Step into the Spotlight
“Please excuse me if I stutter, I’ve never done anything like this before,” Joy warned the audience. My suspense mounted as she carefully navigated her stylish heels onto a stage in front of a hundred people. I watched, slack-jawed, as the words to This is Me filled the microphone, first slowly seducing my attention, then building up to a fervent crescendo. Joy’s arms started swaying over her head, and soon the audience began clapping along and moving to the beat. She finished to a hearty round of applause.
The singer/actress, Keala Settle, who originally sang this song for The Greatest Showman, was equally nervous when first performing the “green-light” version of the film (which determines whether the project is to proceed), and had to grab onto the lead actor’s hand for support. She initially did not want to come out from behind the music stand and the director needed to convince her, “This is your moment, you have to step out into the ring!” Like Keala and Joy, are you willing to take that first step when it is your turn to shine?
Shake off the Bruises
Joy was not an award-winning actress with her future career on the line, but a 21-year-old singing before a room full of potential sponsors at my friend’s launch event for a new nonprofit, Heart for Youth. Like the people portrayed in the hit song, This is Me, Joy overcame much pain and struggle before she ever hit the stage.
As a young teen, Joy took a wrong step and shattered her hip on a patch of black ice. During her recovery she was suddenly transplanted from an active family, school and social life in New York City to a new life in North Carolina. There she slowly rehabilitated from her injuries and received at-home instruction by visiting teachers. But she felt her life spiraling out of control.
The song’s lyrics read, “I’m no stranger to the dark…I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars…run away, they say, no one’ll love you as you are… but I won’t let them break me down. …I know there’s a place for us, for we are glorious…When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, gonna drive them out, I am bruised, I am brave, I am who I am meant to be, this is me. Look out here I come!”
Forge a Path
Joy did come, right into the hearts of everyone in the audience. Some people, like my friend who wanted to start a nonprofit for teens from a young age, have long known what they want to do in life. And forge a relatively linear path to get there. For some of us, life takes more unexpected twists and we find a more indirect path to success. Along the way, we may have to redefine what success really is.
My teenage son is another person who used to hide behind scars, saying, “Anyone can hide beneath a smile.” The bravado belied the brokenness he felt underneath, after years of bullying. He took a chance and changed high schools; his life took a more positive turn and today he is thriving. Carl Jung, a renowned psychologist, believed that people needed to stretch out of their comfort zones in order to experience true joy and freedom from pain.
Sometimes we are most afraid of ourselves, or the facade of keeping up appearances. So we present a certain safe, acceptable image of ourselves and stay behind the mask, pretending to be the person we think others want us to be. Unless we become vulnerable and risk ‘exposure’, we will not discover our true possibilities and dreams.
Dare to Dream
We all have dreams, but are you, too, willing to overcome fear and take the steps to make them a reality? Joy, the young woman I admired on stage, dared to put herself out there before others, sharing her singing and poetry with hundreds of people. It is easy to assume that everyone else has more experience or skill than us and hesitate to take the first step, never giving ourselves the chance to learn what we are truly capable of. Like President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “ Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Occasionally we believe the words of naysayers and allow them to diminish our talent or deplete our confidence. Or we become our own worst critic, pushing ourselves relentlessly to perform, in order to prove ourselves and keep doubts at bay. If we can just accomplish this arbitrary goal, then we will be “good enough.” As if achievement alone determines self-worth. What holds you back?
Know what Drives You
Another deep thinker Frederick Nietzche said “He who has a why can endure any how.” People often say about my triathlon adventures and half ironman plans, “I could never do that.” Or they say, “I would never have the time to train for that.” They are already shaping their reality. The truth is they may not care enough to try, or they are unaware of their own abilities. As I set bigger and bigger athletic goals, my priorities gradually shifted. By allowing myself to risk falling short, my motivation changed from a fear of failure to a confidence to succeed–whether or not that meant crossing the finish line.
No matter how daunting, goals can be achieved by breaking them down into bite-sized pieces. When I was determined to walk unassisted, after acquiring a rare neurological disorder (CRPS), I knew I had to keep inching forward if I wished to resume my active life. During rehabilitation, my physical therapist set S.M.A.R.T goals which where Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. Everything she did revolved around me getting me on my feet and on my bike, and that goal continually fueled my recovery efforts.
There are many moments, especially towards the end of a difficult race where endurance athletes question the WHY. Before committing to my most ambitious athletic feat, I had to decide first if I was ready to ditch the dream. Was it really worth injury or relapsing to a chronic pain condition? Only then could I discover how much the goals still meant to me, and find the motivation to clear each hurdle.
Build your Team
Embracing challenging endeavors help me tap into physical and spiritual resources, not just in sport but all areas of life. Having overcome many setbacks, it strengthens my faith when God helps direct me to the right people to overcome each obstacle.
I joined a team of life-minded friends and health professionals who understood my passion. In an effort to balance my life, I joined not just a triathlon team, but a church fellowship group and a choir. And I found a new holistic health practitioner. All have been important allies in my health and fitness pursuits.
Who is in your corner? We all need internal motivation, but building a good support system helps too! Joy, the young singer I was privileged to hear, drew energy from positive mentors as she reclaimed her health one piece at a time. And my friend who is seeking to pair mentors with teens like Joy is progressing with her new nonprofit, spurred on by one donation, sponsor and board member at a time. The key step to their success, in addition to tapping into their inner passion, was a group of cheerleaders rallying behind them.
What is your dream and what will you start doing to make it happen? Take the first step. And find the right team!