For the Joy of It!
Years ago, I read Robert Fulghum’s “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” where he talked about the lessons we learn when we’re five years old, like…you should take turns and share…take naps when you are tired…warm cookies are good for you...and when we go out into the world, it’s best if we hold hands and stick together. But one point that he made stood out to me above the others. He claimed that he could walk into any kindergarten class and ask, “Who here can draw?” And all the children would enthusiastically raise their hands. The same thing would happen if he asked who could dance, or who could sing. But then, he said, if he walked into a room full of adults, he would get (at best) only a few tentative hands raised in response to any of those questions. His point was that, somewhere along the way, most of us have decided that we aren’t “good” at a wide range of activities that we enjoyed as children, which means we probably don’t do them. I smiled knowingly when I read this, because if you ask “who can draw?” I would definitely not raise my hand!
But when I was young, I was a singer. It was a major component of my identity. I spent my junior high, high school, and college days singing in every ensemble available, auditioning for honors choirs, and belting out the lead in more than one musical. That’s what I did. I sang. I got to know my husband while singing. We were in the school musicals, and when we weren’t singing with formal groups, we were singing duets together. After college, I didn’t sing as much. Around the house, and with the radio, but rarely in public, and not under any formal direction. As time went on, I could feel my voice deteriorating. It wasn’t as rich. I couldn’t hit the same high notes. And, increasingly, it sounded very strained—not pleasant to my ears at all. The other musical people in my life continued to sing. My husband sang barbershop for years. Our daughter (a chip off both of the blocks) also enjoyed chorus, musical theater, and competed with her a cappella group in college. And my sweet sister has sung for years in her church choir. She has the voice of an angel that makes me cry every time I hear it. All of this beauty around me made my own inadequacies that much more painful. My husband still loved to sing duets with me, but I started to avoid it as much as possible. I was too embarrassed for him to hear my voice. After all those years of training, it just felt like I forgot how to sing. I didn’t know how to relax, take in a good breath, and let the sound come out. And the more anxious I became about what it would sound like, the more I would tighten up, and (of course) the worse it would sound.
But I hadn’t given up on the idea of singing.
A few years ago, I participated in a workshop on singing. The folks in that room ran the gamut—from professional vocalists to people who have never sung before. Each one of us has had to choose a few lines from a song and get up to sing it a cappella (no small feat!) in front of a room full of strangers. And the instructor worked with each of us, wherever we were in our development, in front of the group. It was an interesting exercise because I learned a great deal from watching others perform and how the instructor tried to help them. We were all nervous, of course, but some people were absolutely terrified. Some of them had difficulty staying on pitch. Some had even been told that they can’t sing. I know that my “block” had been largely due to my own inner critic—but how devastating it would be to be shut down completely by others! There was a great deal of bravery in that room. The good news for me was that the experience left me feeling more confident about using my voice again. I started doing more singing. I also started to work on showing myself the same loving acceptance I tried to radiate to my fellow participants in that class, which allowed me to reconnect to the joy that singing used to bring me by.
It is so easy (and sad!) to be stifled. There are so many things we do as children—sing, dance, draw, create—and then we slowly drift away from them. We “learn” that there are some things we are “good” at, but we need to leave everything else to those who are “better.” And if we haven’t been anointed as “good” at something, then we can’t do it at all. This limiting belief of not being “good enough” robs us of so much joy. This fear of not being good enough is often reflected in even the most uplifting of messages. For example, there is this popular saying: “Dance as though no one is watching.” This seems empowering, but there is a subtext: Dance as if no one is watching, because if they are watching, they might judge you as unworthy, and decide that you’re not good enough and that—really—you shouldn’t be dancing. So, just pretend they’re not there and try to carry on.
A more empowering message might be: “Dance as if everyone is watching, and you just don’t give a damn!” That’s the freedom that comes with shifting the underlying belief that you aren’t good enough. You dance and defy anyone to try and stop you.
Then, there is no "good" or "bad—there is only the dance...and joy!