Some advice – if you need it

If I could tell you just one thing it would be: Don’t underestimate yourself.

I was raised in the British tradition of the last century in which children were expected to do their best but were told never to boast. And parents, and certainly my parents, quite comfortably told their children that they didn’t have this talent or that quality. That, you see, developed suitable humility.  

And while humility is a fine quality in principle, it can also be the cause of dangerous diminishment of confidence and its cousin; competence.

I learnt very early in life that I couldn’t draw or sing. Others in the family could. Older brother David could draw, and younger brother Andrew could sing. I was dignified with the quality of being good at games.

Fast forward fifty or sixty years and I was invited by Jo (daughter) to join her at an art course for a few weeks. I protested my inability in vain and went with her to the first session of art where I met Shirley the art teacher. That first session was torture. The instruction was to draw a shell and I do not exaggerate when I say that for the first twenty minutes I was unable to put a mark on the paper.

The drawing of the shell, which I still have, was not terrible and the break for tea after the first half of the lesson was sociable and fun. So I went back for more the following week. Shirley’s primary teaching quality was to offer generous encouragement. One of the fellow students at her class was heard one day to say. “If you put one dot on a page Shirley would come by and say, ‘How lovely, you put that dot in exactly the right place!”’

I attended art classes with Shirley for about ten years and under her tuition I became quite a competent amateur artist. I’m not a great artist, I’ll never be that, but I have exhibited and sold upwards of twenty paintings at the Kirstenbosch Exhibition and one or two of them are good. One actually was bought by an Australian for R5000 and presumably hangs in his home in Australia … does that mean I am known internationally? Irony. But my early lesson that I couldn’t draw, which caused me to underestimate my competence for 60+ years, was certainly a pity.

PS: I still can’t sing!