Hindsight: College Rejection Leads to Life’s Passion

by Karen on March 10, 2009

My friend Kelly O’Neill is an incredible artist — her art is truly extraordinary.  Here’s her Hindsight story of how she came to realize her life’s work and passion.

“Have you always wanted to be an artist?”

This is the most common question I get at art shows or when people see my work for the first time. It’s funny, because one would think that I had dreamed about this career from childhood. It’s simply not the case.

You see, I had never met a successful artist. I grew up with the assumption that creating art was fun, and it was just something to do in your spare time, or after retirement… seriously. It didn’t stop me from loving the creative process, however. I colored with the best of them. I made art supplies out of the most random items, and it was always pure joy.

kelly-birdhouse

In middle and high school, I turned a great deal of my attention to the kitchen. I would come home, change into comfortable clothes, and go help Mom with whatever she was preparing. I didn’t care what we were making, but I wanted to be in the middle of it. Soon I began believing that I wanted to be a bread and pastry chef for a living, and my parents and I began touring culinary institutes.. I was all set! Now, just to graduate..

I’ve heard that God shuts doors and opens windows. I’ve always thought that was a pretty cheesy concept, but my senior year I got to experience it first-hand. It turns out that they don’t allow 17-year olds into culinary school. It’s something about sharp knives and hot stovetops I’m sure… I got this jolt of reality as I neared graduation. It seemed clear that I would have to put off becoming a chef at least for a time. Not to be discouraged, I began looking for a way to amuse myself for a year, and decided on attending “regular” college. A school I wasn’t even interested in attending offered me a full scholarship. This scared me into trying for a full scholarship where I actually wanted to attend (Union University), so that I didn’t feel pressured to just go to the one with the full-ride. I had only a week to get the ACT score I needed to even be considered for a full scholarship there, and it turns out they had a final residual test I could take ASAP.

Through a string of events and circumstances I can only attribute to God’s direction on my life, I ended up receiving one of the few full scholarships Union offered that year. (I’m happy to share the full story if you ask).

I chose to major in art and LOVED IT. During an assignment in Drawing II, I had to draw 40 faces in a week. This is what sparked my now decade-long art career. People came through the studio and saw what I was doing, and asked if I would draw their kid or themselves or whoever, because after all, I had to draw people anyway – why draw strangers from magazines? I realized I was pretty good at drawing. The following summer, my Dad encouraged me to start a business, and I did. I started my drawings out at $50 apiece in those days, and upon graduation I launched my full-time career.

Looking back, it was never about food. It was about creating. I realize that now, and had I known that a young person could be a successful artist, I might have dreamed of it as a child. My parents saw the love I had for it at age four. I was 18 before my eyes were opened.

As a sidenote, I discovered (a few years after my culinary school dreams were “temporarily” dashed) that I had some endocrine issues that would require that I limit my intake of sweets and processed flour. Do I think it’s a coincidence that God steered me away from a career path that would have either left me sick or seriously frustrated? Not in the least ;)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Cushman 03.15.09 at 8:53 am

Beautiful story. Found your blog through Gail Hyatt on Twitter… don’t you love these social networking opportunities? I’m 58 and just started my “career” a few years ago, after raising three kids. First I studied Byzantine iconography and painted icons and taught iconography classes for five years, and for the past 2-3 years I’ve been seriously pursuing writing, with 6 published essays and a memoir-in-progress. And yes, the beautiful and diverse ways we finally get to life’s passions are such images of God’s grace.

Harvey C. Kimmey 06.13.09 at 4:47 pm

Yes, you were a born writer.
I would like to hear the whole story.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>