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If there was any doubt in the value of Music, or The Arts, then just think: What is it that you say the moment you meet someone who has created something that has affected you like nothing else could, changed you from the inside out, and tapped into the reserves of light and humanity that you didn’t know existed?
You grab their hands, or hug them breathless and say T H A N K Y O U.
I have been sitting on an email for a week. It’s been utterly ridiculous. It’s been a mixture of admiration, respect, and wanting to connect that I’ve gone back and forth on the draft for the last 6 days, polling myself and every decision-making cell in me as to whether I should send it.
It was a complimentary and joyful email; if I were the recipient, it would honestly make me smile, and probably make my day. But for some reason I found myself completely stuck, unable to send this one off. Why? Part of it was not wanting to get it wrong, part of it was pride, my own and the other person’s, that I didn’t want it misinterpreted and did I even have a right to send such a joyful, carefree email to someone I wanted to connect with?
But mostly it was fear.
And I thought to myself, Why am I so afraid?
This is one snapshot in my entire life, 11 seconds of my day. What am I afraid of? Rejection? Contempt? An answer? Not getting what I want? A throw-away response that cheapened my effort?
The curious thing was, I really didn’t know. Normally I am totally on the pulse with my own reactions and emotional compass. But where something really matters and I have a great deal invested, it becomes so much harder. I ended up, embarrassingly, doing three mental “pro-con” lists over the course of the week. I wanted a secure response, something that would indicate that I wouldn’t look like a total fool sending this, be misunderstood, and that it would be taken in exactly the right frame of mind.
The other extraordinary thing? I am never this indecisive in my professional and other parts of my personal life. I am usually optimistically realistic about things; you have to get yourself in there, stand your ground, say your piece, and be ready to invite conversation and interaction.
This morning, I woke up with a thought on the tip of my tongue, Maybe you’re afraid of getting what you want.
I’ve actually never really understood that phrase. Whenever I hear someone else say it, I think, My GOD! I would be thrilled to get what I want! Give me that sort of reliability any day and I’ll roll with it! Put in effort, get a result, I like it!
But this morning, I got just the tiniest understanding of that phrase. If I got exactly the outcome I wanted, WHERE TO NEXT?
Would I have the confidence to navigate the next step, to invite this idea and interaction into my life, and have the courage to invest of myself?
But that’s what life is, isn’t it? A series of tiny little moments where you play. There is a tiny invitation which makes your stomach flip, and then you respond. In friendship, in taking a leap of faith, in making the first connection to someone who catches you unawares, in giving a compliment, in going after something, in creating and living.
I sent the email.
I dared to play.
And do you know what the extraordinary thing was?
The moment I sent it, despite how scary it was, I felt as light and as illuminated as I could possibly feel.
And I knew that not sending it, and not daring to play with the greater universe, is far scarier than daring to play.
I am a sucker for completing everything on my list and then allowing myself to have the reward.
“When I’m done with writing reports, then I can give that person a call.”
“When I finish cleaning, then I can have a glass of wine.”
“When I get to that savings goal, then I can treat myself to a brunch!” (Which will probably be pancakes…!)
I am a big fan of delayed gratification. It is well-documented in the “Marshmallow Challenge”, which pits 4-year-olds against the temptation of having one marshmallow immediately, or wait 4 minutes and get two, that those who can delay gratification work smarter, longer, harder, and are much more effective regulators of themselves and their decisions as adults.
But when that reward becomes, “…then I will allow myself to unwind, decompress, get out of go-mode, and be myself”, we hit dangerous territory. If I only allowed myself to be playful and have fun when I ticked off everything on my list, I would never catch the snippets of joy. I would never be the girl cracking jokes, or leaning into the tender moments, seeing the wistful glance, or able to grab the unexpected opportunities, and I would never experience anything from a different point of view.
Being so rigid with my expectations of myself can produce great rewards, and discipline is a wonderful task-master for effective living.
But there MUST be moments of the unexpected, particularly when it comes to humanity, joy, play, and love.
Simply, there is no perfect time to be human. You have to do it right now. You need to catch those unexpected moments of connection, take the two minutes to run over and see someone in person rather than hiding behind your laptop, grab the coffee (and eat the cake!), choose to laugh at the joke and engage, rather than worry about meeting every deadline that is crowding you.
