With hair fringing well below my ears and time to kill in Sheridan, I contacted a friend who’s a hairdresser and arranged for a quick cut.
Angie had never cut my hair before, and I’d never seen her with such enthusiasm as with those scissors in her hand that day. My primary thought as I sat in her chair was, “Why are you so excited?” We discussed what I wanted — short and easy because I won’t spend time styling it — and she exclaimed, “You’re just gonna LOVE this pixie!” I wondered if her extreme confidence might compensate for a lack of ability, and I kind of doubted she could make my thin, fine hair look good. Angie fearlessly dove in, and as she snipped, she’d say, “This is such a cool trick; see how it lays when I cut it like this?” She joyfully shared her secrets for haircutting as we talked about family and I lost track of time, mesmerized by her zeal.
I left her chair very happy with my hair, impressed that Angie’s eagerness and self-assurance were not compensation for lack of skill, but demonstrative of a genuine love for her work and excitement for the wonders she can accomplish with her talent. And then it hit me: Angie approaches hair styling the way I approach a class of non-painters at my two-hour painting workshops: with boundless enthusiasm and a confidence that makes people think, “Wow, she’s crazy! But OK, I’ll play. What have I got to lose?”
Last month I taught a private party at Sagebrush Art Center as an Elks Club convention activity. When the class was momentarily canceled, I was elated, as I really needed to work in my studio that day. When the class was back on again, I was a bit aggravated, but set those feelings aside to put forth my best as an instructor. Like Angie, I was joyful and confident, happily assuring the group of mostly first-time painters, “You’re gonna LOVE your paintings!” and, “You’ll see; it’ll all turn out fine.”
“Watch what happens when we add a teeny, tiny bit of yellow! … You have nice harmony in your colors here!” I’m not lying when I find positive things to say about each painting during class; people don’t realize how capable they are because most remember being told as kids that they weren’t artists. Some paintings could hang at MoMA, yet the painter never sees the aesthetic value of what they just created. Often they try to correct what they see as a mistake and it ruins the magic, but as long as they’re happy with their painting and want to try art again, I’ve done my job.
One man approached me after the Elks class with a story. He reported that the last time he’d made art was in the third grade. When he couldn’t do the assignment correctly, his teacher slapped him, knocking him across the room. He’d never tried art again until that night at my class. With tears in his eyes, he added, “That was in 1960! Thank you so much for this,” holding up his very nice elk painting. I got teary as I remembered not wanting to teach that night. Had I not brought enthusiasm, passion and confidence in my students to class with me, he might never have retrieved something that was taken from him 56 years ago: the belief that he could.
I guess my point is that we should all have Angie’s enthusiasm for whatever we do for a living. Even if we sometimes have to push aside other feelings to put forth our best, the passion you apply to your work could change the life of one person, ever so slightly.
Angie and I should meld our enthusiastic approaches: Who’s up for a fun, one-hour, “Cut-Your-Own-Hair Workshop”? Come on; what have you got to lose?