James Whistler is one of America’s most famous painters but it turns out that his road to success in the art world was a circuitous one. As a child he was described by his parents as moody and they noticed that drawing helped settle him down and focus his attention. Then his mother, in hopes he might make a good minister, sent him to a church school. He preferred drawing caricatures to study and it was soon clear that he wasn’t suited for a career in religion.
Next, Whistler was sent to West Point, the US Military Academy. In a class he was assigned to draw a study of a bridge and submitted an exquisite rendering of a picturesque stone arch with two children on it fishing from the river. The lieutenant teaching the course on bridge building was not happy. “This is a military exercise,” he said. “Get those children off the bridge.” Whistler returned to his desk and submitted a revised drawing with the children now fishing from the riverbank. The lieutenant rejected it: “I said, get rid of those children.” Whistler’s third and final drawing depicted the bridge, the river, and two small tombstones on the bank.
I love this story because it just confirms the notion that some of us are meant to be bridge builders and some of us are meant to be painters, and all of us have unique gifts!