I was upset, very upset. So, instead of going to lunch in the cafeteria with my friends, I walked down the perfectly polished hall of my Catholic girls’ high school towards the principal’s office. I wanted to know what went wrong and I figured the principal would have the answer.
I can still see her tall, somewhat thick, body sitting behind her wooden desk. Her nun’s habit covered all but her face. She seemed old and very wise. Now I realize she was probably 30. The nuns were a mystery. We didn’t know their real names or the color of their hair or where they grew up. Like the Wizard of Oz, they came from nowhere, but we listened to their every word, expecting to receive the answers to all of life’s mysteries.
My SAT scores had come the day before. The envelope sat on the kitchen counter, mixed in with the electric and other bills. My mother hadn’t mentioned that they had come. Parents (at least mine) were completely uninvolved in our education back then. But I was keeping an eye out for the envelope. I took it up to my room. I wanted to savor this moment by myself.
I had always been a very good student. I worked hard for those A’s, often late into the night. English was pretty easy, and I could memorize geography and foreign languages. But, math and science were tough, so I spent hours every night trying to master them.
My father had graduated from high school, but my mom had dropped out of school after 8th grade in order to help support her family during the depression. I was the child expected to go to college. I couldn’t wait. I poured over those college catalogs the way other kids looked at Seventeen Magazine, imagining living in a dorm room and staying up late in the night talking with my roommate. My SAT scores, plus my good grades, were going to be my ticket to a college scholarship.
The principal’s door was open. She looked up, surprised to see me. “Sister, do you have time to talk to me?” Yes, she did. I handed her my SAT scores and asked her why they were so much lower than my friends’ scores. Without skipping a beat she said: “Joan, you’re not smart. You do well in school because you work so hard. We can see it in your eyes in class. If you didn’t work so hard, you’d just be average.”
Average? My face blazed with embarrassment. I sat there for a moment and, after mumbling some thanks, walked out of her office and back to my next class. I could feel the Scarlet A for Average burned on my forehead (the things we do to ourselves).
That conversation, which took place almost 49 years ago, was the beginning of years of self-doubt. No matter how hard I worked in college or law school, or later as a lawyer, I knew that I was just faking it. I kept waiting for someone to show up and declare me a fraud.
But, that didn’t happen. As the years went on, I often won my cases, in part because I was so well prepared. Judges complimented me on that preparation. My clients (well, most of them) liked me. I still wasn’t the smartest person in the room, but sometimes I beat the smartest person in the room simply because I worked harder. I learned that, given a choice between hiring someone with a perfect SAT score or a hard worker, the latter made a better employee.
Stamping doesn’t have a lot in common with lawyering. In fact, it uses very different skills. But, I’ve been on a somewhat similar journey in stamping. I wasn’t born with the artist/design gene. In fact, my dear blog readers will sometimes comment “Love the card, but I really love your writing.” In the beginning, those comments reminded me of that awful moment in the principal’s office. They felt like an insult.
Not anymore. I am finally able to agree with those comments and I appreciate and value every single one.
Now, I enjoy trying to make cards that work for me. Rather than worrying that I don’t make stunning cards, I just keep plugging away like I did in high school. I study cards that I love, trying to unravel the mystery of a good design in the same way I tried to understand chemistry. I ask myself -- what is there about that card that appeals to me? Then I try and incorporate that design element, or elements, into my cards.
For example, one stamper almost always places the elements of her cards in the upper left or the bottom right corner of the card. I love how that tight focal point is balanced by a lot of white space. It works for her, so I try it. I didn’t come up with the idea on my own, but I use that technique sometimes.
Another woman stamps her images so that they wrap beautifully, almost delicately, around the sentiments on her cards. It’s not easy to copy that idea (I’ve tried!), but I can at least admire it and improve my layouts.
And then there’s the cardmaker who frequently uses a color scheme of bright colors + black on a white card. I’ve learned from enjoying her cards that that combination of colors almost always works (see my card below!).
I used to feel that copying design elements was “cheating,” and that I should only create “original” cards. I wasted a lot of money and time and frustration trying to ace the SATs of cardmarking. I don’t have the design or artistic talent to create unique show-stoppers, but with hard work, I enjoy making cards that (I hope) people enjoy receiving.
And, speaking of cards, here’s one that I made with one of my favorite Right at Home sets, Grateful Heart.