"You've probably got a learning disability or something. You might need to go to student services and get some help." That was the response I got when questioning the validity of the first exam in a psychology 101 course. I barely scored a passing grade. The outcome of that examination did not match my understanding of the material. In fact, much of what I learned for that test has been cemented into my brain by the experience. To this day, most of my basic understanding of neurons and synapses are from that first exam. (How many "A" students can say that, twelve years later). But to the point, it felt like a dismissive and politically correct way of calling me stupid.
That was in 2006. First semester. First class. I remember the hurt and the sense of failure. I took it to heart because the message came from an authority figure, an expert in the psychological domain, or so I thought at the time. Ouch.
I wondered, "Maybe she sees past my facade? Maybe she knows I'm not cut out for this?", as I walked back to my truck.
I remember sitting in the back parking lot under the shade of a tree as I called Laura, my future wife, and shared what happened. I was crushed and felt defeated.
This particular event came at a vulnerable time in my life. Much of my life had been disheveled due to a recent move back to Nashville. I didn't know up from down. It was chaotic. But I wanted to finish what I had started. I wanted my bachelors degree.
In some ways, this could be a sad story. I went off to college in 1999 with many scholarships and aspirations of becoming a nationally recognized visual artist by the time I was thirty. I remember telling Bruce Childs, one of the faculty at Austin Peay, this very goal my freshman year.
Long story short, that never happened. Less than a year later, I flunked out and lost all my scholarships. (What happened after that is a story for another day).
Amazingly, as I type these words I am sitting in my office with a private practice in Marriage and Family Therapy. I even have the clients and masters degree to prove it.
But how did I get from point A to point B?
As I have reflected on that question, one word has come to mind. Persistence. Despite the obstacles, I persisted. Day by day. Week by week. Now, it seems like a long time ago. But in the middle of THAT raging storm they call Grad School, I didn't always know how I did it.
Interestingly, one of the first things that came to mind after I found out I was accepted to Lipscomb's MFT program, was that conversation in that basement hallway after class those years before. And I let it motivate me. Granted, this may not be the most ideal form of motivation but I used it nonetheless. It helped. It worked. In fact, one of the visions that helped me was imagining myself on stage in the future as a successful clinician giving a keynote address and looking out into the sea of faces and seeing the teacher who suggested my learning disability.
Granted, the jury is out on my intellectual capacities. She may have been more right than I would like to admit. But so what?! What does that have to do with work ethic and persistence?
Nothing. Absolutely not one thing.
I'm reminded of another story my freshman year at Austin Peay. I went to see Dr. Jim Dear in his office tucked away in the Ceramics Department. I don't remember why I came. What I do remember is the layer of white dust and stacks of paper on his desk, and most importantly what he said: "Robert, I've seen a lot of talented kids come in and out of this program. But I've seen kids with half the talent go twice as far because they worked twice as hard."
Ouch. I have never forgotten those words, I never will.
This past February, after the Super Bowl, I was listening to sports talk radio while driving to South Nashville. They were sharing a press conference interview by Jason Kelce, the center of the winning team. According to him, he was undersized and never highly recruited, much less expected to be a Super Bowl Champion. He said that his Grandfather gave him a quote by Calvin Coolidge on persistence after he was not given a scholarship to play football. (I highly recommend watching the interview here)
As soon as I put my truck into park that day, I searched "Calvin Coolidge on persistence", this is what I found:
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
No matter what you have been told, or what you have believed in the past, persist, today. This is what I learned.