Mark Ballard

What makes us who we are today?


Most of us remember being in elementary school sitting at a desk with a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons. As we sat there, we had no limitations and relied on our imagination to guide us. As a result, we freely drew what we wanted instead of what we thought someone else expected.

We grabbed any color crayon that pleased us. If we wanted the grass to be blue instead of green that was fine. If we wanted the sky to be purple, well, that was also OK because we didn’t know things had to be a certain way. That’s why every child is an artist before they are told they are not.

There are lessons from children that we could all learn. Children place no limits on themselves. They try anything because they are persistent and dedicated explorers. The times when their plan doesn’t quite work, they just try again. They have no one to impress and won’t stop until they move on to the next thing that catches their eye. They care not what anyone around them thinks.

I recently received a birthday card from a dear friend that really resonated with me. On the front was a child lying stomach-down on the ground with their arms spread wide. The caption read, “No one ever told you that you couldn’t fly . . . which is why you became the person you are today.” How true these words are. We never doubt ourselves until someone tells us we should, whether quietly, or with a louder voice.

Barely a day goes by that I don’t read another tragic story about the destructive effects of bullying. This is a subject that I personally know about all too well. I was bullied most of my childhood because I was creative instead of athletic. To this day, it has left me with scars that I’ll have until I die. They have faded over time, but they never completely leave.

When you are a victim of bullying, the first thing you do is less of what you did that caused the people to berate you. You try to hide your gifts and blend into the background because you don’t want to be attacked for being yourself. Because of bullying, many of my memories of grade school are not good. They are shrouded in a cloud of doubt, hurt and humiliation.

Although it’s not easy for me to talk about, over the years, I have broached the subject at several speaking events. The question I most often get afterwards is about how I’ve achieved so much with my career. My answer is a simple one. I had a mother who told me to SOAR. Yet, there still are times I find myself speaking to a group of people with whom I’m not comfortable and I immediately go back to being that small, scared boy in grade school.

For the most part, I was able to survive. But there are lots of children that don’t have a mother like mine or are not strong enough to battle the bullies. Bullying is at epic proportions in our nation and world. It is something that I, if I see it going on, will absolutely not tolerate! Children and teenagers are going so far as to end their lives because the pain is too great to bear. Something must be done!

Each of us have been given special gifts. Some of us look past all the noise and clutter that surround us and charge forward toward our dreams anyway. Others give into the pressure and their lives take a very different route. In this turbulent world we live in that can, at times, be full of hatred, life is just too short to allow anyone or anything to tell us we can’t fly.

Let’s go back to that classroom and box of crayons. I wonder what some of the children would have done if they had never been told they had to stay inside the lines or use the proper colors. Imagine, for a minute, what could be accomplished if any one hadn’t been told they couldn’t succeed. I think the world would be a very different place.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.