Thursday, March 6, 2014

the way i see it: don't underestimate yourself.

During my freshman year of high school, I found myself accidentally enrolled in a one-quarter dance class. I can't remember what elective I had wanted instead, but the only one that worked with my scheduled happened to be Intro to Dance, and I remember being completely frantic about it.

"I don't think I can do this," I said to the vice principal during spring break before the quarter began. I was more terrified to take dance than I was to struggle through my Intro to Art class (which I barely passed, by the way, and only did so because of extra credit).

I tried half a dozen ways to get out of the class, but failed at each one. The vice principal told me not to worry and said everything would be fine. "Just give it a try, it won't be that bad!"

So after much hyperventilating, the quarter began and there I was at 8:15 a.m. each morning--suiting up for dance class. And guess what? (I think you can guess...)

I liked the class. I was actually good at it. At the end of the quarter, the teacher recommended I join her the year-long course the following school year. (I didn't end up doing that, but it was encouraging to hear she didn't think I was a complete failure.)

I think the moral of this story is fairly obvious and nothing new: don't knock something until you try it.

But, also: don't underestimate yourself. I suffer from Self-Deprecation Syndrome in which I'm constantly convinced I'm not doing the best job I can do. It never mattered how many gold stars I got on my homework when I was a kid, or how many auditions I nailed or articles I got published, I've always been so sure that there's something I could do better.

And then my senior year of college came and I was selected to speak at my college commencement ceremony. The topic I chose? Failure.

"You can't always plan for the future," I said at one point in the speech, "because you can't always 'know' everything."

I chose to talk about failure not because I had a lot of wisdom to share about it (I had none, other than my own experiences of failing), but because failure terrifies me. I think that writing down words (and then standing up on a stage in front of thousands and talking) about what scares you the most is the best way to learn exactly what you need to learn.

I was wishing last week that I could close my eyes, travel back in time, and give that speech again because I had forgotten the reasons I said it all in the first place; I forgot what it felt like to confront failure and fear, and I forgot what it felt like for a moment to feel inspired by the ordinary events of every day life.

But then one of the letters of wisdom I received for my birthday spelled out exactly what I'd been wanting to tell myself: "Allow yourself to feel defeated, but don't be defeated. Allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself, but don't be sorry for yourself. Scream into the pillow, but always turn around and rest on it."

Another thing I said during my commencement speech: "Part of acknowledging that you don't have all the answers is also recognizing when to ask for help. Even then, things may not always work out, but at least you did everything you could to push yourself forward--and that you weren't alone in that quest either."

It's all coming together. Slowly, yes...but at least that's something.

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