Nearly every job I’ve ever had started out with great enthusiasm and big dreams, and- they all ended with an apology and “I wish we could’ve used you to your full potential.” It wasn’t their fault; they just didn’t understand what I could do. I’m not even sure they knew what they needed.

They thought they knew, but most of them thought small. “Think outside the box” was just a catch phrase that sounded great in a meeting but scared them whenever I presented an idea that was too beyond their comfort zone.

I also take some of the responsibility for that. Perhaps I didn’t present it well; I didn’t read the room; I didn’t speak CorpSpeak well enough to explain that I wasn’t just a dreamer with wild ideas.

I did well enough to spend decades in high paying tech jobs and managing job security by being the only “Creative” on the team. But the price to pay has been a lifetime of feeling that “something more” was just beyond my reach.

Life isn’t just one note though, it’s a symphony. It’s up to us to find and play all the other notes in the remaining time we have.

That’s why Stu Rosen Art is so important to me. It’s an expression of some of those other dreams that lived in “potential” until my life was shaken up in 2018. It was like those plants whose seeds can’t sprout until the outer shell is destroyed by fire.

While I don’t recommend destroying your life into pieces, if it ever happens to you, and you treat it as a gift to rebuild yourself, the results are nothing short of a miracle.

I’m watching the same thing happening to my son.

He had his life ripped apart again and again and again. Eight times before he came into my life. Eight times of great enthusiasm and big dreams, ending in apologies and lost potential.

That’s what I saw in him when he was 10. I still saw that seed, wrapped up tightly in a hardened shell. I told him that… that in spite of the failed tests and bad grades, he had the potential for greatness.

He came to me tutored, and therapied, and medicated to no avail. All the experts didn’t know what to do with him anymore. He was a quitter, and they were starting to quit too.

I told him, “I don’t see a Failure, I see a Quitter, and as soon as you stop quitting, you will succeed.”

I paid for grades. Not at all ashamed of some friendly bribery. At first I paid for A’s, B’s and C’s, and just ignored the D’s and F’s. Later I started to subtract money for F’s. As he started to improve, I stopped paying for C’s and just upped the ante on the A’s and B’s.

I told him that if he ever got straight A’s, he’d get $100 and a trip to Universal Studios. We haven’t been to Universal since.

Teachers told me to lower the threshold, but I held firm. “He’s being rewarded enough,” I told them, “If I come down to where he is, he’ll never raise to the potential I know he’s capable of.”

He made Honor Roll after a couple of years.

We thought we were on to something. Then Covid came and his grades just tanked.

He was bored, and easily distracted by the TV and his phone… and we were right back to D’s and F’s.

While that was a disappointing time, I couldn't be more grateful for the experience.

I’m glad he was failing on my watch. I’m glad I was there to help him through it, without the risk that comes from failure out there in the “Real World.”

Here we are, mere months away from graduating high school. Being physically back in school has ignited him. Something finally clicked.

He’s on his way to getting straight A’s this last semester. While that would be a sweet ending to this chapter, it doesn’t really matter what the letters spell out.

I got the opportunity to talk about it on the way to school yesterday. I told him that I’m glad he “failed” last year… because Failure is one of our greatest teachers. It showed him what DOESN’T work.

It felt so good to remind him of what DOES work and to not be afraid of failure. Just do less of what doesn’t work and more of what does.

He’s going to fail out in the world. I know that. That’s because we all do. I just hope that he has more successes than failures, and that he comes out of each failure stronger than before.

I hope he ends up happy. I hope he breaks free of that shell. And I hope that he lives a life of fulfillment and not just one of potential just beyond his reach.


Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping realize this “potential.” I’m still offering products and portraits to those who want to come along on this journey. Donate here: or Venmo @StuRosenArt. Every bit helps.

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