Today’s Prompt: A past moment that left me feeling powerless or afraid … How can I let go of that limiting past experience based on what I now know?
I’m seeing so many levels of familiarity as I go through this process a second time. In reviewing the questions, I feel like I’ve always felt powerless and afraid. Being good was never enough. There also had to be luck involved, and the worst of all, fairness. Life, as I often tell my gamer wife, is not The Sims. You can’t just do X, Y, and Z and get the rewards you deserve.
Plundering through the wealth of disappointments I’ve experienced, I keep reflecting on a truly silly one from my childhood. Seriously silly, but I think it pretty much set the tone of my understanding of reward and success in The Real World™.
I’m almost embarrassed to share this here, but I’m being “Brave,” so here goes. Back in grade school, one of the big events for music geeks like me was the Spring Band and Choral Concert. Now, my experience at St. Charles Boromeo Elementary was no walk in the park. I attended from fifth to seventh grade, and for much of that time I was persona non grata. As you may have read in an earlier post, I was targeted by a large group of girls (former friends) and harassed on a daily basis for almost three years.
The only thing that made school bearable for me was music. I was in chorus and band, and I was very good. I was leaps and bounds ahead of my peers in Music Theory, and the choral work was a walk in the park for a girl who had grown up glued to the piano singing with her father.
Even back then, I was aware of people less fortunate than me (yes, there were people who had it worse than me at St. Charles.) And there were a couple of girls in my chorus class who just…well, they sucked. They wanted to do well, but they really just weren’t that good.
Each year, several of us prepared to audition for All District Chorus. These two girls wanted desperately to audition, and at the suggestion of our teacher, I agreed to coach them on the audition piece. I worked tirelessly with both of the girls, even inviting them to my house so we could rehearse using my dad’s piano.
Spoiler alert: All three of us made All District Chorus, and it was good.
Move forward to Spring Concert, that grand finale in which the band and choruses from fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grades strutted their stuff for long-suffering parents. Also, this was the time where annual awards were given out to the top students.
Because I was in seventh grade, we were still on stage in our band formation when the awards were given out. Surprising to no one, I received Outstanding Theory Award.
But when Outstanding Singer came out, the award was given to one of the tone-deaf girls I had coached. One who, even after weeks of coaching, still only barely croaked out the tune and only skimmed the “warm body” acceptability test for All District.
This is going to sound conceited, but that was ridiculous. Without a hint of self-aggrandizement, I was the best singer in that class. I sight-read effortlessly, learned not only my parts but most of the others, and had been performing in front of audiences since I was two years old. It wasn’t an ego thing. I was stunned, and I’m sure my face showed it.
After the concert, the teacher pulled me aside quickly to explain. I’m sorry about that, she said. You are obviously the better singer, but you already were getting the Theory award and she tried so hard.
Flash forward to the interview results for a technical writing job: Your process paper was by far the best we saw, but we’re giving the job to so and so for X, Y, Z reasons.
Flash forward to my entire life: We love all the wonderful things that you do and how much they benefit us, but we are going to give this accolade/benefit/promotion to someone else to serve our own purposes.
Bottom line: Things happen for reasons that often have nothing to do with you or how good you are.
Secondary lesson: There are always going to be people waiting around to point and laugh when you fail at something. Especially if all parties involved know you actually deserved to succeed.
After that horrible Spring Concert way back in 1979, my tormenters were waiting for me. Loud, derisive laughter. Actual pointing. Haha, you thought you were getting Best Singer. Haha, look at your face! Haha. Like Nelson the Bully from The Simpsons, and there was no escape.
I still hear those voices in my head, every time I even think of doing something to improve my life–like going for a promotion, or trying a new venture. Even when I succeed, I hear the voices saying I only got it because someone felt sorry for me, or I was lucky, or nobody else tried. Or the best of all, things come easy to you, which of course means I do not deserve any sort of reward or recognition.
Why the fuck even bother?
In fact, why not avoid the mockery by sabotaging myself? Nobody is going to mock for not trying. And even more so, they will never accuse things of coming easy to me if I actually struggle to keep up.
When I was in first grade, I pretended not to know how to pronounce the word “chief.” Of course, I knew how to pronounce the word, and every other word put before me, but all the other children were asking for help and I wanted to belong.
I think I’m still pretending to mispronounce words.
Maybe I need to stop doing that.