In 6th grade, I tried out for the dance squad at my junior high school. The coaches taught us a choreographed routine, and then we had to perform it in front of a panel of judges the following day. In the horrifying case that we forgot a part of the dance, we were instructed to smile and bounce in place until we could jump in on the next part of the routine.
I literally smiled and bounced my way through the entire two and a half minute routine.
The whole dance moved so quickly, that once I lost my place (during the first four seconds), I could never find a spot to jump back in. So I smiled brightly and bounced in place energetically, acting like this was my plan the entire time. Fake it ‘til you make it, right?
Well, I didn’t make it. It was no surprise that when I checked the list of girls who would be a part of the Spartanette squad the following year, my name was not included. Although it stung a little, deep down I was completely relieved.
There was not one point throughout the process of dance team tryouts that I felt confident in myself. My biggest fear—my ineptitude revealed—came true, but it was a relief knowing that I wouldn’t have to spend an entire season on the squad, pretending that I felt qualified to be there.
Do you ever feel like a total fraud in your [insert: job, parenting, relationships, etc.]? Maybe you’re doing everything you’re expected to do but, internally, you feel like a fearful twelve-year-old girl who is bouncing in place and smiling awkwardly.
If so, you are not alone. I often find myself resonating with some of 12-year-old Mallory’s fears.
What if you find out that I bought a desk (because I am a “writer”) that I haven’t used, not even once? (I write on the couch like a pile of lazy, okay?) What if you knew that sometimes I anxiously Google “writing prompts” because I’m certain that THIS DAY is the day the well has run dry and I will never have anything to write about ever again? What would happen if I told you that, most often, I’m the one who needs to read the life lessons I write about or hear the teachings I speak on?
Cover up, Mallory—your ineptitude is showing.
Here’s the thing: When we cannot show up perfectly, we can still show up. The difference between my 6th grade dance team tryouts and my writing career is, in a word: Passion. I cannot not write. I don’t want to give it up just because writing makes me look human-sized—imperfect, bumbling, and sometimes forgetting the next move. Writing is something I have loved to do since I was a young girl; it brings me a sense of peace and deep fulfillment. And—even when armed with this fiery passion, I know I cannot write perfectly.
I didn’t have the will to continue working on my dance moves throughout the year so that I could return to tryouts as a 7th grader with new moves and refined abilities. With writing, however, I have the will to keep writing, to improve, and to push through my fear of being seen as inept.
We are not qualified to do everything, but we can do things! The dance squad was not for me—realizing this was both an embarrassment and a relief. However, what a sad loss it would be if I allowed my lack of talent in choreographed dances to translate into a truth about my lack of talent in anything.
NCAA Basketball Coach, John Wooden, says, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” PREACH, John Wooden. I love this. I need to post it above the
desk couch where I write. We will fail sometimes. We’ll screw some things up quite fantastically. Our superhero cape will, at some point, fall off—even if only for a moment—and our humanness will show. Then, what?
Well, I think you keep bouncing in place until the music stops, and then you decide if whatever you’re doing is something you’re passionate enough to keep working towards. If it’s not, and you’re able to walk away from it—do it. Walk away, knowing that your inability to do this thing does not impact your ability to do that thing. And remember, your ineptitude revealed does not equate to the end of the world—not even for 12-year-old Mallory.
A few nights ago, I was at the home of a friend who does a lot of hosting at her house. I asked how she feels about having people over so often, mostly curious because I pegged her as an introvert.
“I love it,” She paused momentarily, “And, it became so much easier once I let go of the need to have everything in my home be perfect.” YES and amen, hospitable friend! I believe this is so true for my friend with hosting, and I believe it’s true for all of us with [insert your passion/talent here]. When we cut ourselves some slack and invite our superhero capes to be exchanged for human-sized clothing, we may find that our task is easier to face, more enjoyable to do, and not quite so overwhelming to return to after we mess up.
I want to be able to be human-sized in my writing; that’s going to be a lot easier if I’m with people who are human-sized in their work and passions, too. So, fellow humans, if you find yourself bouncing in place today—bless you and your effort. And, I wonder: What is it you’re passionate about? What is the work you need to do so that you can return to the task better prepared? How will you offer yourself the grace you need when you accidentally forget the next move?
Don’t worry about showing up perfectly, but please, for your sake and ours—show up.