by Alan Li
True story: Several years ago I was teaching a four-hour butterfly drawing workshop and I had a woman walk out before the first hour was even up. You see, at the start of the class, I began with an icebreaker where everyone briefly introduced themselves. When we came to this person, she sternly declared:
“I have no patience for drawing, and I have no desire to be here!”
I was momentarily stunned, but then asked her why she had signed up for the class in the first place. Her reply was instantaneous:
“Well, I want someone to tell me that I’m terrible at drawing so I never have to do it again!”
This was not how I pictured starting the class. In short order, I proceeded with a drawing demonstration to get the students going (which this person did not come over to observe). Following the demo she got up to leave. I tried to explain to her that drawing requires time and that there was no pressure on her to produce a masterpiece. She wouldn’t have any of it, and out the door she went! Strangely, she registered (and paid) for second workshop a few months later, but that time she didn’t show up, which was probably for the best.
What does this story have to do with trees? Well, last week I was walking up a ravine trail and at the top was this magnificent sugar maple (Acer saccharum). I wish I had taken a photo of myself standing next to it to illustrate just big it actually was. As I stood there admiring its trunk, it occurred to me that this tree has probably been rooted to this spot for close to a century, and that, unnoticed, it grows a little bit each day, and slowly reaches higher and higher into the sky.
For all you creatives (writers, musicians, chefs, designers, artists, etc.), this is how it’s done, people! This enormous maple didn’t take a shortcut and spring up overnight; it began as a tiny seed and grew roots to hold its ground before taking decades to reach great heights. Learn from this tree and realize that it takes a lifetime of learning and daily practice to grow your craft and vision. You might see people who, on the outside, appear to be an overnight success, but if you peel back the layers, you’ll discover that they too have spent decades working to get to where they are today.
Now, I’m sure that life hasn’t always been kind to this tree; no doubt it’s been battered by many storms over the years - that’s how it feels when you’re putting your art out into the world and you’re being shouted at on all sides by the critics. Often, the worst critics are those nasty little gremlins stuck inside your head telling you how much your art stinks, while at the same time pleading with you to give up.
So, for the woman who had no patience for drawing butterflies, and really all of us, on those days when you’re on the verge of toppling over, calm yourself by remembering this sugar maple tree. Remind yourself that just like this tree, you need to keep rooted to the ground and slowly inch upwards a little bit each day. Growth takes time and it requires a hefty dose of patience!