Tag: courage

There’s Something About Passion

Born in 1868, Florence Foster Jenkins, above anything else, loved to sing opera. When she was 17 years old, her wealthy father refused to let her go abroad to study music, so she eloped. In 1909 her father died and she used her inheritance to kick start her career, taking lessons and becoming active in Philadelphia and New York City musical social circles. Florence made several recordings and began giving public performances in 1912. There was great demand for tickets to the recitals, but ticketing was typically limited to a few favored associates and friends. Then in 1944, at the age of 76, she gave in and gave a public performance at Carnegie Hall – the event sold out weeks in advance. One month after that success, she passed away.

And so here is the secret about Florence Foster Jenkins: the girl could not sing.

Not a note. She was known for her lack of pitch, tone, and rhythm. She couldn’t even pronounce the words in her foreign language songs. She was popular for the amusement she provided. And while she was aware of her critics (and the laughter her performances evoked from audiences), she really didn’t care. She was doing what she loved. “People may say I can’t sing,” she said, “but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

On the surface it seems like just a precursor to contemporary famous-for-being-famous non-talented reality TV stardom (shudder). But Florence’s story stirred something up inside me.  There’s something about her saying, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” There’s something about passion.risk anything

When I look back on my life it’s the things I did not do or try that I regret the most. I have more, “I wish I would have…” than “I wish I wouldn’t have…”  Thinking back, the reason I didn’t do things was because I was afraid of failure and what people would think of that failure. The funny thing is that in the opportunities I did take, and did fail at, and people did deride me for – I don’t really regret them. In a funny way I have gained strength from them, a sense of increased self-knowledge, a sense of survival and ability to endure and persist through the next challenge.

The library and the bookstore are full of books. You may have received 20 rejection letters from publishers. Does that mean you shouldn’t write? There are millions of corporations and companies around the world. You may have failed all your business courses. Does that mean you shouldn’t start your own business? There are thousands of bands and singers in the world. You may be refused by “American Idol.” Does that mean you shouldn’t sing? Florence Foster Jenkins didn’t think so — and I don’t think she had any regrets.

Who said it was all about success anyway? There’s something about passion.

Fill in the blanks for yourself:

People may say I can’t _______________,

but no one can ever say I didn’t ___________.”

Waves of Change

There’s a different flavor to this entry – much more personally vulnerable than usual, but hopefully helpful to those facing a similar situation.

Alteration, modification, variation, transformation, adjustment, amendment. I like all of these words better than plain old “change”. More syllables somehow gives a sense of fluidity and even feels gentler verbalizing than the abrupt and harsh “change”.

I am facing unwanted, fast change in my life. I don’t mind things ebbing and flowing over the natural course of time. I don’t mind a surprise now and again. But massive, out-of-the-blue change – the kind that knocks you on your rear end and the breath out of your lungs? Or how about the baited change – when you expect one thing and get the other. Of those I’m not much of a fan.

You can utter all the platitudes, repeat all the affirmations, read all the quotes, get patted on the back by friends, and try to pick yourself up. And, most times, in your head you know that things will eventually smooth out and you’ll get back on track again.

Then there are those times when forced change can spin you into the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief. (Here’s a quick list so you don’t have to search: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.) I think there should be another step squeezed in there somewhere: being frozen.

For more than a few months now I have been going through a tough time spurred by a rising river of unwanted, uncontrollable change. I was expecting some change, but it came in greater number, speed, and force than I had prepared for. It spilled out of the river banks and wiped away the sandbags I had stacked around certain areas of my life. Nothing was protected. All I could do was stand there and watch it pour over me and around me and watch it carry everything in every area my life away with it. There has been nothing that hasn’t been affected. I haven’t really talked about it with anyone at any length and prayer bounces off the ceiling. Writer’s block has taken full root (this entry is one of maybe three things I’ve written in months). I put up a barricade by freezing myself from feeling anything or reacting to anything, relegating myself to a sort of half-life:  there physically but not emotionally.

