Common sense is a funny thing. You hear the same trite sayings for your entire life, and they never quite sink in until some situation smacks you around and uncovers the deeper wisdom. I can’t tell you how many times I rolled my eyes when someone wrote off a situation with some hand-me-down proverb. My personal favorite was when someone tried to remind me that winning isn’t everything. I couldn’t scoff loud enough.
I worked hard in school to get straight A’s; I practiced tirelessly to be first-chair clarinet. I came out of school as one of the best in my class and my department, and I was praised for those results. In the instances when I failed along the way, it wasn’t met with a “nice try” attitude, so I didn’t see the importance of the process — just the results. Winning was everything.
As a music student, this had a crippling effect. I didn’t want anyone to hear me make mistakes, so I would go out of my way to visit the practice rooms late at night or I would merely finger along to the music without making sound. I was unequipped to handle the criticism during the process, because I only wanted people to see me as the winner who got it right. As a writer, I cringed at the thought of anyone reading my work because I never felt like it was finished. It could always be better, and as long as I felt that way, my work wasn’t ready to be seen.
I labored under the fallacy that my progress didn’t matter if I didn’t get things right.
It wasn’t until a friend shared her story on Facebook that I had my revelation:
During a session at the gym, my friend was approached by a woman she did not know, who simply said she was inspirational. My friend was almost offended. Feeling far from inspirational, she figured there had to be some kind of backhanded compliment in her comment. Of course she realized she was probably being hard on herself, but that internal dialogue was still happening. She was doing something great by making the choice to work on her fitness, but because she hadn’t crossed her own personal finish line, she didn’t feel like she had the right to inspire anyone.
Seeing it as an outsider, I was suddenly so aware of how I had been convincing myself of the same thing for years — it was exhausting, not to mention hypocritical.
I sympathize with that girl in the gym: It is anonymous, everyday people who inspire me most. I admire the people working hard in the gym. I admire the people who spend extra time attending networking events and seminars. I admire the people on the street who perform selfless acts of kindness. I admire the musicians, writers and artists who committ to practicing their craft every day. I admire people who try, mostly because they do more than imagine; they take action. Oddly enough, I am even motivated when people stumble along the path, because I see myself in them. We are all imperfect, and we are all just trying.
I do not write this blog because I think I am the best, or because I have the answers. This and every post I write is my personal attempt to pursue a better life. Maybe someone will see me as the equivalent of my friend on the treadmill, working tirelessly toward her goals, inspiring a stranger who is looking for a little support. The truth is that we don’t have to be perfect to inspire someone. We don’t have to be the best, or even good. We just have to keep putting our whole selves into what we believe.
I believe that I can be better. Not all of my attempts will end in success, but I will achieve so much less in life if I wait until I’m “ready.”
If you have been dreaming about something, start figuring out how to make it happen. Get on the metaphorical treadmil. Try, and don’t be afraid to show people what you’re up to. You never know when someone will be able to help you, or when someone will be inspired by what you’re doing. Even the most brilliant minds in history have failed, but we know about them today because they didn’t allow that failure to mark the end of their efforts.