Last week, I was observing a dance class for a writing assignment. I was curious to see how the class would go, because I never took dance while I was growing up. I observed two classes, filled with girls around seven and eight years old. The first one was a hip hop class. It looked super fun, and I actually found myself thinking “hey, I might be able to do this!” (Which, seeing as how these were elementary aged kids, doesn’t say a lot about my dancing “skills.”)
The next class was tap. I was always intrigued by tap dancing when I was little. I loved the click-clacking sounds that the shoes made, and was enthralled at the speed with which the dancer’s feet moved. However, I learned during the 45 minutes or so while I observed this class that tap dancing is not as easy as it looks. The differences between moves are so subtle, I don’t know how anyone can remember them. I was pretty impressed that these little girls could do as well as they did.
About halfway through the lesson, the teacher asked each girl to do a certain move individually so she could see how well they knew it, and what they needed to work on. Most girls needed some improvement, and the teacher was kind in her correction, genuinely trying to help them. After each girl finished the move, they went back to group work. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little girl on the end scrunch her face up and quickly wipe tears out of her eyes. Her face turned red as she tried to hold back tears, while still trying to focus on the moves. One of her classmates noticed her crying and tried to ask if she was okay. She brushed her off, furiously wiping her cheeks. Eventually, the teacher noticed and stopped to make sure everything was okay. The little girl nodded, sniffed, and tried not to get noticed again.
My heart immediately went out to this girl. I knew she wasn’t crying because someone had been mean to her, or because she was hurt. She was frustrated. And embarrassed. Her individual move hadn’t been perfect, and she had gotten corrected. I know this because I used to be that girl. When I was her age, I would’ve cried over the same thing. I have always been a perfectionist, even as young as the students in this class. If I did something and I felt stupid, or it was wrong, or it looked funny, I refused to continue doing it. I would get embarrassed, try to hold back tears, and be miserable for the rest of time spent doing that activity.
One thing I always wanted to do while I was growing up was learn how to play guitar. When I was a teenager, my mom was finally able to sign me up for lessons. I took them at the local library with a group of other kids, all younger than me. We had lessons for a few weeks during the summer, and then at the end, we were supposed to have a performance. We each got to pick out what song we wanted to play for it, and our teacher helped us learn the first verse of it. I picked “Time of Your Life” by Green Day (I know. Don’t judge me.). It was a little tricky, but I was determined to learn it, and I ended up getting the hang of it. But then, on performance day– with my mom, brothers, and best friend there–I messed up my song. I was nervous, and didn’t get the beginning right. Then I became flustered and pretty much screwed up the whole thing. I felt so stupid and completely embarrassed. My mom and friend tried to reassure me that I did fine, but I knew they were lying to me (I was a cynical teenager). I vowed to never play guitar again because, in my eyes, I sucked. Never mind that I’d only been playing for a month or two. I wasn’t perfect, so I wasn’t doing it.
And I never did. I haven’t picked up a guitar since then. And it’s something I regret every time I think about it. Obviously I wasn’t perfect–nobody is born playing the guitar perfectly. But I let my embarrassment and fear control my decisions, and I gave up on something that I had desired for years.
I did that a lot growing up. I really wanted to play basketball when I was in high school, but I decided not to try to join the team, because I was afraid I’d be bad at it. To this day, I will not play volleyball because I messed up during a game at church camp and one of my teammates yelled at me. Back then, it made sense to shut myself off from these things. My unofficial motto was basically “aim low, avoid disappointment.” Now that I look back on it, I realize how much I limited myself. I could have experienced so much more (and probably had a lot more fun) if I had just let myself try new things and hadn’t worried about “failing” at them. I love this quote from J.K. Rowling, and I wish I had made this my motto when I was younger instead:
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default.”
Now that I’m older, I’m trying to be more intentional about trying new things, and not being worried about what will happen. Last semester, I submitted some of my writing to be considered for publication in our college literary journal. I was scared to death, but I wanted to try. So I did. And you know what? I didn’t get picked. It was a bummer, for sure. But I would’ve never known if I could’ve gotten picked if I hadn’t put myself out there. So I did it again this semester. In all honesty, I probably won’t get picked this semester either. But at least I tried.
My heart broke for that little girl in tap class, because I used to be her. And it wasn’t fun. I had to practically pin myself down to my seat to keep from going over there and wrapping her up in a hug. If I could’ve said anything to her, it would’ve been this: “Don’t quit.” Don’t quit because your move wasn’t perfect. Don’t quit because you got picked last for the team. Don’t quit just because you’re scared. Don’t quit because you’re afraid of what people might think. Don’t quit based on anything that “might” happen. Take a chance. Live a little.