Then last week, something sort of happened.  I continued to be deluged by unexpected blows and watching myself not responding. Maybe it was a “last straw” type of thing but when I received one certain piece of news I sunk down into the chair I was sitting in and thought to myself, “But I don’t want to be an empty shell person.” When you stop fighting all the changes, but not in a let’s-figure-this-out-and-move-on kind of way, then you allow the changes to beat you up and toss you emotionally and spiritually into nothingness. I’ve seen people like that. They’ve resigned themselves to victim status and accept whatever is thrown their way, thinking it is what they deserve, too worn out to hope for anything more. Their lights go out. And they never recover. I said, out loud, “I don’t want to be like that. I want to recover. I don’t want other people to face that, I want to help them recover before it’s too late.” And a little spark was lit. 

It wasn’t a blinding revelation, there was no instant transformation.  I still feel very deflated.  But there is a spark.  A lot of tears have blurred my eyes as I’ve written this entry. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen from here. I don’t know if Burn Bright will change (or even continue) as a blog or business. I don’t know where I’ll be living or working or worshipping or people I’ll hang out with, or activities I’ll participate in this coming year. But rather than roll up in a frozen ball and be tossed in the waves as the changes continue, I’m going to try to thaw, stretch out, bodysurf, and ride them to whatever shore they are taking me. 

Don’t Settle

Don’t ever settle for ordinary, average, unexceptional.  I’m not talking about the scale, quantity, or fame of your achievement, but rather in the quality and influence of your purpose.  Investing in people, building your confidence by stepping out of your comfort zone, and being bold will drive you forward and bring increase.

The value of your purpose is neither in its size nor in the acknowledgement of others.  Feeding a family in your neighborhood, feeding the homeless downtown, feeding millions in Africa – which has more value?  Whichever one is done with passion and out of compassion.   Whichever one challenges you to step outside of yourself.  Whichever one is done with excellence.  And no one can really know this except you.  How many you reach pales in comparison to the quality of your reach.

Even when you’re feeling small, or others think of you as small, don’t settle for mediocre. Taking the easy route will always leave you feeling less than confident in what you have to offer and keep you from moving onward and upward in your purpose.

mediocrity

My “Aha” Moment from “Legally Blonde”

GROWTH

Elle Woods

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods

In the movie comedy Legally Blonde, the character of Elle Woods was originally on the road to a career in fashion merchandising.  There was nothing wrong with her dream.  It’s what she wanted, it’s what she was good at, and she had the complete support of her fawning sorority sisters, jetsetter family, and old-money fiancé.  But when her fiancé, an aspiring lawyer heading to Harvard Law School, breaks up with her, Elle wants to win him back.  Much to everyone’s surprise, she is able to pass the Law School Admissions Test and is accepted at Harvard.  It is here her worldview is shaken.  She does not fit in with the culture and is considered a joke by people at every turn.  People think she is dumb, especially her ex-fiancé.

Rather than retreat, Elle takes the opinion on as a challenge and raises the bar (no pun intended) for herself.  Applying herself in her new culture, she discovers she actually understands and enjoys the law.  Applying her social skills from her old culture, she builds a support base of quirky friends around her. She begins a new journey. Eventually it is a combination of old and new skills and abilities that bring her success and a new life.  But not, of course, without the mandatory make-it-or-break-it moment along the way.  At one point Elle decides that it is more than she can handle.  She decides to give up, crying “No more trying to be something that I’m just… I’m just not.”   Her friend’s response:

What if you’re trying to be somebody you are?”

Those are brilliant words.  That was a personal “aha” moment for me.

We tend to think that our past, our present, and our future are at war with each other, and that the only way into the next one is to make a violent break with the previous one.  While there is certainly old luggage that we don’t want to carry with us that often takes ruthlessness to let go of, to totally thrash all we have ever known is usually a mistake.

When you are in the process of discovering your purpose in life, you take into account the passions you have, the talents God has given you, and the dreams you hold.  Those passions and talents and dreams didn’t just drop into your heart yesterday.  They have been building and interweaving your whole life.  Your experiences, both good and bad, have influenced them and helped direct their growth.  As you move towards your purpose, things begin to adjust.  One of your passions cools down.  You discover a different outlet for your talent.  You discover a hidden talent. The journey to your dream slows wa-a-a-y down or perhaps picks up what feels like too much speed.  This can be disconcerting, it can be hard.  It can cause you to question yourself.  It may feel like you’re trying to be something you are not.  But,

What if you’re trying to be somebody you are?”

