One true miracle that has come out of my chronic diseases has been my fledgling, but redemptive pursuit of singing. At first, singing was my greatest childhood love, then my silenced passion, and ultimately my most crippling fear. These posts, written in scarlet (a color of redemption), comprise my testimony to the life-altering beauty that can unexpectedly emerge from hard times. Honestly, I can’t sing very well yet. It is my ongoing challenge but also my life’s most fulfilling pursuit. I never knew just how revelatory this beautifully vulnerable adventure would be. In this series, I’d like to invite you to join me in resurrecting a silenced dream, pursuing a muted passion, or overcoming a lifelong fear. Why not you? Why not now? The Singing Series – Part 1
You’ll never amount to anything.
Why can’t you be more like your brother?
You just don’t look the part.
You don’t have what it takes.
You’re so lazy.
Sorry, but no.
How many of you have ever had a teacher, coach, parent, older adult, or someone of authority tell you that you weren’t good enough to do something? Has your spirit ever been devastatingly crushed by just a few ill-spoken words?
And why do those words still echo in our minds so loudly, even today?
Words of unfounded criticism.
Sentences of confinement.
Charges of worthlessness.
Why can those early criticisms STILL bring even extremely successful adults to a point of nothingness?
How did we lose our wide-eyed wonderment of childhood and our perception of boundless potential?
There are few things as beautiful as the curious discoveries and virtuous pursuits of a child.
Can you picture yourself as a child?
One minute you’re soaring high with innocent passion, dreaming of a vibrant outcome, and delighting greatly in the mere engagement of a loved activity…
A few uninvited words from “someone” cause your worth to come crashing to the ground. You quickly shovel any evidence that remains of your foolish pursuit and hide it in a dark cave. The odds are that shame will prevent you from ever venturing back to recover those shattered dreams, and likely a giant piece of your most authentic self will get stuffed in that deep, dark cave also.
Who had the right to extinguish such a bright light??!
I want to invite you to go back into that sacred cave and redeem what is so rightfully and beautifully yours.
On Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast last year, Brene Brown shared her findings from her research on shame,
“85% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives.”
As a former teacher, this absolutely wrecks me.
As a former student, I am represented in that 85%.
My guess is that you are too.
My story of humiliation, shame, and abandoned dreams
Quite innocent. A bit shy. Trying to figure out what it means to be me.
And then I found it!
I discovered THE one thing that quickened my heart and made me feel ALIVE! I didn’t even know it was possible to feel like this. I could feel the JOY in my cells!
SINGING! I joined the elementary school chorus!
It was a big group of kids. The music teacher was responsible for all of the grade levels and didn’t have time to be intimately acquainted with any of us. The chorus was nothing too serious, no big solos – but I LOVED IT!! I excitedly looked forward to every single rehearsal. During our seasonal performances for our parents, I literally felt like a superstar. I didn’t sing loud nor did I stand out in any way whatsoever, but I was just so darn proud to be on those risers singing with everyone else. I could feel the music in my SOUL.
Sadly, my music career came to a crashing halt in a very short amount of time. One day after after rehearsal, the music teacher said to me,
“Dear [I don’t think she knew my name], you’re singing off key. You can either quit the chorus now or mouth the words for the rest of the year.”
what did she just say to me?
DEVASTATION filled my soul in a way that literally crushed me. I tried to hold in my tears and gave her my impossible reply, “I’ll mouth the words.” It would be way too humiliating for me to admit this ousting to my friends.
I showed up at our next rehearsal and obediently did as she said. However, as you can well imagine, mouthing the words caused a terrible desolation as well as a very secret shame. I just couldn’t do it.
I also had another adult in my life who criticized me even more heavily for singing off pitch. So obviously I had issues, but couldn’t someone have tried to show me how to sing better? I was 11 and eager to learn.
In the end, I silenced my singing voice for nearly 4 decades. Sure, I might sing by myself with a full-blast radio in the car, or perhaps in jest with a few friends (always in jest though, never genuinely). I mouthed the words when I sang at church. I even mouthed the words to “Happy Birthday.” I didn’t want anyone to hear me sing, because I knew that I was not allowed to sing with everyone else.
How about you? Do you have a similar story?
A moment of poignancy with my students
When I was teaching high school, I shared my experience with a few of my classes. I asked them, “How many of you have had an adult criticize you or tell you that you can’t do something?” As I’m sure you can imagine, every hand went up. The massive weightiness in those moments shook me to the core.
Trying to find our collective redemption, I asked them some questions:
Do you think my music teacher remembers what she said to me?
Do you think that she even remembers my name?
Do you think the teacher is still thinking about this incident?
The rhetoric “no’s” were so obvious.
Then why, to this day, do I still define myself and my life by her words?
I told them that sometimes adults say the most thoughtless things. We realized together the ridiculous senselessness of the confining and damaging words that we mutually held.
At my age now, I am likely older than my music teacher was when she said those painful words to me. As a kid, I didn’t know that adults could be wrong. But now as an adult, I can so clearly see my own fallibility.
Consider the source of the uninvited criticism that was heaped upon you. Is it likely that it resonated from an unmarked moment of someone else’s imperfection?
On behalf of all of us teachers who spoke so thoughtlessly to you, “I am so, so very sorry.”
Teachers, coaches, parents, and others in “authority” are all imperfectly human. We get busy. We say things without thinking. We multitask and dismiss you. We don’t look long enough to evaluate carefully. In our stress, we don’t listen. We have our own scars and insecurities, and we can project our own family dysfunction on to you.
Yes, we can also be great, passionate, encouraging, helpful, and maybe even life-changing. However, even with an incredible teacher, it only takes a few seconds of defect for us to impose lifelong damage on a soul of innocence.
I don’t offer these explanations as any sort of excuse. Those words of criticism were a tragic infraction. It was flat-out WRONG.
What I’d like to do, however, is counteract the seeming immovability of those words.
That destructive comment, spoken in the midst of our imperfections, was never about you. They weren’t meant for you to carry.
More than anything…
I’m here to apologize.
On behalf of all teachers, and ESPECIALLY if it was I who spoke those words to you…
I AM SO, SO VERY SORRY.
That imprisoning declaration was NEVER meant for you to base your life upon.
What is your story?
What are the dreams that you forfeited at the feet of an adult or authority figure?
What were the injustices that forced you to usher your passions into darkness?
How much of your own authenticity did you have to sacrifice in doing so?
I can’t begin to tell you how much I’d LOVE to hear your comments. You don’t have to share specifics, but have you ever been locked down by harsh words? If you’re inclined to share more details of your story, I’m quite SURE that you’ll have the full support of this community of readers. Let’s bond together against this ridiculousness and finally take back our birthrights of passion.
With my truest heart,