I did a lot of singing in high school.
It started with church music. If you attend a small church and they sense any tidbit of musical talent, you will be recruited to help with the music. This seems to be a universal small-church rule. Once you’re recruited, you can’t quit.
It’s like the Hotel California, but not as cool.
From church music I moved to classical vocal training: arias from operas, songs in Latin, and solos from musicals. Various performances, annual recitals. I sang in so many weddings.
One recital (my junior year of high school, I think), I was performing On My Own from Les Miserables. Such a beautiful, emotional song. It was one of my favorites, and I was thrilled to perform it. So, of course, even though it was the least challenging song vocally, I was most nervous about singing it.
It started fine: I came in on cue, my voice was steady, my nervousness, as always, calmed by the actual singing.
Nerves are always worst before you start something, aren’t they? Once you start doing the thing, your attention goes to the doing so you don’t have as much to spare for the freaking out.
Halfway through the song, I blanked on the lyrics. I couldn’t remember the next line.
As I’m singing the current line–in front of an audience small enough to notice every mistake, trying to be poised, following the melody, articulating the words—I am internally freaking out because the next line is coming closer and faster and I have no idea what it is.
Of course, I know what it is: I’ve sung the song a few hundred times by this point. For some reason, though, my brain was like: Nah. You can’t have it this time.
So I’m holding out the last note of the line I’m singing, and my body starts to tremble with anxiety and I start sweating and this is not good because it’s difficult to hold a note clear and steady when your entire body is trembling.
I look at the audience: there’s my family. There’s my teacher. There are the other students, in various states of readiness, fear, and relief. There are friends, people I know well, people who are here to support me. There are some strangers. They’re all looking at me. The note ends and I take a deep breath and it’s time for the next line and I still can’t remember the next line and I open my mouth and I don’t know what I’m going to sing and I realize, right then, that I can sing the same line again, it’s a repeating melody, it will fit, and so I do and no one seems to notice.
I mean, I’m sure my teacher notices, and probably a couple of the other vocal students. But no one else has a clue. My body stills. My voice steadies. I sing the repeated line, and suddenly all the words come back and I finish the song and sit down.
I feel triumphant.
Why triumphant? I didn’t do it right. It certainly wasn’t my best performance. I messed it up. I forgot the words. It wasn’t perfect, wasn’t anywhere close to perfect.
Why triumphant? Because there was a problem, and I solved it.
(Never mind that it was a self-created problem; most of them are.)
Triumphant because there was a difficulty, a moment of potential failure, an instant when I could have crashed, goofed, stumbled, embarrassed myself, cemented my internal mistake into an external, obvious mess-up.
And I didn’t.
I handled it. I stayed calm, I saw another option, I made a quick decision and acted on it and everything worked out fine.
Our moments of power don’t come when everything is okay. They don’t come when everything is easy.
We’re not aware of our power in times when it’s not needed. We become aware when we’re desperate for a solution and we look around for help and realize: Oh, it’s me. I have to figure this out.
There’s always a choice: plunge forward, trusting yourself, or give up. Giving up can look like failure, but it can also look like pausing, holding back, prepping and planning, waiting for some unnameable thing that signifies readiness.
You are the unnameable thing.
Awareness of our power comes when we face resistance and overcome it. Awareness of our power comes when we meet difficulty and do not stop for it.
Awareness of our power comes when we see fear ahead, in our way, and instead of backing down we plunge into it and push through it.
Awareness of our power comes not in the absence of pain, but in the presence of it. Pain gives us a scenario, a backdrop, a challenge.
Pain gives us a chance to flex.
Success–our idea of success–is weird.
We think of success as a static state. We look at other people and see their success from the outside. It looks solid. It looks like something they’ve built, something they’ve accomplished. A structure, an object.
When we experience moments of power, we may not recognize them for what they are: success.
Our idea of success is an achievement. Our moments of power are just that: moments. Fluid experiences, a flow of emotion and decision, an interaction and play of our characters with the backdrop of the moment.
But success has never been a thing, a state, a place, a goal, an achievement. Success is action, one action: doing the thing you want to do right now.
When success doesn’t come easily, there’s an opening.
There’s a spotlight on the stage.
Here’s a moment, and by my choice I can make it a moment of power. I can push through the part that’s not easy. I can believe in my own ability, or I can sit down and wait for help, wait for something or someone to save me.
We’ve all made the choice to be passive in our own lives. It’s easier.
But it’s not better.
In fact, here’s something I’ve learned: I’d rather be pushing through pain than sitting in passivity. I’d rather be in the struggle, active, than sitting on the sidelines, waiting. The pain of effort, the push into fear, the energy and focus needed to overcome resistance or dismantle difficulty: these are ways we know we are alive.
That’s the triumph: to be fully alive, fully aware. To live, awake. That’s power, because it’s our attention focused on the moment, the here-and-now, making it what we want it to be.