It was the winter of 1971 and I was feeling both excited and nostalgic that fall semester was ending. The rebirth of the Christmas season had rolled in with decorations, merriment and blessings – it’s contagious. Yet, it occurred to me this was my last fall semester as a high school student. I knew I would miss my friends, but I was ready to move on – to where, I had no idea. I had no plan.
But, tomorrow is another day and I had a more pressing goal in mind. The spring quartet audition was in two days. I wanted this badly. After hours of singing and note reading I finally earned a spot in concert choir – a prerequisite for the quartet. Junior and senior students are eligible to be in choir, but it took me an entire year to work up the nerve to try out. So my senior year I made it – one of thirteen 2nd altos.
Marilyn was the 2nd alto currently singing with the quartet – the girl I had to beat to win a placement. I began watching her in class and listening carefully to every beautiful resounding note she sang. For my audition I choose a song I imagined she might sing. Audition day rolled around and the challenged goes first. I watched her walk into the audition room and close the door. Minutes later she walked out. It was my turn.
Walking into the tiny room – there was the director, the piano and me. I sang, having one of my best auditions. I was pleased. A few moments later he said Marilyn would keep her position. I’m sure my disappointment and sadness was written all over my face. He sat quietly for a minute. I stood still. I didn’t want to cry.
Finally he spoke, “You did a great job, however it wasn’t better than her, it was only equal too her.” You needed to surpass her to replace her. You could have done that. You choose a song that was better for her – not you. Your ability is singing a wide range of notes, uncommon for a 2nd alto.”
I felt sick. I thanked him and left.
That night at home, still feeling sad about the outcome, I couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation. At seventeen, I was unable to emotionally understand his message – his gift. He was kindly telling me I had lost sight of me. I was so concerned at what she did well; I forgot to focus on what I did well. I was ashamed. That day I lost in more ways than one.
It took me a few years to realize the significance of his gift and I am eternally grateful. Sometimes we need to fail in order to get back up again – stronger and wiser. That lesson has served me well in all areas of my life. There have been many Marilyn’s since that cold winter in 71’. However, I now let them inspire me. I embrace them as best friends. They keep me honest and focused, never letting me forget my best self – my authentic self.
Being your authentic self is not always easy. I’m still working on peeling away the layers of whom I’m expected to be from the true me. It reminds me of the old game show Truth or Consequences, when they finally ask the contestants “Will the real (person’s name) please stand up.”
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