In 5th grade, we had to practice our public speaking skills by bringing in a craft we made and presenting it to the class.
The moment the assignment was given, I panicked. This was my worst nightmare.
What could I make that was creative and impressive? I was so not a crafty kid.
I agonized over the project and the night before it was due, I pulled out our container of supplies and prayed an idea would jump out at me.
We had some wax sticks, glue, pom-pom puffs, glitter, stickers, beads, and stick-on wiggly eyes.
Okay…I just need to make something out of these objects. Pretend I’m Barney.
Somehow I concluded, ” Heck, I’ll make a caterpillar out of wax sticks and cheerios!”
I must have gotten hungry, fetched a box of cheerios, and became inspired as I chomped on my snack.
My end result was a pink wax stick strung with cheerios for the body, connected with more cheerios for the head, on which I glued two wiggly eyes. And I called it a caterpillar.
It was about as long as my index finger and couldn’t stand up on it’s own because of course the legs were unequal.
If only I had a picture of this.
After a failed attempt to skip school, I sulked into class. As each classmate took their turn presenting their awesomely impressive creations, I became more terrified and insecure.
Eventually we got around to the end of the alphabet (“Worthley” had it’s perks) and it was my turn. I glanced at my crush, Justin, hoping he’d somehow find what I was about to show to be cool.
I was wrong.
I held up my tiny, crappy caterpillar that looked like it was a 90 year old POW. I could hear giggles and whispers but I continued on, stumbling through some explanation of what it was made of. I then set it on the table for all to see and it immediately fell over and the head broke right off.
The entire class erupted into laughter, but not with me. Definitely at me.
My face turned bright red and I quickly took a seat. I threw old man caterpillar in the trash, and then regretted not eating the cheerios first.
Stale or not, cheerios are cheerios.
Afterwards, my teacher pulled me aside, put her hands on my shoulders and said “I’ll give you another chance to try again tomorrow. Do something better.”
It wasn’t even worthy of a grade.
That night my genius mother suggested I bring in one of the many scrapbooks I had made in the past, and show some of the pages and pictures that meant the most to me. Why thank you mother, what a fantastic idea. Too bad it’s only A DAY LATE.
The scrapbook went over wonderfully, and some of the kids actually thought it was pretty cool. I think I even opened with a lighthearted joke of how lame my first presentation was.
As mortifying as that experience was (I clearly remember it vividly), I learned a few things that day.
I learned that trying to give others what you think they want to see, never goes over well. Obviously I didn’t believe anyone in their right mind would actually want to see a wax caterpillar. But I was thinking within a certain scope of how I thought I had to be, and it failed because it wasn’t truly me. It does no one any good when I try to be someone I’m not. It only creates more work, frustration, and effort on my end, because I’m forcing something that isn’t natural. I had to live my life driven by my passions and beliefs, instead of what I thought others would approve of and want to see.
I also learned the importance of being able to laugh at myself that day. Something told me that there would be many, many embarrassing and humbling moments ahead of me in life, and I would be wise to learn to roll with the punches and simply laugh. Why take myself so seriously?
Boy am I glad I listened.