My father is the greatest singer in the world. You likely do not believe this, but that is only because you have never heard him sing. I swear to you that it’s the truth.
When I was growing up, my dad worked for the Atlantic City casinos, in marketing. I don’t know why exactly he chose this particular career path, but my best guess is that it afforded him the opportunity to perform about once a year. His shows were held in the huge, grand ballrooms of the casinos, and he was backed by a big band complete with piano, horns, drums, etcetera. He sang Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond, and showtunes; his rendition of The Music of the Night was spine-chilling, and he did Nessun Dorma better than Pavarotti or Bocelli. The audience was full, the stage was huge, the lights were bright, and so was my dad – the very best in him emerged when he sang.
Watching my father perform is hands-down the single best memory of my childhood.
I can tell you quite confidently that the stage is where all of life’s magic happened for my dad. Everything in-between was a means to getting to a place and time when he could sing again. In observing this, I learned two important lessons from growing up as the child of an artist. As an adult, and within my work as a psychotherapist, I routinely emphasize these lessons to myself, and to my clients.
Lesson 1: There is no logical reason to sing. Sing anyway.
I routinely work with clients presenting with anxiety, depression, and lack of self-worth that report that their lives are missing something that they can’t quite put their finger on. They are scheduled, structured, excel at work, and dutifully complete all of their daily responsibilities. However, their lives lack zest and passion, and ultimately, no amount of being responsible and good citizens remedies that. In order to heal, they must make room for their creative Parts – the Parts that exist outside of daily responsibility and routine.
I strongly suspect that some of the very best of us (as is the case with my dad) is rolled up in our creative Parts somewhere, just waiting to break out, if only given the opportunity to do so. Our creative Parts are the art-makers, the idea-machines, the dream-realizers, and the world-explorers. They have nothing to do with checking off errands on a to-do list, and are not interested in what one is Supposed to Do or Should be Doing at any given time. There is no logical reason to nurture them, but it seems that as humans our health and well-being suffers when we don’t. We cultivate our creative Parts because we must do so in order to experience the full expression of ourselves. We must make room for creativity and passion in the same way that we make room for the goings-on of everyday life. To do otherwise is to cheat ourselves.
Lesson 2: It is a Scary thing to sing in front of people. Sing anyway.
On a few occasions, I had the opportunity to sing with my dad, on the stage, in front of all the people. My singing is adequate, pitchy at best, but I desperately wanted to share in those magical stage moments with him. Despite my just-okay singing abilities, I also love to sing, and performing was exciting and emotional and moving. And, I had massive anxiety beforehand, every time.
We all relate to the experience of second-guessing ourselves, of pulling back, of worrying that what we have to offer isn’t good enough, or worse, is ridiculous. We compare our talents to others, we fear being viewed as weird, or over-confident. We scrutinize every perceived imperfection, and obsess over how liked we are (now more than ever in the age of social media). We revise ourselves based on the feedback of others, or worse, we start acting like someone else. This is how we become boxed-in, smaller versions of ourselves, and for many of us, this is what keeps us from sharing the creative Parts of ourselves at all.
It’s a funny thing, but when you are on a stage in lights, the lighting quite literally makes the audience invisible. The hard part is not the actual performance – it’s getting up the courage to walk onto the stage in the first place. Once you are up there, it’s just you and music and the song. I think it is the same when sharing any creative Part of ourselves – the anticipation of sharing the thing is always scarier than sharing it. The sharing is a joy. And so, we should valiantly work up the courage to share ourselves – our gifts, our whims, our foibles, our creative selves – with others. To do otherwise is to cheat the world.
You may not be the world’s best singer (in fact, I know you’re not – as I mentioned, that’s my dad), or the world’s best sculptor, or pianist, or philosopher, or the world’s best anything. But that’s not the point at all. The point is that very important Parts of you (maybe even the best Parts) should not be lost due to neglect or fear of judgment. They should be showcased, and nurtured, and made a big deal of. They are gifts to yourself and everybody else.
It is socially accepted, maybe even expected, to be responsible and scheduled and careful and intimidated and to never step onto the stage of your own life. Let everybody else make that choice. Sing anyway.