a sappy ass kid.
I immediately ran over to my mom to show that I had messed up this otherwise beautiful Mandala I had been working on for days. She looked at me, smiled, and said, “It’s ok if you mess up, you’ve always been good at making things better even when you mess up.”
For some reason, my mom believing in me made me believe in me. At least in my capability to solve the ugly poopy brown lines and turn it into an improvised flower. From that day on, I stopped being afraid of messing up because I trusted myself to turn smudges into masterpieces. And if the brown smudge still looked like poop, I never lost the confidence to at least try.
Lesson 2: Haters gon’ hate and try to veer you off path
My sister is three years older than me, so naturally we despised each other growing up. It was partially due to the pressures of “having to be similar.” We knew we were different, but people didn’t catch on until we were in our teens and actually knew how to show our personalities without ripping each others’ hair out.
Once again, let’s not forget that my sister was the naturally talented one, while I was the one who had to work to find my talent.
One day while trying to keep my purple pencil within the lines of a castle drawing, my older sister stopped me dead in my tracks and shared “information” about coloring. She scared the shit out of me, and temporarily shifted my desire to finish my week-long-coloring-
“You know, if you color too fast, you’ll get a heart attack and die.”
And while every adult knows the absurdity and lie heavily plaguing that statement, words never sounded truer to my seven year old ears.
How insane is that? My sister would threaten sudden-death-by-coloring to me because she couldn’t stand the fact that my persistence would allow me to finish pieces more thoroughly, and artistically than she could. Because let’s be real, coloring a complete page is a commitment most seven year olds and even adults don’t follow through with. Most grown-ups can’t even get through a page – I’m looking at you and your Paris themed coloring book Damon.
Most people can’t get past the one-page hump, let alone books from cover to cover, unless you’re seven-year-old me, trying to overcompensate for your lack of natural talent and taking the “last (wo)man standing” approach.
Unlucky for my sister, I was smarter than to listen to her. I learned at a very young age that you need to check your sources. You can’t trust one person to tell you a major piece of information, because there could be and most likely are hidden motives. In this case, it was very clear my sister would try to sabotage the talent of persistence I worked on building, to stay on top without having to try as hard. News flash sis, it’s not all about talent, it’s what you do with it.
PS: Love you, and don’t hate me for putting a cricket on your bed that week.
Lesson 3: Little by little persistence pays off
So now let’s talk about this “talent” of persistence I’m deeming myself to have. 19 years after all this wisdom gained from my coloring adventures, I can say confidently that persistence pays. I’m talking the kind of money where you might even treat yourself to Broccoli and Brussel Sprouts at the Whole Foods bar.
As a six year old, I wasn’t thinking about persistently working a job to make enough money to deal with the absurd loans I’d be chained down to two decades later. What I was thinking about was far simpler: starting something and finishing it. Because I had nothing else to show for myself. I couldn’t open my mouth and sing magical sounds. I couldn’t draw noteworthy art. What I could do was continuously strive to get things done. I created my own talent of work ethic.
I was a crafty little kid. Anything from homemade soaps to friendship bracelets, I was about it. I got a kick out of learning a skill, and using it to make something tangible.
With coloring, it could take days to finish the complete page. I even went above and beyond and got the massive felt coloring poster from Michaels (throwback) and challenged myself to start and finish it as quickly and as artistically as possible. There would be moments where I’d want to give up, partly because my hand was numb, but mostly because I always wanted to match my brother and sisters’ natural talent. And that meant I had to work harder. So I would slave, my fingers would turn blue (partially from the markers, and partially from the pressure of my intensity against the paper), until I had something to show for my work.
I’d finish a piece and move onto the next one. Without knowing it at the time, I was refining my ability to breeze through the crap people tell you in their attempts of distracting you from accomplishing something, I was fixing and solving my problems along the way, and most importantly I was making my persistency muscle stronger by realizing that I could finish everything if I put my mind to it.
Not all of us are born with natural talent, but every human has the ability to try.