You have to look hard and practise catching and creating those moments of humanity.
You can’t dress-rehearse love, or grief, or sickness, or death. They happen. Life unfolds, with all it’s intensity and colour, and if you don’t decide to be a part of those moments right now because they aren’t conveniently on your schedule, then you will miss out on so much.
By the way, I should mention that there is no perfect way to grieve, heal, or apologise. You take time, you pick your moment, and you go in, ALL IN. You can’t create the perfect reception for an apology if you have to give one. There is no guarantee that the other person will welcome a hard conversation, or if they will to listen to you at all. You do it because you choose to, it’s driven by your moral compass, and it’s in your integrity.
Same goes for love. There’s no containing the unexpected, playful whisper of love and connection. You can’t conveniently compartmentalise it until you’re done with your Official Day Self. You just are. Don’t be foolhardy and ignore all you responsibilities, your goals, your daily activities, but let life in to play when it invites you. It’s unexpected, delightful, stomach-flipping, and all that is real. And when the unexpected decides to tug at your heart, let it.
Don’t let go of your lists. That’s being ambitious, motivated, and working with agency.
But dare to catch those unexpected invitations to play, in life, in living, in yourself.
Without those, you will never connect, fall in love, wonder, day-dream, or create.
Schedule is KING, but daring to wander, dream and play is LIVING.
I was thinking about all the moments that were ever worthwhile between myself and my beautiful Year 12 Tutor Group this year. They are an amazing crew, so many different personalities, talents, characters, and insights. So many different backgrounds and understandings.
The thing about the Year 12s, the most senior of our students, is that they are the easiest and hardest to support and really know. I naively thought this year would be easy; to have the rapport built over the last two years to draw from. And yes, in many ways it is, as I’ve built a strong connection + have a history and storyline with my students.
But in so many ways, it’s harder. They are focused, stressed, and consumed by their thoughts, their lives, and their studies. They have goals and aspirations, and sometimes no time for simple, playful conversation. They are pulling away into the beautiful young adults they are becoming; strong, courageous, young, scrappy, imperfect, and breathtakingly authentic.
And it turns out that I have a fear-factor in me as well. I selfishly need to see some return on my endeavours to support, connect, and open a conversation. Oh, these are good students, they are polite and open in conversation. They will always talk to and laugh with me, accept my help and guidance, and respond to what I ask for.
But that’s not connection. That’s not really knowing them.
So I have been daring my arse off. Every time there has been a “sliding door” moment; a chance to do something a little more silly and playful, creative, imaginative, or to open ups a conversation that might be a little too tender or joyful, I say yes. I do it. I make sure I cheer at every achievement. I celebrate every birthday. I grieve with them. I bring in lollies, brownies, and tissues and spoil them a little bit. I show my stress, my love for them, my gratitude, my frustration, my sense of fun. I unfurl myself and engage, so that they might as well.
And it’s in saying yes to every silly, playful, scary moment and inviting that awkward few seconds of “What if?”, that I have found the most authentic connection between me and my beautiful class of Year 12s, young adults on the brink of taking flight.
It’s easy to live safely. The recipe is simple: Put your heart someplace safe. Protect it from harm. Hold it, swaddle it, put it gently into a cocoon with multiple layers of padding + intensive wrapping.
But if you want anything from life, you must be stretched.
And if you want any part of connection, you must set your heart free.
If you want to connect, you must figure out a way to forgive.
Imperfectly, messily. With a hunger for life and reaching out again for the next, “What’s next?”
It’s a funny, tender tightrope, this whole “being human” thing. A heart is also a curious entity, designed to be so utterly tender, yet courageous and able to stretch with the happenings of life. Strong, yet surprisingly supple. Sensitive. Yet limitless in its ability to accommodate the stretching of life, of grief, of ache, of disarray.
Let it, oh! Let it, please.
Otherwise, the edges will curl and go brittle.
You won’t know what it’s like to take too many breaths before going underwater, or. be wondering if the pulse in your ears is from fear, or being so alive you feel electric.
Stretch with all the joy and grief that life offers, and every colour in between.
