The lights are dimming and the crowd begins to hush. Music blares from all corners of the dark, expansive room. A spotlight illuminates the stage and cuts a circle in the red velvet curtain that falls from the ceiling above. In front of that curtain are proud parents and antsy siblings squirming in their seats, eager to be entertained. And behind it are nervous school children with hearts pumping and nerves tingling.
Last week my daughter was in a variety show along with a myriad of other students at Hopi Elementary School. They practiced for months. And I was one of a myriad of parents that toted children back and forth from rehearsal to rehearsal where the kids gradually perfected their acts and readied themselves for the spotlight. Finally their time had come.
As with every talent show, there were those who burst onto the stage with contagious energy and bright smiles, soaking up every ounce of the experience. And there were others who walked onto the platform and suddenly shrunk inside themselves, painfully aware that an entire auditorium of people were staring at them, watching and waiting expectantly.
I couldn’t help but think how every one of us has likely been in both categories at one time or another. Maybe not in a talent show, or on any kind of stage at all. But in our own everyday lives. In the theatre of our work, in the arena of our interaction with others — colleagues, customers, bosses, friends and acquaintances. Sometimes we rise to the occasion and we are present, effusive, bright and shining with enthusiasm and warmth. And other times we wither and withdraw — intimidated, nervous, awkward and doubtful.
In the latter scenario, there is no judge more critical than the one that lives in our own heads. Allowing it to hijack our attention, we quietly exit the scene while our bodies remain, vacant and taking up space. We nod our heads and smile, hear what others say and even comment sometimes. But we are far more engaged in an internal dialogue that has us believing we are not good enough, that we must be a little more of this or less of that. It has us planning and evaluating what we will say in response to a person who hasn’t even finished speaking, their words eclipsed by the roar of preoccupation going on between our own ears.
This is a dismal state to be in. In the midst of all the cruel self-judging, that part of us that is brilliant and loving, warm and engaging in whatever way is uniquely ours is dismissed. Or perhaps disallowed. How could we let it come forth while we banter about in our heads that we need to be anyone other than who we really are?
At the variety show, I really don’t believe the audience would judge a poor kid standing speechless or stuttering at the edge of the stage — but rather would cheer him on, showering him with beams of encouragement and love, silently wishing for him to loosen up, forget about the audience and have a little fun just being himself. And perhaps it is that way in our arenas as well.
When we withhold ourselves, we cheat others of experiencing the brilliance of who we really are. But before we cheat them of it, we cheat ourselves. Many of us are taught and conditioned to be humble and avoid the appearance of arrogance. But we confuse arrogance with self love, which is actually a prerequisite to humility. True arrogance is the product of someone who has no self love, and tries desperately to convince others he is superior and worthy of the very thing he denies himself of.
True humility occurs when we embrace our own greatness and love ourselves in a way that we don’t have to worry about how we are coming across or what others think of us, because we already know we have value. In embracing our own value and allowing our brilliance to shine, we light the way for others to do the same. It is this brilliance that will transform our world, that brings with it the creativity and ingenuity to rise up to our challenges and allow us to do things we never thought we could. Far from being self absorbed, sharing our brilliance in this way is the most generous and loving thing we could do for others. But before we can do it for them, we must do it for ourselves.
So the next time you find yourself engaging in a vicious dialogue that has you believing you are anything less than who you are and keeps you from bursting onto the scene, recognize that for what it is — an old pattern that isn’t doing you or anyone else any favors. The less you feed that dialogue, the less “self absorbed” you are and the more generous you can be with your brilliance. The audience begs you: come onto the stage, forget that you are being watched, have a little fun being who you really are — and show us all how to truly shine.