“I can’t go for that job- there’ll be way more qualified people than me going for it.”
“Why should I even bother asking her out, she’s way out of my league.”
“I’m not getting up to sing, I’ll just look like an idiot in front of everyone!”
So instead we sideline ourselves. We lose before we even start. We endure that mix of regret over our perceived shortcomings, and envy for the amazing, talented, beautiful people who are “better” or more “worthy” than we are. On the one hand we tell our kids “C’mon, don’t be shy!” when they hide behind our leg upon meeting a stranger (Guilty as charged- I did the same when my kindy teacher introduced himself to me on my first day of school. That’s no slight on him- he was awesome!) We tell them “Don’t be a baby!” when they refuse to dive into the cold pool for swimming lessons. Yet on the other hand as supposedly “rational” and “mature” adults, we shirk opportunity in our own lives out of stubbornness (or is it fear?)
Growing up, my Dad would encourage me to take part in as many events as I was eligible for at school sports carnivals. I was quite competitive as a kid, and took a lot of pride in being the best, or being one of the best. I didn’t want to take part in events where I’d suffer the indignity of coming last- why bring shame on myself? Dad told me he’d usually end up being points champion at his school sports carnivals. Not because he was an amazing athlete, but just because he would take part in anything he could and the points would tally up. As for me, I fluked my way into learning the lesson of “You got to be in it to win it” when I was still in Primary school.
You see, back in Year 1, I was a naughty kid. At least that’s what I remember thinking at the time. While the other kids would fill out their textbooks, learning boring stuff like how to tell the time, I’d get stumped, give up and camp myself down on the carpet where I’d start building hovercrafts out of Duplo. Soon enough, my teacher would discover what I was up to, scold me, dump my invention into the Duplo crate and sternly order me back to work. I got told off by her a lot. I was also poor at reading (oddly enough in hindsight) and well- let’s just say I wasn’t one of these quiet, obedient kids who wrote neatly or sat up straight at my desk. My friend (and fellow partner in Duplo truancy) was the naughtiest kid in our class. Takes one to know one, I guess!
Not only that, but my class was a composite one- made up of 2nd grade kids as well. So when my teacher sat us all down one afternoon with exciting news that our class would be doing a stage production of ‘Cinderella’, I figured she’d give all the leading roles to the ‘good’ kids and prominently the more mature 2nd graders. In kindergarten my class had done a play about the rainforest, to interpretive dance, and I’d been cast to wave a cane umbrella on stage imitating fungi. During the performance at assembly, I’d begun waving my arms about wildly while dancing, because making the 5th and 6th graders laugh in the audience was fun! I’d been a complete show-off and no doubt my (now) 1st grade teacher had been watching that day. So no way would she want me mucking up and spoiling our class play with my antics!
Her method of casting was to ask for a show of hands as to who wanted each role. She’d pick somebody for the assigned roles and move on to the next part. Obviously I wasn’t eligible to play Cinderella or the Stepsisters, so I sat there quietly as she picked the girls for those roles. Then she asked “Ok- who wants to be Prince Charming?”
In that split moment I thought “This’ll be funny- I’ll put my hand up as a joke!” I mean, of course she’d reward one of the well-behaved, hard working boys by making them the leading man instead. This was Prince Charming, not the court jester! But still, I couldn’t resist the urge to be a smartarse and make people laugh, so I boldly put up my hand.
Memory says I was the only boy who raised his hand- or maybe the other boys didn’t get to raise theirs in time? Either way, to my amazement my teacher chose me! I was in disbelief- this hadn’t gone to plan! I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in our class who couldn’t believe that out of everyone, the Prince would be me…
As it turned out, I loved being Prince Charming. From the costumes to the choreography to the music and props- the play was a hit and I was proud being such a major part of it. Not only that, but kids I didn’t know would point in the playground as I went past and say “Hey look, it’s Prince Charming!” I felt like a movie star. Mum later told me how my teacher had shared with her that “She couldn’t have imagined anybody else being Prince Charming.”
All because I thought I’d be stupid and raise my hand…
Since that afternoon, there have been numerous other occasions where I will “raise my hand”- and get a nice surprise just because I’m willing to give myself a chance. Raising my hand (literally or metaphorically) has seen me do everything from making the front page of the local newspaper, to receiving praise after a job interview I didn’t think I was qualified for, to appearing on a television game show- and winning! Too often, people are sabotaged by self-doubt and in doing so, rob themselves of a chance to grow, learn or have a fantastic life experience. All because they disqualified themselves. Regret often doesn’t surface until days, weeks- even years later. Time only moves one way. So what if you fail or get passed up? Fortune, as they say, favours the brave.
If reading this right now has stirred something that makes you feel challenged, then taking the opportunity to write this has been worth it. I’m glad if something has awoken in you. It is more honourable to go down in flames than to not even light that spark of chance to begin with. You do it enough times, and believe me- sooner or later you will get to enjoy the fireworks!