The Beauty of the Struggle: An essay on never being the best

In high school I had a friend who was overflowing with acting talent, and after trying out for yet another play and not getting the part, I said off the cuff to my mom, "it must be so frustrating to have that much talent and still not be the best."  That statement has since haunted and defined most of my life.

In seventh grade, my friends and I started thinking about high school and honors classes.  At that time it was fairly clear to me I had little hope for any academic honors except maybe with my writing.  I went to eighth grade full of fire and passion only to find out I had no real grasp over the rules of grammar or spelling and spent the year trying to hang on to a B average.  I entered high school squarely in the middle of the pack, far from the best.

My high school academic career can really be summed up with a scene in the basement of Campbell Hall at the end of Junior year.  I had recently visited UNC, which had the number one photojournalism school in the country. I needed as many AP classes as possible to have any hope of getting accepted. I had an 89 average in math, so I was on the cusp of being recommended for AP statistics.  I worked up all my courage, walked into the classroom, and flat out begged the teacher to recommend me.  Her answer was, "you're not mathematically gifted, you're going to struggle every day in that class, but if this is what you want I'll sign the paper."  I took her signed recommendation and ran down the hall like I'd won the lottery. 

The next year I walked into AP statistics, sat in my seat, and realized she was right.  Every day was a boring struggle through material my brain didn't naturally understand.  I got a 3 on the AP exam, rejected from UNC, and headed straight for the SECOND best photojournalism program in the country.

College was not much better.  I got turned down as photo editor of the school paper, never earned my own weekly comic strip, and eventually left for UGA.  As a history major, I floated through my classes relying heavily on my creative writing skills and completely exhausting any memorization talent I had (very little). Other than a brief semester where I was completely spellbound by the 16th century Chinese economy (now there's a place to hang your hat), my college career was completely unremarkable.  

Even senior year, when I spent six months and 25 pages arguing that early French pornographic literature was the birthplace of modern day feminism (truth), I only got a 99.5 on the thesis.  WHY HOLD OUT ON THAT HALF A POINT?  It would have been so easy to finally let me be the best.  But no, that wasn't written in my stars.

When I think back on my education, my very favorite thing I learned is how to fight. I learned how to work and make goals.  Even though I spent my academic career in the middle of the pack, I struggled for greatness, and isn't that what makes this journey uniquely mine?   

This summer Jimmy and I were in an art gallery in Rosemary Beach that housed beautiful pieces.  Many were simple and made profound statements, but I was totally absorbed in this one piece (above) by Michelle Armas.  When Jimmy asked me what I liked about it so much, I said, "It's like a David and Goliath fight to the death, and the artist won."  The beauty is in the struggle.

I often wonder what it would be like to stand in front of a beautiful scene and be able to capture it exactly on a piece of paper, instead of what I do.  I sit in front of a canvas and make those first exciting marks.  About 25% into the process, I get this tingly feeling like it's going to be the best piece I've ever done.  About 85-90% through I have a complete breakdown, decide I'm a total talentless hack, and consider burning the canvas.  Then, through eventual perseverance, I'm able to wrestle with it enough that it reaches a conclusion.  It's not talent.  It's a struggle, and I certainly don't always win.

Resolution. . . . #design #abstractart #interiordesign #art

A post shared by Blayne Macauley (@blayne_art) on

Sometimes I lie in bed at night wishing I had more talent or could be the very best artist.  I look at other artist and covet their talent, but at the end of the day, isn't it me?  Isn't it me, standing in front of my art, making decisions and struggling with it until the bitter end that brings out the beauty?

It's something to think about.



I composed this piece in my head last night as I was falling asleep and decided to mull it over until morning before I actually wrote it.  I think part of me was afraid to admit the struggle... afraid to admit I'm really not full of talent.  As luck would have it, I opened Instagram this morning and saw this by my favorite modern writer, Cheryl Strayed (Author of Wild).  It seemed to speak directly to me and gave me the courage to publish this piece.