The structure was taking shape. There were no gaps in the fortress wall. The interior was arranged to perfection. My blanket fort was complete. I was four years old, and this was my favorite past time. Each fort had to have the proper size and shape with a designated spot for every stuffed animal. When I was eight, it turned into crafts- I had to have the best designed mobile in my second grade art class. At age twelve, it was helping Dad construct a feed bunk for my horse. In high school it was welding, woodworking, and scrapbooking. In each of these I had the opportunity to create something- to build a project exactly how I wanted.
I have always been obsessed with making things. And when I got to be in shop class and use big kid tools, it was even better. Maybe I was just practicing my T-welds, but in my mind, I was building a Transformer. There’s just something I love about seeing an idea I had in my head become a reality, cutting, measuring, welding, gluing until all the pieces fit together to create my project. But not all projects are built in the shop. We can create our biggest project, the project of our selves, by having a dream for what we want, and never giving up as we pursue it.
Although I have always loved making things, I did not know I could think of my life as something to be built. When I was getting ready for my freshman year of high school, my family went to a wedding that summer. While standing in line for food, my great uncle struck up a conversation. He asked about school, activities I was in, and if I thought we could cut my cousins in line or not. But then he said, “So where are you going Alexis?” “Uh….what? I don’t know. To get cake?” But he persisted, “Come on surely there’s something you see every night when you close your eyes?” Seven years later, and I still remember that question he asked while we were standing in line for, baked potatoes. Because I never want to feel like I did when he asked me that day- like I was doing nothing, like I had no plan. I suddenly realized that I had somehow come to be 16 years old and really did not care where I was going. I was a little bit embarrassed, like I had gotten a bad grade or built something that did not stand straight, but instead of a project, this was my life. I did not care where I was going, when I would get there, or if someone else was choosing the destination. I was just along for the ride.
We cannot just be along for the ride in our lives. We must have a dream. We must have something we want to create, to construct. We cannot settle for just going with the flow, doing what everyone else does. Why would we want to when we have the option to build something with our life? As author Oscar Wilde said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Do not allow yourself to merely exist in this world. Prove that you are living your life by making a difference with it.
If your dream is to help people, then think of the ways you can solve problems in your community, ways to feed the hungry, ways to comfort a friend in need. If your dream is to one day heal the wounded, then think of how you can study for the tests and get the grades that will allow you to get into med school. If your dream is to help feed the world, then think of ways you can be a better producer, and the steps it will take to accomplish that.
What is that dream in your heart? It may be so big it seems impossible and honestly a little scary. But that fear is actually a good thing. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. No matter what your dream is, the only difference between the people who are living that dream and us here in this auditorium is that instead of going along with the flow, they decided they would grab life by the horns and get to it! It didn’t matter how hard they would have to work, or how many times they would have to learn something new to get there. They had a dream, and they re-measured, welded and re-welded their life until they reached the result they wanted.
You can design your masterpiece. Don’t build just a little toolbox. Dream big. Build that 57’ trailer. Do it because in your heart, you want more, and you know you are capable of doing it. Close your eyes. No really, you can close them. We won’t let ninjas sneak up on you or anything. Picture that big dream. Paint it on the backs of your eyelids. It’s stuck there. When you go to sleep tonight, when you just need a reminder of what you are working so hard for, that picture will be there if you close your eyes. When we leave this auditorium, leave with that dream on your heart and mind and backs of your eyelids. One day, you won’t be the only one who can see it. One day, your dream can be reality.
But having this dream is worthless, unless we are willing to go for it. My reason for taking that first shop class was not just to build something. The other reason I began welding is the reason I do a lot of things: because I have a stubborn streak that happens to be a mile wide. I had to prove to myself that I could build stuff with the best of them. I have never been afraid of stomping my foot when I felt it was necessary, even if it was just because my blanket fort had to be absolutely perfect. Ok so the fact that I have not outgrown the 2-year-old stage where no means yes, is not exactly something to be proud of. Being stubborn is not a trait that is generally praised.
But being a little mule headed can help us get where we want to go. Being stubborn can help us build a life we are proud of. Growing up, the Tharman’s lived down the road from me. Steve and Stephanie, were building their dream. They had their blueprints all mapped out. Things were going exactly as planned. But that all changed the day Steve fell from a tree and was paralyzed from the waist down. How could their family have a garden, go on hikes in the woods, go hunting, or jump on their trampoline, when their father was stuck in a chair? He could have focused on all the things he could not do. But Steve is stubborn. He chose instead to find a way to make those things possible. His dreams were not changed just because his means of getting there had to. He did not let his disability stop him. Every time we go visit the Tharmans, I am surprised by the new project Steve has taken on. How in the world did he build a tree house for his kids? Where did he figure out how to put together a lever system that lets him drive his truck? Steve creates new ways of doing things when the old ways don’t work for him. By stubbornly refusing to accept that he is incapable, he achieves anything he sets his mind to. I have not seen a staircase yet that Steve is not willing to climb or an obstacle he was not willing to find a way around.
Steve’s stubbornness enabled him to do things many people said he could not. For our generation, who has grown up with the world literally at our fingertips, we can learn a lot from Steve. When everything becomes so easy to get to, sometimes we forget that real things take hard work.
When we use our stubbornness to achieve, to stop accepting excuses, to go after the things we want most, it can work wonders. The blueprints rarely translate to real life perfectly and we have to make adjustments. Our circumstances will be never perfect. But we cannot let those stop us. If you are willing to put your foot down and decide to go for what you want, you can get it.
There will be so many times we will want to say “I cannot do this. I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.” It is easy to give in and be defeated- to say, “I am not good at this, so I might as well not try.” When is the last time you gave up on something because you thought you weren’t capable? How long did you try before you gave up? A month? A week? Maybe only for one class period? We cannot let ourselves off the hook so easily.
What you can be is only limited by one thing: you and that little voice in the back of your head that says “I can’t.” You know what? I want you to give that little voice a swift kick in the pants, because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Don’t let the only one stopping you from being what you want to be and doing what you want to do, be the face looking back at you in the mirror.
In fact, let’s give that little voice a stern talking to right now. When I tell you, you can’t, I want you all to get some serious attitude going, give a real good toddler temper tantrum foot stomp and yell “I can!” Ready? Here we go. You want to win a state contest next spring? Oh you can’t do that. (I can) I’m not sure that little voice is getting the message. You want to get a district proficiency? You can’t do that. (I can) Oh you want to get the best GPA you ever have next semester? You can’t to do that. ( can) Oh you can? Well that’s cool.
When we believe in ourselves and do something we thought we could not, its contagious. We never want to stop. By obstinately proving that you can just once, you will want to prove that you can over and over. And when we, ourselves, know what we are truly capable of, there is nothing in the world that can hold us back.
We can build any project, any life we choose to. The story we construct for ourselves on a day-to-day basis will one day be our life. We can make our life a project something we would be proud to put on display. What project do you want to build? What self do you want to construct? Take your dream and stubbornly weld, glue, staple, nail, or tape it together until it is complete. Build whatever life it is you want to build. Make it your own and stubbornly refuse to give in when the going gets tough or people don’t think you can do it. Because when someone tells you, you can’t, you want to show them, you will.