You are supposed to be a little un-nerved, a little too alive, a little off-centre, and a little buzzing from the business of living.
Forgive. You need this to connect, to love, and to live.
Our hearts are with New Zealand.
Why are we always in such a hurry? It’s because we ask more from ourselves in a certain amount of time and with a certain amount of energy than we can possibly give. We squeeze in one, two, or three last things into our days, only to be left feeling frustrated and vaguely empty because we are exhausted from the ordeal, or we have done everything superficially; everything from loving our families, finishing tasks, to taking care of ourselves.
While I absolutely follow the rule of “done is better that perfect”, and relish in the crazy productive dash that allows me my wind-down time at night, I think that we have become a generation obsessed with maxing out our time, getting more “bang for our buck”. This includes working hard, and partying even harder. Why does everything have to be “done” before we are content? And what content is there to be gained by just wallowing in nothingness afterward, exhausted and unable to connect? Is it because there is no expectation of us? Or because we are so hampered and hemmed-in by daily demands that we long of simplicity and some sense of personal freedom? And why should an email inbox produce such anxiety in people that we dread opening our eyes in the morning?
I think that pushing ourselves sometimes is correct, that we should be pulling out all stops sometimes. But these should be for exceptional events, like a baking all-nighter to create something beautiful for a child or family member, the unexpected creative project, the 5-hour long Skype session with someone special. Because that is the right and human thing to do. Because we are made of love.
But I don’t believe in using ourselves up like some inexhaustible resource. We are not designed for that, and it’s just not sustainable. So how do we deal with this?
We can choose to get kinder and clearer on what we can actually do in a day, an hour, a spare 11 minutes. We can choose to be kinder to ourselves when we do not finish something, knowing that we have done all that we can in a day. We can choose clarity of planning and thinking more deeply and comprehensively about things that matter. How conceited we are to think we can pull off anything amazing just because we decide to pour an excess of time into it immediately? What was ever created like that which didn’t drain the life-blood of the creator? Yes, there are some extraordinary exceptions, but everything worth having, be it a strong relationship, a creative project, a deep friendship, a beautiful composition, or raising a healthy and happy child, all require consistent, loving attention and time.
What if we did all our daily tasks in the time they should take for each of us, with full presence of mind, and the awareness to connect, laugh, reflect, consider, and be joyful?
And what if were to stop running around thinking we are each so special that we can each be superhuman, and choose the right amount of things to fit into the minutes that we have. Do each thing with care, and your days become so much richer + worthwhile than a blur of nothings.
Forgive yourself your beautiful humanity + tender vulnerability, and choose to live well.
From Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. This paragraph makes me “smile out loud” every time I read it.
Her word resonate with surprising urgency for us to embrace our creativity. So powerful for me to read now as I am in a period of intense writing + composing.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” you darkest interior voices will demand.
“It’s funny you should ask,” you can reply. “I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God, just like anyone else. I am I constituent of this universe. I have invisible spirit benefactors who believe in me, and who labour alongside me. The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have the right to be here. I have a right to my own voice and a right to my own vision. I have a right to collaborate with creativity, because I myself am a product and a consequence of Creation. I’m on a mission of artistic liberation, so let the girl go.”
Now you’re the one doing the talking.
I am exhausted, but grateful.
This entire week, but today especially, has been a lesson in connection. I am so grateful for my Year 11 tutor group + my gorgeous Music kiddies who continue to challenge me to think, love, care and connect more deeply. Surprising, perceptive, full of fight, scrappy, big-hearted, generous, genuine, courageously raw + absolutely alive young adults who love and challenge me, and whom I love and wholeheartedly challenge right back. I used to be gentle about this, but lately, I find I’m absolutely all in. In on the hard conversations, in on the grittiness, in on the tough love, in on the massive belly laughs, in on the beautiful poignant moments.
I think I’m doing great, then I realise how much more I can do, or how much I don’t see until the moment I do see. I realise I need to look + listen MORE, catch the moments of connection, and be courageous in my words + actions. That each day presents tiny moments for me to be aware of, often out of my comfort zone, which I can choose to engage with.
I am exhausted, but so very grateful.
The conversations have been gritty, consuming, and revealing. But the connections have been powerful + very real.