Faith Dolack spent the first eight years of her life in the small town of Woodsville, New Hampshire. Among her siblings, she was never the first to do anything. When she decided to try out for the T-ball team, her brother had already done so. When she decided to join the church dance team, her sister had already done so. When she decided to learn how to draw, her sister had already learned. Life in her family had always put her in second or third place, but it wasn’t until later on that she would even realize this. At the time, second and third seemed to just be the natural order of things because she was, after all, the third child of the family.
In November 2000, she and her family moved to Waynesboro, Virginia, and soon after, she decided to learn how to write, but once again, her sister had beaten her to it. It would seem that even moving away from the small town of her birth wouldn’t make a difference in the order of things. Life would continue the same way it always had — with her following in the footsteps of her two older siblings. It would seem that she would always be a simple, small-town home schooled girl who would never come out in first.
Things, however, didn’t turn out as expected. In January of 2004, Faith went from being home schooled to attending Ridgeview Christian School, a small private school in Stuarts Draft, Virginia. This would be the first time that Faith found herself far out of her comfort zone. As a girl accustomed to doing things that she understood or could easily be helped with, she found being thrust into a school during the middle of the year a shock, horrifying in its strangeness.
It would be at Ridgeview that Faith would start to live a life from outside the shadow of her siblings. Even though both of her older siblings attended the school, too, she found that things were very different — there were rules, a strict schedule, time away from her family — and even if these things were immensely daunting at first, she soon found that she loved the sense of freedom they provided, the challenge, the chance to make a name for herself in a way that she never could while being home schooled.
But still, being accustomed to doing everything that her siblings did, things were difficult, sometimes even terrifying, and she found herself giving into temptation and falling back into the simple, safe pattern of what she knew. Now, however, it were her two friends that she would follow, agreeing with blindly, even if inside she didn’t want to. She did this to keep everything in control because that was the one thing she desperately needed — control, a life without uncertainty and chaos. She needed to know how things would work out, she needed to know the outcome of all her actions before she did them.
The terrifying aspects of attending a school eventually melted away into the process of school. She took comfort in the orderly way things worked and the predictability of the classes. She never worried about grades while in high school; she found the work simple, even boring and tedious at times. She found that she never struggled in any of her classes, never needed to study longer than a few minutes, never even needed to put much effort into the few papers she was assigned. No matter how little she studied, how little effort went into her work, her grades stayed good, but despite this, she always had a nagging fear that she would fail — a test, a paper, a class, maybe even life — and as a girl who took comfort in predictability, the uncertainty of whether or not she would succeed was almost too much to handle.
In May of 2010, Faith graduated from her class of ten as the valedictorian, but even though she was first in her class, she was still in second place, as the year before her brother had also graduated as valedictorian.
The following summer, Faith found herself deeply excited at the prospect of going to college. It would be, she told herself, a new start. A place completely away from her family. A place where there was no chance that her siblings could ever be first. But as the time approached for her to move into the dorms at Bridgewater College, a sharp, crippling fear would overcome her as she realized she knew nothing of college life. Even though her sister was currently attending school at Mary Baldwin College, she lived at home and commuted, so Faith had no basis of what dorm life would be like, and that unknowable aspect was absolutely horrifying and even the thought of finally having been first in something — living on campus — would pale in comparison to the fear that accompanied it.
When the day to move in finally came, she was completely beside herself with fear. Living in the shadows of others — her parents, her siblings, her friends — had been safe, had been everything she knew. College was such a far leap away from that, and she was sure that she wouldn’t be able to handle it, that she never could, that despite being voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school that she would do anything but succeed. She told herself that she would probably drop out after the first week because there was absolutely no way she’d be able to make it.
That first night at college was something that Faith would never forget, a time spent stressing and worrying as she lay in her bed on the verge of tears. She wondered how she ever thought that this was the thing for her. Surely, she should have just stayed home forever where she could spend the rest of her life in the comfort of a predictable future.
She did not, however, drop out of college. When morning came, she gathered up her courage and decided she would face her fears, face the uncertainty, and she told herself that she would come out victorious because failure just wasn’t an option in this. With this in mind, she went through the day, and the horror that had faced her that first day and night — even the weeks leading up to the move-in day — would disappear.
During that first year of college, Faith would find out many things about herself that she never knew before. She discovered a perseverance she’d never known she possessed. She found she had the ability to assess a situation in which she was doing poorly and change the way she had been going about it in order to improve her work. She discovered that despite her lack of really knowing how to study — as it had never been a necessary thing in high school — she was able to figure it out quite easily.
Most importantly, it would be during that first year of college, that Faith’s passion for writing and art would really take root. She’d been writing since she was nine years old, but for most of that time, she had done so simply because her sister enjoyed writing. It had been a way to connect, a safe way to connect. She had thought that everything her sister did was brilliant and would make her own work reflect that. Her sister’s plot ideas would become her own plot ideas. Her sister’s drawing style would become her own drawing style. Her sister’s character would become her own character.
Even when she started venturing into new territory, she still sought her sister’s advice because she so admired the things she did. Her first longer story — something that went beyond a couple scenes — was based heavily on a dream she’d had, and she thought the idea was unique, the characters original. She was very happy with what she had produced and was excited to share it with her sister. That moment would be the first time she had ever gotten a critique on her work, and she was horrified. She became so angry with her sister for not telling her how perfect the story was that she wouldn’t speak with her for the rest of the day.
That day, however, would become a point of motivation for her later work. She would look back on that episode, remember her reaction, and reassure herself that she would never act so childishly again. After that one incident, she never responded poorly to a critique. She accepted people’s opinions and perspectives, and this understanding would help her greatly during college when it was people other than her family looking at her work.
Another thing that would benefit her college work was something she had learned in high school from her younger sister’s teacher who spent a couple weeks teaching a small writing class. He told everyone there that a good writer knew that her work could always be improved, that no matter how long she worked on it, no matter how much thought and time went into its making, it could always be better. This piece of advice would stay with Faith for the rest of her life.
Art had also been something that she’d been doing for a while because of both her older sister and her younger brother. The time spent in college, though, would produce a new spin on her writing and art that had never existed before and the passion she felt for them would deepen because it was no longer something she did because of her siblings; it was something she did because of herself and for herself. She would discover the joy she felt while writing or creating art, the serenity.
Faith would also discover, during her years at college, that despite her firm desire for the predictable, the knowable, it would be the unpredictability of art, the ever changing nature of it, that really attracted her to it. Knowing that you can’t actually know one hundred percent about the nature of art was somehow as comforting as the patterns and comfort zones she was use to.
The knowable and unknowable would continue to play a large role in Faith’s life as she worked in her classes, wrote, and created art. While the classes she took didn’t hold the same certainty that her high school classes did, she still found comfort in the fact that her goal was the same — to succeed by getting good grades. Her writing she found to be very predictable. She knew how to write; she knew what she liked to write; and she knew how to break the rules. Writing, even with its rule breaking, was very definite for her; it was solid and knowable, something she could turn to when everything else was shifting around her.
Art, however, continued to have the air of unpredictability, which she was attracted to but still a little leery of. She found that creating a piece of art did not come with the same satisfaction that creating a story did. She was able to trust her skill in writing in a way she couldn’t trust her skill in creating art. But in order to succeed she knew that she couldn’t back down, and she wouldn’t back down.
That silly high school award — “Most Likely to Succeed” — wasn’t just a silly award to Faith. It was a challenge, a challenge that she wasn’t prepared to lose.