Last week, I had the privilege of attending a lecture here in Fargo given by children’s author/illustrator Barbara McClintock. The ticket for the event was an unexpected gift from a friend who, due to a last-minute conflict, could not be present. Though I didn’t know a lot about Barbara beforehand, I really enjoyed her talk. She lit up the room with her bright smile and offered insight into what it takes to be successful, specifically in the publication business but also in life in general. Some of the lessons shared were ones I’d already learned in some form. Some provided new insight. All were received in a new light through Barbara’s unique story.
Barbara started her life on the East Coast, where one of her earliest memories was fashioned: she was lying on her stomach on the floor, a crayon in each hand, drawing large, colorful circles. At age nine, Barbara moved with her family from
“When (the art director) told me I should give up, as I left his office, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Boy, he’s sure not a very confident person,’” Barbara said.
Several years later, as she accepted a prestigious award at a banquet, the two met up again. Though he didn’t remember their first encounter, she certainly did. “He told me how much he admired my work, and that he’d always dreamed of becoming an illustrator himself but had never had the courage.”
Lesson #1: If you feel you have something special to share with the world, shirk the ‘naysayers.’
I loved listening to Barbara tell of how she’d beaten the odds, in large part simply by believing in herself. But being the inquisitive journalist I am, I wanted to know more. Why do some people believe in themselves and others, not? What are the contributing factors?
Through her lecture, Barbara helped answer that question. Citing the book bestselling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, Barbara mentioned one proven indicator of success that Gladwell highlights: The 10,000-Hour Rule, which claims that success in any field is more apt to occur when a specific task has been practiced for approximately 10,000 hours.
Lesson #2: Prepare for success.
Barbara also talked a lot about her family’s influence on her. In the past year, I’ve heard presentations by three other very successful people, and all of them tipped their hat to their parents in some form or another.
In Barbara’s case, her mother was a textile and design major in college. Watching her fashion clothes and prom dresses for Barbara and her sister fascinated her, she said, laying the foundation for her eventual work as an illustrator. “Her intelligence and joy of life are something I have put into my characters,” Barbara said. “I still can’t draw a cat standing still. It’s got to be dancing or playing around or cracking a joke.”
In addition, her mother’s side of the family had a high regard for education for both men and women.
Her father, on the other hand, was “a cowboy living in western North Dakota,” and from him, Barbara gained a sense of courage and independence, which gave her “the strength and solidity to make the decisions I have had to make.”
She also grew up surrounded by farmers, which had a profound impact on her tenacity upon arriving in New York City. “With farmers, if things don’t work out one year, if the weather isn’t right for a good crop, you don’t just fold up your tent and walk away.”
Lesson #3: Look back to your beginnings to see your path more clearly.
But even before she left for NYC, Barbara had begun taking steps to build up her confidence. In college, she had the chance to design costumes for plays. Some of her teachers recognized her talents and encouraged her. One even suggested she call up one of the people she most admired – Maurice Sendak. “We talked for about twenty minutes, and he encouraged me to move to
Lessons #4: Seek out mentors.
It would be many years before Barbara would be making a living as an author/illustrator. She peddled her first book around eight years before it found a home. All the years leading up to her eventual award-winning writing and illustrations were preparation for her success. And she admitted that, though she loves what she does and often works in her pajamas, it is still very hard work.
If she hadn’t gotten in her 10,000 hours of practice, it’s unlikely Barbara would have been as successful as she has been. It’s a big number, but many have reached for it and even moved beyond it.
Q4U: Have you gotten in your 10,000 hours yet? What are some other success lessons you’ve learned?
And now for the book giveaway announcement. The winner of the book featured here last week by Amy Wilson, When Did I Get Like This?, is Kim, who blogs at Kim’s Ponderings Beyond Breast Cancer! Thanks for all your Tweets, Facebook followings and comment entries. I enjoyed my first-ever book giveaway!