I’m sure most have us have heard it at some point in our lives: “Why are you here?” or “Why aren’t you ____?” Or “So what’s holding you back?” I can’t think of a better way to invalidate someone’s life. Sometimes these questions are intended as compliments — insinuating that you could do, or deserve better. Sometimes the question is more pointed: “(If you’re so good) Then why are you here.” My new response is going to be… “Walk a mile in my shoes and then ask me that question“.
Students can be especially good at asking but usually it’s their way of saying, “Why should I listen to you?”
I had the chance to meet and catch up with an old friend (and former student) the other day. We reminisced over the ‘good old days’, played where are they now and talked a lot about where our lives have taken us. Cristen is a beautiful, petite, fireball who’s not afraid to tell it like it is… which is probably one of the reasons we hit it off. We both get in our share of trouble for being a bit too honest at times.
Cristen used to keep me company while building sets at the high school. The auditorium was her safe place and where she’d go to blow off steam. In those days, she dreamed of being a performer but when she got to college, it no longer seemed like the right fit. The passion had waned. Now, she finds herself, the wife of a choir director in a sleepy Missouri town with endless tales of small town life.
I remember our phone conversations when she was in college about her decision to change career paths. I remember feeling a little sad but wanting what was best for her. Talking with her about it now, it all makes sense. But at the time, I just hated to see someone so passionate, give up on her dream. I never judged her for it and I wasn’t really sure if she was looking to me for guidance, acceptance or confirmation of her decision. All I wanted was for her to be happy.
The important thing is that I couldn’t possibly understand where she was– because I was not walking in her shoes. Cristen was getting good roles in college right off the bat, so the decision wasn’t based on a little rejection, it was something deeper. The important thing to me was that her choices were her own and she was confident they were the right ones. How can you not respect that?
In my own life, I’ve made a lot of choices that have raised eyebrows and received a lot of critique. Do I think I’m talented? Yes. Do I think I’m good enough to play in the big sand box? Well, yes, to some extent — but on my terms. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different artists in many situations and the bottom line is that I’m too emotional and opinionated to play with most of the big boys. I wear my heart on my sleeve. In the professional world, especially in the performing arts, you have to have a really thick skin when it comes to defending your work and negotiating. I don’t have that thick skin.
I have to love what I do to be creative. I’ve always found it hard to take on a project for the money, or even just to build my resume. If I can’t get emotionally involved in it, then it won’t be my best work. I remember being offered the opportunity to direct Camelot years ago, and my initial thought was, “Ick!”, not my type of show. I guess they really wanted me, so I listened to the score and read the script but it wasn’t until I watched the movie that I found my connection. It was a momentary glance between Guinevere and Lancelot that suddenly grabbed me… and not only made me agree to do it, it made me incredibly passionate and excited about it. If I had not taken those specific steps to get to that point, I would have missed out on a rewarding experience and never grown to love that show.
Through my experiences, I’ve built up a lot of calluses and the soles of my feet are thick and worn. I’m more cautious about my steps and walk proudly through each day, knowing I’m where I need to be at this moment. I still take chances, I still stumble… but each time I get up, I’m stronger and wiser than I was before. It’s my journey– my road– and the only person with the right to question my path is me.
By the way, Cristen shared with me that she’s started taking voice lessons again and is loving it. Where that will lead? Only she knows.
Today’s Pic: SHOES!!! Michael’s and my shoes in our pantry/mud room.