Proverbs 25:2 tells us that God takes pleasure in concealing things and we have the privilege of discovering them.  And the verse that follows talks about the endless depth and width of our heart.

We need to recognize that there is so much more to and for us, and we need to go after it and find it.

  • Rather than look at your past as an enemy, why not use it as a resource?  Start looking through all the dirt and find the gold.
  • Rather than being in such a rush to leave the present to get into the future, why not make the most if it?  Start looking at everything you have going for you now and see what other possible applications there might be.
  • Rather than stubbornly holding onto what you insist your future must be, loosen your grip and expand your horizons.

You can be more than anybody thinks, expects, or wants you to be.  You can surprise everyone, including – just like Elle Woods did – yourself.

EXCELLENCE

“Excellence means when a man or woman asks of himself more than others do.” (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

PURPOSE

“There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born. That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission – a mission for which he is uniquely qualified. In that moment, he finds greatness. It is his finest hour.”  (Sir Winston Churchill)

Can You Fake Courage?

GROWTH

An easy way to develop yourself is to read how other people develop themselves.  My friend over at the blog Neeserisms, always has thoughtful insights about her life’s journey.  A current entry is all about how to Encourage Yourself.  Click on the link to enjoy her wisdom.

EXCELLENCE

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Anais Nin

A client (let’s call him Sam*) and I had a really good discussion about courage.  If there is one thing I could bestow upon people who are pursuing their purpose, it would be COURAGE.  Merriam Webster defines it as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”   It goes beyond faith, it goes beyond belief, it goes beyond hope.  I completely agree with C.S. Lewis’ assessment:

 “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

There have been times when I have met the meaning of the word full on, refusing to back down and advancing forward in glory.  Other times I do not.  Other times I isolate myself or run away.  Sam felt the same way.  We agreed that we could both probably withstand most of the onslaughts if we gave it half a shot.  But we don’t.  Sometimes we feel too weary, but mostly we just become fearful.

Then Sam brought up something very interesting – those times when it looks like we are being courageous, when we convince ourselves and others we are being courageous – but it’s absolutely not true.   Sometimes what appears to be moving out into something new and adventurous, is really just a way of avoiding something we need to deal with.

I thought I knew a little bit about this.  A couple of years ago, people told me I was courageous when I left my job.  I wasn’t.  It was just the last of the options available. I have absolutely no regrets about leaving – it was necessary for my mental and physical health – but it wasn’t courage.

But Sam had a different twist to it.  Sam gave up on his business after years of hard work. It was a big dream for him – something he’d been building towards for years.  Things were going really well and they were about to expand to the next level, but within just days of making their planned expansion, one of his partners dropped out.  Sam was devastated.  He had other partners who still wanted to go forward, but Sam’s pride and ego were demolished.  He could shake neither the humiliation nor the fear of losing control again.  When he made a comeback, everybody thought it was so brave of him to start again, so courageous to try it a different way.   But he says now that wasn’t true.  He was actually running from that humiliation and fear – trying to distance himself from it, protecting himself from being hurt again and trying to prove to others he could do it without help.  He told me now he wishes he had had true courage – the resourcefulness to have picked up the broken pieces and forged ahead through the pride and ego, to blaze through the humiliation and fear.  He wishes he would have stayed the course and taken his business to where he really thought it could go.  But he had given up and used doing something different and easier as an excuse.  The result was that he lost a sense of himself along the way, forgotten what his passion was, lost a sense of his purpose, lost a big chunk of his dream.

Sam’s story challenged me.  I wonder how many people have convinced themselves they are being courageous by doing something different but it’s really just an excuse to give up.  I think it can be a super fine line that moves around with the circumstances.

I’d like to hear from you about what you think (or what you’ve experienced).  How do you make the hard call?  When can you tell that you’ve crossed it?

*Story used with permission.  Name has been changed.

PURPOSE

%d bloggers like this: