One of my favorite questions to ask my boys is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Formula 1 driver, teacher, football player, ornithologist, and Olympic gymnast are just a few of the answers they have given me. I’ve often heard that the key to discovering your purpose and passion (which is the journey I am on right now) lies in recalling your earliest childhood ambitions. If that’s the case, I might be in a bit of a bind.
When I was a little girl, my answer to that question was pretty consistent as I recall–I wanted to be a singer or an actress. I never once said teacher or doctor or veterinarian or even mom. Over the years I participated in talent searches and community theater productions; I took singing and acting lessons; when I was old enough I started competing in preliminary pageants within the Miss America system (that’s the one with talent y’all, not to be confused with Miss USA).
But along the way something strange happened. I lost my confidence. I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment it happened, I think it was more of a slow erosion than a sudden epiphany. It might have started the day my sisters and I totally blew a performance at a community festival by dissolving into schoolgirl giggles. When we left the stage that afternoon, our mom met us crying and telling us that we were an embarrassment. (In her defense, we probably were.) Or was it the day in high school that I auditioned for the role of Emily in Our Town? I read the dramatic monologue with such intensity that by the end, I was in tears and so were the other students in the room. Sadly, a girl who was known to be the teacher’s pet got the part. When I was in college I tried out for the show choir. I got lots of compliments after the singing portion of the audition, but never heard from them again after I performed the dance. (The years of dance lessons my parents paid for didn’t help that day. It was pretty bad.) Could it have happened more recently when I sang for a church music minister and was told I wasn’t good enough for worship team but I was welcome to join the choir?
Now as I reflect back, I recognize that the actual events didn’t make me lose my confidence, my internal dialogue did. You see, these are the memories that I fixate on and replay in my mind over and over again. I don’t focus on the time I played Lucy in my high school production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; or the two other college show choirs I was invited to join after auditioning (Yes, I went to three colleges. Please stop counting.); or that I played the part of the Queen in a large community theater production of Cinderella; or that in our last church I was not only part of an excellent worship team but a featured soloist as well.
Somehow I have decided my negative experiences carry more weight than any of my achievements.
That thought is totally taking me by surprise even as I type it. I have decided that my negative experiences carry more weight than any of my achievements. Typing it again doesn’t make the thought any more comforting.
In reflection, I can see that I have applied this apparent principle in more areas of my life than just my childhood performing ambitions. For example, when I was in 8th grade I decided to run for student council representative in my homeroom class. There might have been 20 or 25 kids in the class, a few of them were my friends so I thought I stood a pretty good chance of being elected. I found out very publicly just how wrong I was. You see, my homeroom class was civics–the study of government and her processes. My homeroom teacher thought it would be a good idea to tally the votes on the chalkboard (this was long before whiteboards) in an effort to teach us more about elections I’m sure. When the votes had been counted, it was revealed that my opponent had won by a landslide. Looking at the chalkboard, the only thing next to my name was one sad, solitary tally mark. I had received one vote–the vote I had cast for myself. Retelling that story now (25 years after the fact) fills me with immense sadness and shame. When I think of elections, this is where my mind naturally lands. What I don’t consider is a day 5 years later when, as a senior in high school, I was elected by my peers as a state officer for a large marketing education organization. It should be obvious to anyone–including me–which of these events I should assign more importance, yet I have chosen to focus on the negative experience for these many years, not the positive.
I started this post thinking that I needed to find my purpose, but it appears right now I should be more concerned with finding my voice. The quiet internal voice that only I hear as it whispers what I have believed to be truths. The journey I should be on is rewriting my internal dialogue, beginning to claim my successes and leaving my failures in the past where they belong. Going forward I want to make Paul’s words in Philippians 3:12-14 my desire, my aspiration: I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (The Message)
In Him is where my answers lie. Lord, I may not be singing yet, but help me find my voice (Your Voice). Amen.