I was just eighteen years old and had recently finished one whole semester at a college I was attending for a music degree. There were several issues regarding the challenges of me continuing on at this school at the time, but mainly I knew deep inside that this wasn't at all what I was supposed to be doing.
It was a phone conversation with my dad in which in tears I pleaded for him to let me come home, I had to come home.
His well meaning words in response have been words than stuck to my life like glue for far too long. "You can't come home, you have to stay there and finish your degree in music because that is exactly what everyone back home expects of you."
....because that is exactly what everyone expects of you.
Why? Because I had always been good at music. It was my most obvious natural gifting. It was the thing that had defined me for most of my young life. It had become what I was known for, and all too soon I had the unfortunate discovery that is was what made others proud of me.
So of course it stands to reason that music was exactly what I should do with my life. It is what everyone told me, and to be completely honest, I never questioned it.
It was my golden ticket to acceptance, especially in the church world because suddenly it meant that I became a hugely valuable asset.
I had grown up a "good" church kid. And everyone knows that good church kids do exactly what is expected of them, maintain proper outward appearance and rarely think for themselves.
I played the whole game well. Too well actually.
I was eighteen then.
Twelve years later, I am realizing that I've spent far too much of my life doing what I do based on the expectations of others.
Living life that way wears one down to the bone.
Simply put, I wanted out.
OUT of the game.
Why? Because it created a young woman who has struggled not to base her entire worth on her outward appearance, affirmation and the ability to never fail.
Fast forward from that lost, confused eighteen year old girl who found her identity everywhere but within, to a wife and mother of thirty years who is discovering herself, for her own self for the very first time.....
"Hey mommy, when are you gonna write a book?"
This was not exactly the typical off the wall question posed to me by my nine year old daughter.
What does she know? I mean, she doesn't have a clue what goes into writing a book. It takes a whole lot more than a great message and the ability to string a few words together to pull that off, because you sort of need to be able to sell a book if you're gonna write one. Maybe that is the part I fear most; that my words won't matter to anyone else.
And so I responded:
"Someday, Olivia. Maybe someday."
Then days later there was my husband, "Babe, when are you gonna start writing that book?"
He knows me best and still asks. So, ok I'm flattered but, "Are you freaking kidding me?!"
I'm really thinking, "He's practically asking me to make a complete public spectacle of myself by allowing the rest of the world a front row seat to watch me fall flat on my face! No way, no how. Nope, not biting that bait."
I can just see it all now...
"Hey, there's that loser that poured out the contents of her heart onto paper and everyone just wadded it up and threw it the nearest waste basket! She probably should have just stuck to teaching piano or something normal and safe."
It is my default. Doing what is safe insulates me from the searing pain of failure and disappointment. It is how I hide. Growing up a church kid has trained me well.
My fear of doing this one tiny thing is only a small representation of a larger fear that has threatened to blanket my entire life and smother anything bigger than myself that I might have had the potential to do or be.
A great part of me still struggles to break free from the timid little church girl on her piano bench, afraid to venture outside of the narrowly defined boundaries set for her.
"Hey, when are you gonna....?" As if the universe is always relentlessly begging me to do all of the things I am most afraid to do. Maybe as encouraging as it should feel that anyone would ask such a question of me at all, to be honest, it's the sort of question that makes me cringe inside and feel the urgent need to run!
It feels kinda the same way it feels every time I sit down to construct an article on a touchy topic in which I feel incredibly passionate about conveying a message, only instead I hit the "delete post" button and close my computer instead of saying it.
"Maybe another day." I tell myself.
And the words sit in my heart, unsaid. The stories remains locked tightly inside, untold. All while I wait to become something better than what I am today.
The long list of reasons I tell myself that it would be wiser to wait until someday comes ensures that at least for today, I cannot fail at that in which I do not step out and attempt.
Despite my abilities or the possibility that I could ever do something that might somehow change the world the truth is:
I keep waiting to do something that matters with my life because of one simple truth,
I am afraid.
Afraid I will speak, and my words won't matter. Afraid I will empty all of myself into something only to release it to the world and then...
I am afraid to age because everyone knows that youth is more valuable and respected in our society.
I'm afraid to sing because I'll never ever sing as well as the girl with the recording label.
I'm afraid to admit that I'm a good musician because there are millions of musicians in the world so much more talented than I it would make me lose desire to ever play another average note.
I'm afraid to write a book because I don't have a platform or an audience large enough to make the words matter.
I'm afraid to try because maybe I'll fail. And it's easier to not try than to try and fail.
There is safety in mediocrity and average because although that means I may never do anything great or noteworthy with my life, it also means I can't disappoint anyone (especially myself) if I don't set the bar too high and then not make it.
And so where does all this leave me?
Well, as I see it leave me with two choices.
1. To live a life in which I refuse to admit that I could do anything more than "average" with my passions and learn to accept and settle for that.
2. To stop waiting to be the very best at something and just do it. Over and over, try and try, failure after failure until that slim chance comes along that it could actually accomplish something important. That it could mean something.
We have to find a way to stop believing that the sum total of who and what we are capable of becoming and adding to the world, rests of the affirmation of those around us or in the extent of our own current abilities. Because what I've found is that even if that were true, it wouldn't be nearly enough still.
I have a friend who is an amazing chef! Everyone around her knows it. She is not average in her ability. She has potential, I mean real potential to do something amazing with her passion and skill. But whether or not she ever does anything more than average rests largely upon whether or not she desires to in the first place and upon which truth she decides to believe about herself.
Her story represents the story of countless others of us.
I'm not talking about aspiring to be famous. I believe that I could write honest articles for the rest of my life and that she could cook amazing creations for groups of friends and family and none of it would be unimportant at all. But I'm talking about deeply rooted aspirations and dreams for growing our passions and doing stuff that matters with the abilities we've been gifted, the message we've been given and the talents we've been entrusted with.
I'm so darn tired of being afraid...
Afraid to admit that I'm good at something because someone else is better than me
Afraid to speak out loud of my desire to write books for fear I'll fall flat on face, or worst - I'll never do it at all.
Afraid to put myself out there because I might not get picked
Afraid to ask because I might get rejected
Afraid that I will disappoint everyone
Mostly, afraid that I will disappoint myself.
But here I am anyways, daring to question the unquestionable. Daring to dream bigger. Willing to face the hard truths about myself. Willing to try and fail and try again.
And what I'm realizing most these days is that while I still have a long ways to go in this journey, I am not the same little church girl who sits on a piano bench nodding her head in smiling, oblivious agreement at the life that she was told she should live, resting her self-worth on personal performance and the ability to please everyone.
But I don't have to live like that anymore. Life is not a stage and I am not an actress. I am not defined by what things I do well, or what I look like. And I don't have to ask permission to be who I was born to be.
Those who change the world aren’t waiting for permission. They’d rather apologize for too much tenacity than regret having too much timidity. - Jeff Goins
And I refuse to live afraid anymore.
Because this is our chance to let our voice be heard, to say something that changes the status quo, that pushes progress and moves humanity forward. To make something beautiful we can’t live without. Or not.
We could, of course, keep waiting to live the life we dreamed of, to share the words burning on your lips until a better time arrives. Until you’re ready. Until someone comes along and gives us permission to be ourself. - Jeff Goins
And although I may not have it all figured out, if there is one thing I know it is this:
I can no longer afford to be the good little church girl sitting on her piano bench waiting for the rest of the world to give her permission to be who she really is or do what she could really do. There is way too much at stake these days.
And I can't think of anything more freeing than that.
Rachel Rowell @ saltedgrace.com
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