This I Believe

Lee Kathleen - San Francisco, California
Entered on July 3, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe that once we liberate ourselves from being the best at something we can begin the journey to self-fulfillment.

It’s kind of an American social disease, to be the best. We take much less pleasure in the act than we do in the outcome. As a society, we do not value introspection. We do not even value our own “humanness” over our collective accomplishments.

This year, I finally decided to stop toiling to become a successful opera singer. I have felt much more complete in that “failure” than I have in any success in my life. It began in January when I was singing with the Cleveland Orchestra. As my voice reverberated in their majestic hall, all I could hear was its imperfection. Every note I wrapped my vocal cords around seemed to fall short of my intentions. I could not sense any contribution I was making; I could only stand in judgment of myself. How sad that even in this glorious opportunity of a lifetime, I could not enjoy myself? I was too busy looking to enjoy perfection to enjoy music.

So, one day, after a particularly frustrating practice session I realized something wonderful. I do not have to be the next Maria Callas. I have many gifts to contribute to the world. Yes, there were years of training, and tens of thousands of dollars spent, and my parents who sat white knuckled through auditions… But, I did not sign my joy and freedom away to a speck of raw talent. I was supposed to be an ambassador for great music, not a facilitator of personal angst.

Guess what happened the next day? I loved music again. I loved singing again, because I did not have to be perfect, or even outstanding. I began to feel security where it had consistently eluded me, not just beside the piano, but in my relationships with people, and even just walking down the street.

Slowly, I began to realize my completeness, my humanness. I understand now that I am not defined by the competitions I’ve won, or the orchestras I’ve worked with. I am defined by the small ways I touch the world through people. I am perhaps defined most by the quiet idiosyncrasies that point to my imperfections, and that is quite alright.

I will find my way in the world; I have plenty of time. I may even find my way back to music. But this time, I will gladly stumble, because somehow when I’m lying on the pavement, the music sounds so much sweeter.