Living in the Moment: Finding Courage

“So here’s my plan:
I’m going to make fewer plans. I’m going to stop allowing
the 'can’ts,' 'shouldn’ts,' and needn’ts' 
to dictate my days
and spend more time doing the things I want to do.
I have made some impromptu decisions in the past
that have wound up being the most incredible experiences
and have opened up so many doors, so why not do that all the time?
I think that allowing ourselves to live in the moment
can help build momentum
towards embracing life
and all of its possibilities.”

-From “Playlist 9: Think Less, Do More

Several weeks ago I had this mini-epiphany— one that I've had before— about living in the moment, seizing opportunities and being open to new experiences.

Openness provides a person with the chance to change in a positive, organic way. This includes openness to what life has to offer, and openness to growth. It's being willing to try new things, even if they seem a bit impractical or risky and out of the ordinary for our "regular" daily lives.

I want to make this disclaimer: I'm not necessarily speaking about radical changes. I'm not necessarily encouraging you to quit your job, moving to Asia and become a rice farmer (although if that is your dream, then perhaps it's something you should consider). For now, I'm talking about things that are small, attainable and easily incorporated into your daily life.

I will say, I have seen others make such drastic changes to their lives and share publicly about how incredible their journeys have been. I also realize that that mindset may not be for everyone. I'm not sure how large this "living in the moment" mindset will grow for me, but it's something I'm continuing to explore as I move forward. 

Growing up, I didn't even have a concept about what this type of openness meant. My family and I went through some tough times when I was young and because of that, I feel that I was very protected as a child. At the time, I was happy for it because I felt it was something I needed, but I took it to the opposite extreme where I developed a fear of trying new things, no matter how small. 

Yes, my parents encouraged me to branch out. But the truth of the matter is that I got comfortable with what I knew and was often unwilling to stray from that. This resistance often resulted in me missing out on some potentially wonderful opportunities. Predictability and consistency were my friends, and living in the moment was nearly impossible.

I realize now that all of those choices, including choosing to turn down opportunities, helped me become the person I am today, which is a person that I'm proud of being. In looking back, I know that I was also really limiting myself.

When I stop to think about when my mindset started to change, I am brought back to 2002, where 13 year-old me decided to take a risk and audition for a talent competition when my family and I were on vacation. I had always loved to sing but would never dare do it outside of my own house or my friends' backyards.

I remember the audition so vividly: I walked into a small cozy room, told the panel my name, and was asked to sing a bit of a song. I sang one verse of "Whole Again" by Play and stopped because the chorus went too high for me. How I managed to land a spot in the show with that audition is beyond me.

Maybe the whole "family resort" idea helped my case in that they didn't want to exclude a shy little teenager. Whatever the reason, I was elated to be picked and spent several hours over several days trying to choose the best song to perform. I ultimately landed on "You're Still The One" by Shania Twain, and actually think I sounded pretty great for my lack of experience.

My usual crowd of 6 parents was amplified to several hundred strangers who I could barely see from the big stage I was standing on. I was terrified, but remember feeling so proud of myself afterwards, especially after hearing a lot of positive feedback from the "judges." My mom will never forget that one of them commented on me looking "too old for my age" as I was wearing a black spaghetti strap dress. It was a pretty conservative dress, but being tall and apparently quite poised for my age, I guess I gave off an air of maturity that was critiqued.

I think that experience was a catalyst for me, a boost of bravery that increased my confidence and even helped make some friends. People at the resort recognized me from the show for days to come, and would stop me to compliment my performance and chat. It was such a special feeling to be acknowledged in that way; I have always been an introvert and was surprised and pleased to hear such positivity after putting myself out there.

I didn't win the competition. But, the resort continued hosting this contest for the following two summers; I competed both times and with it, my confidence continued to soar. Having a very contained, controlled environment like a family vacation resort was a bubble of sorts, one where I felt safe and less exposed than if I were to sing in front of classmates or in my everyday community. The recognition was limited and I was able to get comfortable with taking risks in performing and use the confidence to help me blossom in other areas.

Fast forward to 2007, and I pulled the same move in my high school's Senior Showcase. I was extremely quiet in high school, with a small group of close friends and some others that I knew from many years of sitting in alphabetized rows. As graduation approached I knew I wanted to sing, but was absolutely terrified. Only a handful of people in school knew I sang, and even less had ever heard me sing, but I knew it was something I wanted to before leaving my safe haven and heading off to college.

Another unbelievable experience came from that, which left an equally strong impression on me even a decade later (which, by the way, is a very hard pill to swallow, being out of high school for ten years already). People were shocked that I could sing, and for a brief time I felt like people knew who I was— an uncommon feeling for me back then. I took a huge risk singing to my whole school, but the satisfaction of embracing the new opportunity was well worth it.

Music has played a significant part in my quest to become more open to life's opportunities since my first on-stage moment. I have since auditioned for several larger-scale talent competitions (American Idol and The Voice to name a few), and although nothing came of them, I made memories and took chances, which are both invaluable to me now. I was part of two performance groups in college (a show choir and an a’cappella group) and spent several years singing the National Anthem at campus sporting events.

Sometimes, you just have to take the leap of faith. In part 2, I’ll share about my college years and how singing brought me even further out of my shell and onto the path that would become my future.

When did you first come out of your shell?
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