“I was true to myself, so I walk away a winner!” I hear this blather on the reality TV shows I can’t seem to get enough of, mostly of the cooking and island sort. Contestants say this right after they’ve been told it’s time to snuff their torch, or pack their knives, turn in their aprons, or whatever the show of choice uses to indicate YOU LOST! The same sentiment rings out across social media with well-meaning posts telling young people “Don’t ever change” or “If they don’t like you the way you are, move on.” With all the compassion I can muster—this is a load of hooey! Who wants to be the same person tomorrow she is today? Think about that. If I’m in a dead-end job with few skills and a childish outlook, do I really want to continue on this path? Self-evaluation marks maturity, and the ability to change and adapt used to be a good thing. Why do we keep demanding we should be able to stay the people we are but still be afforded the privilege of those working far harder, biting their tongues more often, saying hard things when needed, and simply pulling up their big girl–or boy–pants every single day?
When I was very young, my parents discovered I had a lovely singing voice. They had me singing on the radio and on stage in church at a very young age, and soon enough, my older brother Steve discovered that I had an ear for harmony. He pushed to get me into the church choir he directed but soon had to give me the boot because the older choir members didn’t appreciate having such a young one among their numbers. Actually, I don’t know for sure that was the reason, but as I aged, I probably filled that detail in as the most logical since no other explanation was given. No one worried about how I felt or if I would agree with the decision; they made the decision, and I had to deal with it. In moments like these, sprinkled throughout my childhood, I learned to deal with disappointment, and no one coddled me and rubbed my precious little head telling me how unfair that had been, and they certainly didn’t argue down the unreasonable grownups who pushed me out.
On one occasion, I was singing a solo in church, still at quite a young age, and my mother played the piano for me. Somehow, I had the harmony to the song stuck in my head and was singing it as if someone were standing beside me singing lead. Clearly, it wasn’t the right melody, and my mother stopped playing the piano and made me try again. Did you hear that? She made me start all over, on stage, in front of God and EV-ER-Y-BO-DY. Still I struggled to find the melody, and she stopped AGAIN! I guess the third time was a charm, and I made it through the song, but my mother didn’t decide that what I was clearly doing wrong was good enough. She didn’t spare her precious little girl’s feelings and let me make such a huge mistake. If I was ever to learn how to sing solos, my confidence had to come from doing things right, not from a sense of my own perceived self-worth. As a result, I always pushed myself vocally, and when I didn’t, you can bet there was someone in my family faithful to alert my wayward ears to the sour notes with a quick elbow to my unsuspecting rib cage. By the way, my mother also didn’t berate me in front of everyone. She simply and kindly told me what I was doing wrong, and we kept moving. Because I was accustomed to her correction, I did not crawl into a corner and suck my thumb.
With the advent of American Idol and other music competitions, we sit through torturous auditions from hopeful musical sensations whose parents should have told them the truth: They can’t sing! In an effort to shield their feelings in youth and avoid making them feel foolish, parents actually set their children up for huge failures where they make actual fools out of themselves. Instead of helping these children find their true talents, well-meaning parents instead distract from those real talents, investing in career paths their children never had a chance at to begin with, and providing the world with ample opportunity to laugh our butts off.
Now for the real point: we all need improvement. In both our personal and professional lives, we all need to grow and develop, and to do that means we have to see ourselves clearly to know what areas need the most work. Putting blinders on to our shortcomings is the death knell to personal growth, and it impedes the honor of earned success. I fear for a generation who believes it is too special to need change and who never faced the cold hard truth that success is hard earned if it’s worth having at all.
For every time my feelings were hurt by not being considered great and for every time I didn’t get praised for mediocrity, I am grateful. In the end, the success I actually achieved improved my real self-worth and drove me to walk away truly a winner.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.
Photography by Karner Blue Photography