Step Up to the Mic: The Value in Doing the Things That Terrify You
Facing challenges is something multiple sclerosis prepares you for
Back in November, I told you all about my decision to start taking vocal lessons with a coach. Well, I’ve been at it for about eight months or so, taking an hour-long lesson every other week, and while I can tell that I’ve made some progress, I’m still not anywhere near the level I’d like to be at.
Everything was going just fine until April, when my teacher told me there was going to be a recital in July. Cue dramatic music, screaming, and fainting. She wanted me to sing in front of a crowd of people? Me?! I was terrified at the thought of it, but because all her other students (both children and adults) were participating, I figured I should, too. I mean, multiple sclerosis forces us to make hard choices all the time, so what was one more to me, really?
Since the performance was coming up sooner than I would’ve liked, I opted for an easier song — “L-O-V-E,” as sung by Nat King Cole. My teacher told me it was much too simple and that I needed to push myself, but I stuck to my guns and refused to budge from this adorable, jazzy ballad. I thought of singing it directly to my husband in the audience, and that gave me great confidence.
Well, the recital has been moved to November, so now I have no excuse. It’s time for me to start working on the song she thought I should sing all along, the song I wanted to sing but was too afraid to — “When You’re Good to Mama,” from the musical “Chicago.”
I’ve started working on it, and though I now have lots of time, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m scared out of my mind at the thought of performing this number in front of anyone other than myself in the mirror — the one in my closet.
In his essay “Heroism” from the collection “Essays and Lectures,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said that to be a hero, a person must take chances and trust in his or her judgment, no matter what others think. “Adhere to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant and broken the monotony of a decorous age,” he writes. “It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, — ‘Always do what you are afraid to do.’”
I can’t believe I’m taking life advice from a man named Ralph Waldo, but here we are. Yeah, I need to “adhere to my own act” and do something “strange and extravagant” that breaks “the monotony of a decorous age.” I mean, a 44-year-old woman up there alongside a bunch of high schoolers shaking her groove thing and singing about getting her ragu peppered is “strange and extravagant” to say the least.
But I’m going for it. Even if I fail, even if I get laughed off the stage, I’m going to see this through. It may be my only recital, or it may be the first of many. Either way, I have to try. I have to prove it to myself that I can do it.
The little nugget of wisdom Emerson passes on at the end of that quote, the value in always doing “what you are afraid to do,” holds water. After all, if we never take a chance or push ourselves in some way, how will we grow? How will we know where our edges are? Life is too short to stand in the wings, worrying and asking ourselves “What if?”
I don’t know about you, but MS has made me second guess myself too often over the last 17 or so years, and I’m sick of it. So while I won’t be the best singer that takes the stage that night in November, I’m going to get up there — heart in my throat and knees knocking together — and “adhere to my own act.” I’ll let you know how it goes. Now tell me to break a leg and get back to rehearsing.
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