Certain Embarrassment

A personal story inspired by the post Pretty Ugly, by Marc Ensign.

I was going to be an embarrassment, one way or the other. Either I stood up in front of everybody, or someone announced that I backed out at the last minute.

It was my family reunion’s talent show, cobbled together by a few cousins, that involved maybe five acts. My extended family includes about 80 people, 50 of which were present, so this wasn’t a small show.

I had brought my ukelele, which I had been playing for about two months, because, hey, it was fun to play. I even played it on the 9-hour car ride there. Since we had arrived, two or three days before the show, my whole family thought it was the coolest thing. So when my younger cousins asked me to be in their talent show, I said yes.

They put together the lineup at the beginning of the show, and I was to go third, after my sister. I didn’t have anything prepared.

It was when my sister began to play that I realized my peril. She brought her saxophone to the reunion, and was, at the time, studying for a Bachelors of Fine Arts in saxophone performance at one of the best in the school.

She played two incredibly difficult pieces with amazing virtuosity, soaring through runs, caressing lyrical melodies, and showing musical dexterity that left us all stunned.

And the whole time, I was panicking.

What was I going to do? By all musical understandings I sucked at my instrument, especially compared to what preceded my act. And I had nothing prepared.

I spent the second piece trying to find a way to quietly leave the room and justify the embarrassment of flaking out. Because if I went up there, it would be a catastrophe.

But then the second piece ended, and it was my turn.

And in my complete, desperate acceptance of impending humiliation, four words barged into my head. So forcefully, in fact, that they came out my lips just under my breath.

Let’s just rock this.”

There was nothing else to do. I still didn’t know how, but whatever I did was going to be 110% of what I had.

So I stepped up to the mic and opened myself up.

I told them that what they were about to hear was nothing like what came before it. I told them about how I had started playing two months ago and was driving my parents nuts by playing the same chords over and over and over again, even on the car ride. I played the chords to “Hey ya” by OutKast because it had a section that you don’t have to sing (shake, shake it).

Between what I was saying, my family was laughing. A lot. Not at me, but because they could tell that everything I was saying was true, was authentic. When I said it, they knew I was driving my parents crazy, that I was dismayed I couldn’t actually sing (which is practically required of uke players), that I wasn’t trying to impress anyone.

What was sure to be an embarrassment turned into a uke and comedy act.

Aunts were asking if I did comedy regularly, and people said my dad was crying and could hardly breath he was laughing so hard.

And no one knew that before I stepped in front of the mic, I was terrified.

You Don’t Have Anything to Offer Anyone

This is what you are telling yourself. You can’t do it because you have to offer value to people, and what do you have to offer?

There’s the internet. It’s full of people who know more than you, who have been doing it longer, who have beaten you to it. The internet covers everything already. There’s no more room.

This is what stops you. You have grand plans, then you think, “That can’t actually be valuable. Look at all the people doing something similar.”

Then, “You should find something else. Some place else where you could actually create value and be appreciated.”

Then you’re back to square one.

But what’s really going on is that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of not making as big a splash as you try to make or being too similar to someone else, being a fraud.

So you’re trying to be so far away from everyone else that it has to make a splash and no one can call you a fraud. You’re reaching for outer space because there are already people down on earth.

You do, actually, have opportunities. You’ve known that for a while. But you punch holes in them until you think they couldn’t possibly stand.

But they’re still there.

So the internet isn’t everything. The world isn’t everything. There are still holes for you to fill. And you know it, but you’re caught between telling yourself that you don’t have anything to offer and that what you do have isn’t valuable to anyone.

Your ego is trying to play it safe.

But there’s something else inside of you screaming that you’re not really safe, you’re just paralyzed. You’re lying in the middle of the forrest saying, “If I just lie here I’ll be safe,” because getting up and picking a direction to start walking in means making a decision and a commitment, and that is scary.

But it’s safer.

For the entirety of human history, people have found ways to be valuable. If you pick something to pursue and it doesn’t work out, the world will not run out of opportunities. You’ll have better ones. Your life is evidence to this.

So get up, pick a direction, and start walking. You will get somewhere, make a difference, and, at the least, learn to walk better.

Running Toward a Cliff

It’s coming.

There’s a cliff up ahead and you’re running toward it. When you reach it, you will jump off.

You have an idea of what’s on the other side, but you still can’t see where you’ll land.

It’s not a new city, it’s a new context of that city. You’ve lived there before, you know some people, but you’re on your own now. You have to make it, on your own.

What are you afraid of? Complete failure? Being homeless? No, you’re afraid of it not being what you want it to be, what you envision. That it’s not going to be everything you hope for and that it might be even more difficult to do what you’re set on. You’re afraid of being swept away into the dust of daily existence, of working so hard to make it in that city that you won’t have the time, money, or energy to make a dent in the world.

It’s not about change or uncertainty, it’s about stepping up to own all of your responsibilities. You don’t think there could be enough of you left to make a difference.

How true is that? You always have the opportunity to dent the world in. It might be harder and require more from you, but you’ve completely grown from who you were even a year ago. Just think about that.

It’s the same project, the same place, but you are completely different. You have new resources, new understandings and skills, new connections, and amazing new opportunities. You have the chance to climb down into the mud and grit and test yourself. Find small victories, small battles, set small goals, and build. You’ll be covered in mud, sure, but you’ll be alive in it.

Jump in, and stay alert.

Post One

I’m not fearless anymore.
In college I was. I didn’t have any responsibilities.
I used to the the opposite of fear is fearlessness.
It’s not. It’s courage.
Courage is acting in spite of fear.

I’m only in my early 20s, but I’m already surprised at how much fear I have.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Something must be wrong.
How can I be strong and make any sort of difference in the world when I have this much fear?
I thought this couldn’t be me, who I end up being, but I’ve realized it is.

But that’s ok. Because as I’m finding fear, I’m learning courage.