What Makes a Person Driven: Part 2

In the last blog (“What Makes a Person Driven?”), I explained how my brother’s disability had contributed to my being “driven.” His unfortunate circumstance made me acutely aware of how lucky I’ve been, and how I’ve therefore needed to seize my opportunities. Because my brother’s situation made me painfully aware that not everyone gets a chance at having even a normal life, I’ve been “driven” to make the most of my life.

But another reason why I’ve been “driven” is that, beginning at a young age, some special people in my life opened up opportunities for me. Two of those people were my Great-Aunt Lee (AKA Gram) and my Great-Uncle George (AKA Papa). I spent quite a bit of time with them when I was younger, because they took care of me during many of the times that Matt (my disabled brother) was sick or in the hospital. As I grew older, I spent time with them on a weekly basis. Gram and Papa had a sort of strict household, in which manners were rigorously upheld, even from a very young and naturally rambunctious girl. At dinnertime, no elbows were ever allowed on the table, and the utensils had to at all times be properly placed and used — according to the rules of etiquette, when cutting food, you must hold the fork in your left hand, cut it with a knife in your right hand, and then switch the fork over to your right hand to bring the piece of food up to your mouth. In addition, by the age of 4, I was an expert (because I’d been thoroughly trained) on the proper procedure for stuffing the multitude of envelopes that Gram sent out for her non‑profit organizations. I never much minded any of that strictness, because I could tell that they cared very much for me, and because they went out of their way to take me fun places; they showed me the wonderful opportunities that life offered.

Gram and Papa took me to a variety of eye-opening events. For instance, Papa took me to The Disney on Ice figure skating shows, which sparked my interest in figure skaing. Gram enlisted me as a fellow participant in her non-profit organizations, where I learned the value of dedication to important, community-useful causes. She also brought me to enchanting plays, like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Papa and Gram often took me out to dinner at fancy restaurants, where I learned to have a “grown-up” kind of fun. They also brought me to my cousin’s high school basketball and track events, which sparked my interest in athletics. They showed me so many fun and interesting things to do in the world, and they thereby sparked my interests. What’s more, once my interests began, they fanned those sparks by encouraging my curiosity and enthusiasm. For instance, after Gram took me to our town’s Art Institute’s exhibition on mummies, and after my fascination with them became obvious, she helped me to find interesting books that would aid my further investigation of mummies, and she spent the whole drive back home discussing with me what we had seen in the exhibition, and what we had liked or disliked about those things.

My mom and dad also opened up opportunities for me, and piqued my interest and curiosity in a variety of activities. For instance, as I was growing up, my mom shared with me her love of crafting, and her use of those crafts to create thoughtful little gifts for friends and relatives. We spent a lot of time together making little soaps that my aunt could sell at her non-profit fundraisers. We also took a book‑making class together, and we subsequently collaborated to make hand-made books, book marks, and cards. We often presented those home‑made crafts to my teachers as holiday gifts. My mom was meticulous in making sure that each of those gifts was just right for each recipient. The gift‑making and gift-giving process that my mom shared with me showed me the impact that thoughtful little gifts can have for people, especially when the gifts are attuned just right to the recipient’s personality.

My dad has always had a fascination with history, and he has shared that interest with me. Even when I was quite young, he often explained to me the intricacies, the connections, and the causes of real life events. He showed me that there was much more to history than just memorizing dates. Because of the nuances he pointed out to me, he made history come alive for me, and become engrossing. He also took me along to his painting classes, and he taught me how to use the wood‑working tools in his workshop. My dad not only showed me that history is full of unexpectedly fascinating nuances, but that our everyday lives can also always contain unexpectedly fascinating activities, such as the painting and wood‑working that he shared with me. My dad showed me that, if you just open yourself to explore the possibilities that every situation contains, life never has to be boring.

Perhaps the most important thing my parents did for me was to provide opportunities to develop my passions. Because of their circumstances, my parents didn’t get the chance to play sports in high school or clubs when they were growing up. Nevertheless, when they saw that I had an interest in sports, they encouraged me greatly to pursue those passions. Because of their support and encouragement, I got to try out Kung Fu (in which I eventually earned a second‑degree black belt), figure skating, track, basketball, and then soccer. For any sport that I developed an interest in, they did everything they could (including extra lessons) to make sure that I got a chance to see what I could do with it. They did everything they could to provide me the opportunities to explore and enjoy the things that interested me. What’s more, their support didn’t waver even if I didn’t seem good at some of those sports at first.

Soccer was one of the sports for which I didn’t at first appear to have much of a knack. It seemed that I wasn’t “a natural” at it. During my first season (when I played on a u9 C3 level team), we sometimes had losses as lopsided as 17–0. We lost every game that season, except for the last game (in which we tied 1–1, and in which we scored the only goal of the whole season). And yes, I was the goalkeeper for the team during that entire struggling season. In spite of our struggles, I had a great time, because I just enjoyed the challenge of the position, and I enjoyed getting better. In spite of that struggling season, my parents’ encouragement and support of my soccer never wavered. They weren’t concerned at all about whether I was inherently good at it or not; instead, they just saw that I enjoyed it, and that I wanted to get better at it. And so, they signed me up for more camps. Although I may not have been “a natural” at it, I got the hang of it pretty quickly, maybe at least partly because I spent so much time dissecting VHS tapes and books on soccer, and because I asked so many questions at training. I really worked at getting better, because I loved the sport and the challenge it posed. I just wanted to see how good I could get. And my parents just kept encouraging and supporting me, and thereby fostered my enthusiasm and my growing skills. They never once told me that the struggles I had in the beginning were any indication that soccer might not have been the sport for me. Instead, they wanted to help me pursue my passions, and they wanted to help me to develop whatever potentials I had, and to see what I could do.

So, my drive hasn’t come from just my reaction to my brother’s unfortunate circumstances; instead, it’s also come from the special people in my life (and there have been many more besides the ones I’ve mentioned in this story) who’ve helped me to see life’s possibilities. They showed me how interesting life can be, and they helped me to understand that I could do interesting things, too, if I was willing to have an open and curious mind, and if I was willing to give enough effort and persistence. Those special people have helped me to develop my interests, and to then develop my potentials enough to see what I could do with those interests; those people have thereby given me the soil and water and sun that I’ve needed to turn my seeds of potential into full blooms.