Some birthday musings

Knowing how much I don’t know

My whole life, I’ve been discovering just how much I have yet to learn.  I think at one time, I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge, of my limited understanding of the world. The nuances of politics (or lack thereof) continues to evade me. The depth and breadth of math and science scrambles my brain. While I like reading, my patience and attention for literature is saved for simpler stories. My 19-year-old read and devoured “Beowulf” – the thought of medieval literature gives me hives.

Growing up, I always felt young and naive. I wasn’t one of those street smart kids who had seemingly innate knowledge or wisdom. I wasn’t one of the “smart kids.” I was, in my eyes, wholly average. My academics were good, but not exemplary. I seemed to surround myself with much smarter people, maybe in an attempt to observe, listen, and pick up a thing or two (or  a thousand). 

Drama, dance and music were activities that excited me and I developed great passion for. I worked hard, pursued them with singular focus. I was good, maybe really good, but I was never the wunderkind.  My parents and friends were impressed, but I was not the star of the show. I watched intently, followed the lead of the ones who were, and tried to pick up some of their technique and style. I had great teachers, who helped me develop over the years, and there was always so much I didn’t know, that I had to catch up on. 

I just turned 50. While it seems like an age that my kids certainly consider “old,” save for my uncooperative hip muscles, I do not feel like my years should suggest. In my mind, I’m still that teenager or 20-something that doesn’t know much, but is always trying to catch up. Regardless, I am of that age where I have developed some wisdom that I think bears sharing. I’ve taught for 25 years, raised a family, and I have things to contribute to society. Hopefully, I can use this second act of my life to spread some of that wisdom around to others who may feel just as lost and floundering as I once did.

Time = experience

The hardest thing to realize is that everything comes with time. Understanding, success, wealth – they all require an evolutionary processing of information and experience. There’s little pride in the fleeting rush of instant gratification, and an instant disappears just as fast as it arrived. When you develop the mindful patience that comes with years of experience, you learn to stretch the instances of joy into enduring truths. Maybe there’s a Zen Buddhist thought in there, but that’s not something I’ve studied – yet.

Waxing philosophic for a moment, I have some thoughts about my life so far that I hope someone out there can connect with.

Not everyone is destined for “greatness.” Most people live somewhere in the middle. That’s certainly the place where I have gained the most perspective. I think being a middle-of-the-pack type of person has been a gift.  It’s given me humility, grit, stick-to-itiveness. These qualities have driven me to take advantage of certain opportunities, or create my own, especially when no one was banging down my door with offers. They have helped eliminate the expectation that I am supposed to be something specific, based on someone else’s assessment of who or what I should be. It has given me the space to determine who I am, what I want, and what gifts I have to offer the world. 

Self-determination is a highly sought after concept.  It requires a high degree of motivation, energy and persistent ability to mobilize your resources into action. After college, where I learned to be a little more independent and adventurous, I pursued the life of a performer. Following that path was hard, fun, and taught me resilience. That path also revealed how much I needed to do something else – something that better connected the arts to humanity. That connection was teaching. 

To become a teacher, I needed schooling I didn’t have with a degree that wasn’t easily available. The only viable graduate program for me was at Teachers College, Columbia University, which (in my mind) seemed like a gargantuan reach, given my self-perception of not being as smart as a typical Columbia student. It would have been easy to talk myself out of pursuing the degree. The distance, time and expense would have been great excuses to forget the whole thing. I didn’t have an undergraduate degree that supported my next career move. What did I have? Tenacity. Desire. Work-ethic. Energy. Motivation. I also had and opportunity that I wasn’t willing to give up. There was a do-or-die sensibility to my decision and I am a never-say-die kind of gal. 

I graduated from Columbia with a Masters degree. 

You are always more than you think you are. Through my teaching, I took advantage of opportunities and subsequently, created more for others. I taught my students that I don’t accept “I can’t” or “I’m not.” The messaging was always that they are better than they think they are, and that I needed them to show up. I taught them all the things that brought me to this moment. I wanted them to know that how they can broaden their perception of themselves and allow for mistakes and growth. Through these things, they too can be self-determinant. 

Through my teaching, in creating a better opportunity for them, I opened a door for myself as well. During the isolating hell of the pandemic, in the least likely situation to proliferate, I was able to create something impactful and educational through the dramatic arts. I curated a play that my kids performed virtually, then later self-published that play. This activity opened a door to something I’d never before considered – authorship. I’ve been writing for myself for a long time. Developing my voice, writing my thoughts down, shaping them – was always a therapeutic exercise that helped clear my head and realize what was really going on in my brain. Putting those thoughts out there for others to ingest – well, that was something new.

Don’t be afraid to consider yourself in a different light. This is so hard. We spend so much time defining ourselves in certain ways, that we often don’t have the space to try on new hats. I’ve always tried to be mindful of new opportunities, trying to see if a new door could be opened in the future. From the publication of the play, I suddenly had a new hat – it had an “author” label and I was a bit uncomfortable wearing it at first. Then I self-published another book, a memoir, six months later. Then I was asked to contribute a chapter for an upcoming case study book. All of these opportunities could have easily been shelved if I didn’t consider myself worthy or capable of following through. My new hat is growing on me, and I’m hoping I will eventually wear it well.

Most of the things I’ve done, while not world-renowned (yet), have had importance to people other than myself. My teaching opportunities have enabled me to shake up a few thousand adolescents and make them act on becoming their best selves. My writing has started to make an impact on people who never knew I had something to say. Being a parent has helped me understand the importance of unconditional love, patience, and eliminating expectations that may be inappropriate to ask of someone else. Pursuing #geriatricgymnastics has kept my brain-body connection active and always working out new problems. There’s so much to do in life!

My first 50 years have been educational and illuminating. Now, I’m excited to learn just how much I do not know. I just hope this brain has the space to remember it all. Maybe it’s time to do some word puzzles…

Visit my Amazon Author Page to read the books I’ve published!

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