No matter what our occupation, hobby or particular talent, we are essentially students all of our lives. Even the most highly respected authority on anything continues to learn his craft until the day he dies. While researching books, taking classes and simple repetition can be wonderful teachers, another excellent way to grow and learn is through challenge.
My first experience with the growth-inducing aspects of challenges was when I tried out for a Madrigal choir in high school. I knew I could sing pretty well as I was in a choir at church, the regular chorus in school and was popular at talent shows and musical plays. Still, I was fully aware that there were others of my peers who towered above me in the vocal ability department. I longed to make it into this elite group of 12 singers who would represent the school at various venues throughout the town in which I grew up.
The day of the tryouts came and I was seated next to a girl named Molly who, in my opinion, had the voice of a crystal bell. I imagined I would sound very much like a crow sitting next to such talent but while we, as a group, warmed up, I listened to Molly and attempted to match her golden tones. I was surprised to find that my voice sounded a little better than usual and soon, a lot better! I had been so inspired by Molly's wonderful singing voice that I was able to come close to matching it! Had I been a little more self-assured in those days, I would have been able to thank her, after securing a berth in the Madrigals, for being my Muse.
The challenge to be as good as someone I admired was the push I needed to succeed in my quest.
As a quilter, I'm always looking to learn new techniques and to stretch myself to make quilts of more quality, of more original designs, more precise points and more interesting color combinations. An excellent way to do this is to join groups of other quilters who are willing to challenge each other with fun projects. Last year, my fellow employees at the quilt shop where I work, agreed to take the theme "Self-Portrait" and, with a 3-month time limit, make a 16" x 20" quilt. It could be comical, realistic, embellished any way we wanted, the sky was the limit. I had no idea what to do so, I played with some ideas, stretched my knowledge and abilities and came up with the quilt you see me holding at the top of this column. Looks like me, doesn't it?! I'd taken a photo of myself, played with it on my computer with photo manipulation software I'd little experience with, enlarged it, traced each piece on to fusibel material then on to appropriate colored fabric and quilted on to a background. I was pleased with the final product but you should have seen the other quilter's masterpieces! Indeed, I was in the company of very talented artists, a fact that had me shaking in my slippers from the beginning.
While this was merely a friendly challenge, what's become of my project since the "reveal" is that I've become the teacher of a class which instructs others of my new-found techniques. I've taught this class twice so far and have quilters calling me to find out when I will teach it next, something that pleases me no end (and puts a few extra bucks in my coffers for my 'fabric habit').
The moral of this story is: challenge yourself to do something you are not sure you can do, you're not sure you're talented enough to do and you might be extraordinarily surprised at who you become because of it.