Pools of blue-gray bleed into rich cardinal red and ivory, combining to form a cropped view of the American flag, billowing in the breeze. A 23-year-old Clyde Sharp gazes into the distance, just escaping eye contact with his viewer. He appears strong, handsome and peaceful. He shows no signs of fear as a soldier preparing for war. His perfectly chiseled features separate him from the remaining 49 pieces surrounding him.

As I stood back viewing the painting of my grandfather hanging at the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., I couldn’t help but pinch myself. It was as if the whole world stopped as I admired my work. In a single word, I would describe the moment as joy. Happiness is external, but this feeling came from deep inside my soul. For the first time, I had received public recognition for my passion in arguably one of the highest regards possible as a junior in high school.

Winning the Congressional Art Competition in 2014 strengthened my artistic confidence like never before. My painting brought tears to the eyes of friends, family and even Congressman Bridenstine, the judge of the annual contest. I had achieved what great artists strive for: I had evoked emotion.

Still, the most fulfilling praise was from my parents. As an only child, I wanted then, and still want now, nothing more than to please them and make them proud. My mom is the source of my creative inclinations. Grace, compassion and inspiration flow from her like a thundering waterfall. My dad exudes a gentle, kind-hearted nature. He is someone I can always count on for an honest opinion or simply as an ear to listen, but falls more toward left-brained tendencies. As different as my parents may be, they came together despite divorce to celebrate my accomplishment. It is moments like these that make me feel the most content.

Despite all the excitement, I stood in the tunnel system of the U.S. Capitol critiquing my work. I honed in on a section of thick, red acrylic paint that I hadn’t watered down enough. In my eyes, it stood out like a sore thumb. You could clearly see the ridges my paintbrush had dug, whereas the rest of the painting was smooth and seemed to blend into itself. The pocket on my grandfather’s uniform looked as though it was painted by a kindergartener.

My trip to Washington D.C. still stands as one of the greatest trips I have ever taken; however, I was still able to convince myself that a career in the arts ultimately would not bring me success. I eventually accepted my creativity as a hobby, not a feasible profession. It wasn’t realistic or dependable.

. . . . .

About a year after that trip to Washington, D.C., I shook the hand of the headmaster at my private Christian high school and received my diploma. As I walked across the stage, friends and family members of the class of 2015 were informed by the emcee that I would attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall, pursuing a major that had yet to be decided. College was such a wonderful mystery, and in that moment, peering out onto my class of 96 students, I couldn’t wait to embark on a new adventure.

The day finally came to depart Tulsa yet again; however, this time lacked the excitement of my previous trip. All of the anticipation of finally gaining independence materialized in the most unexpected of ways. As my mom finished making my bed, my dad took me outside into the cramped hallway of my dorm. Before he could even begin his pep-talk, I burst into tears and embraced him like it was the last time I would ever see him. He told me in that hallway that he was proud of me, and that he knew I would be great. He held me for what seemed like an eternity and I never wanted it to end. My mom emerged from my tiny room next and the tears continued. She gave me her signature advice, “You got this!” Finally, I hugged both of my parents simultaneously. Those few seconds of unity with my mom and dad are some of the most precious.

Before I knew it, all traces of family members were old news and college life had officially begun. After battling for some time over what my major should be, I decided on business. I was tired of telling friends and family members I was “undecided” when they asked. Undecided essentially translated to “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.” My dad majored in business and even got his masters in it. He was so successful. Business was a safe bet, and as a confused, lonely freshman just trying to figure life out on my own, safe sounded good.

I enrolled in all the necessary business courses and felt content for the first time in a while. I would be getting a degree in something my parents would be proud of. My dad would be able to impress all of his friends by telling them that his one and only daughter was in the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. That had a nice ring to it, and it made me feel like I was doing something practical with my life.

Unfortunately, this feeling of peace and belonging did not last long. My first macroeconomics test rolled around and I studied as hard as I ever had. I needed to prove to myself and to everyone around me that this was the right path for me. Long story short, I bombed it. This was a feeling I had never experienced before, being a 4.0 student throughout high school. This was my moment of realization. I’m not going to be the best anymore. It’s impossible.

Despite this heart-breaking failure, I decided to chin up and give it another go. I would study even harder for the next test. I would hire a tutor and put in as many hours as it took. I wasn’t going to be knocked down that easily. A few weeks later, as I sat in my dorm room at 5 a.m. vigorously studying flashcard for the test I would be taking in a matter of hours, it clicked. I jolted up from my slouched position. I shouldn’t be living my life for others. My dad is going to be proud of me no matter what I do. I should be living my life for me, myself and I, doing something I love.

. . . . .

I couldn’t have been more excited to meet with my adviser the next day. I sat with her for nearly an hour. That appointment was more comparable to a therapy session than is was an advising appointment.

I had decided on journalism as my major. My whole complex of not finding success through creativity was shattered. Journalism was a way to incorporate both my love of writing and being artistic with a more practical basis.

In Vogue: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine sat on my shelf, staring me down. It was reminding me of who I was and who I wanted to be. My obsession with the publication grew so strong that I even ventured to make it the subject of my senior art portfolio. Its pages are full of some of the 20th century’s most respected artists, cover illustrators and photographers. These inspirational individuals embody characteristics that I want to exercise in my future career. They are bold and tenacious. They follow their dreams. They believe in the power of their vision and its potential impact on the world. That’s who I want to be. That’s what I want to accomplish.

Fast-forward a year and I’m sitting awe-struck on my twin bed at my sorority house. Completely dumbfounded. I had received an internship position at The Brides of Oklahoma Magazine. Tears of joy escaped my eyes as I realized yet again that my passions and skills hold value. I was flooded with self-confidence and excitement for the future. My inner Anna Wintour came out and I can only hope she sticks around. Who knows, maybe one day that will be me, overlooking the New York City skyline from my corner office, making the final call on a cover design.

“In today’s world, you have to interact. You can’t be some difficult shy person who is not able to look somebody in the face; you have to present yourself. You have to know how to talk about your vision, your focus and what you believe in.” –Anna Wintour

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