I was 8 years old, a starry eyed 3rd grader, who loved music more than anything. All my spare time was spent imagining shows and costumes and songs and stages.
The small school I attended had a music program unlike any other I’ve ever encountered. Our music teacher was a creative force, ideas and dreams far grander than mundane things like budgets and time allowed for. Every year, the entire school participated in a massive talent show. And I do mean the entire school. Every single class came up with an act. Every Fine Arts group performed – handbells, recorders, choir, drama, bands (of which there were literally like 6 different ones). Even all the faculty and staff managed to put together a number, much to the delight of all the students, who loved seeing their teachers look ridiculous. On top of this, there were open auditions for anyone else who wanted to showcase a talent. There was a huge opening number and a massive finale in which I’m fairly certain there were more people packed onto the stage and every square inch of aisle space than were seated in the audience. People waited to hear the theme for each year’s show and for the unveiling of the elaborate stage designs with the same anticipation and expectation you see in those silly teen flicks where they all gush over prom themes (only without the drama and ridiculousness).
So, the year I was in 3rd grade, the theme was Broadway – my favorite thing ever (still!). The stage was going to be a massive city skyline reminiscent of New York City. The opening number was going to be a classic chorus line featuring a medley of famous Broadway songs, particularly the grand “Hello, Dolly!” theme song. And most exciting, our music director, Mr. G., asked me to be Dolly. I was going to sing the solo, wear a fabulous glittering gold dress, have the huge feathers in my hair – the whole nine yards.
Only I had one enormous problem – I was absolutely petrified with a fear of looking foolish. And if you’ve ever seen the musical, Dolly Levi is quite the over-the-top, flamboyant character. And I wanted to do it SO badly (I can still feel the ache of how much I wanted to play this part), but I was paralyzed with the prospect of facing ridicule, with looking silly in front of hundreds and hundreds of people, with the fear of being tormented by classmates for years to come, especially if I made any error. So I told Mr. G and my parents a lie, told them I didn’t want to do it. And vividly remember crying in my bed that night, heartbroken over how afraid I was.
My best friend got the part instead, went on to become the darling of the school and the go to person for all solos needing sung, and it would be 5 years before anyone beyond a few close friends would find out I could sing.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson from this – the amazing opportunities fear causes us to miss. But this fear – especially in regards to music and performing – has followed me and haunted me my entire life. Auditions I didn’t go to, contests I didn’t enter, practice sessions ended early because someone showed up in the practice room next door and I didn’t want them to hear me – sometimes it was the fear of my own lack, fear of discovering I actually wasn’t any good at the one thing I love more than anything else. There was the musical I didn’t audition for in college because I was afraid of the pastor and youth leaders I worked under – I would have had to stepped away from some ministry responsibilities because of the rehearsal schedule and they would have taken me to pieces for stepping away from “eternal” matters for something as “shallow” as a musical. Even as much progress as I made and as much as I learned getting my music degree, I massively regret knowing I could have gotten so much more out of that season if I wouldn’t have been so afraid of . . . of everything. Of myself. Of other people’s opinions. Of the comparison of myself to others.
I can’t help but wonder how life would be different if I wasn’t afraid. I wonder how much life could change right now if I chose not to be afraid. Or more likely, chose to shove fear out of the way and take chances anyway. And there grows in me the hope that maybe it’s not too late. Maybe today is as good a day as any to kick fear in the teeth and tell it where it can go.
If the tables were turned and you were sharing your story with me, telling me the longing of your heart and how fear has held you back, I would champion your dream. I would tell you not to give up. I would tell you to reach deep for the place in your being where the intensity of your passion outweighs the intensity of your fear. I would tell you to choose a step – any step – but to take one step towards what you were made for, towards doing what your heart will never feel complete without doing.
So perhaps I should begin to follow my own advice.
I think I will. One shaking step at a time.