My mother recently read me a commencement speech she had made at a local high school. She read it to me in hopes that she'd satisfy my endless quest for answers - answers to everything.
Ever since I was very young, I have looked to my parents and grandparents, friends and teachers for guidance. Afraid to make a mistake, I've asked countless times, "What should I do?"
Maybe I was afraid to take my first baby step on my own, I don't remember. But somewhere along the line I decided I only wanted to do things the "right" way, even if it meant not doing something - like trying out for a part in a play. I made "doing it the right way" my credo. What did I miss out on? Maybe I could have landed the part of Dorothy in a local community theatre. Maybe I could have sung a solo with my church choir. I'll never know because I only wanted to do things the "right" way.
Sometime during my high school years, I changed. Maybe it was when I decided to try for the lead in "Beauty and the Beast." Never mind that I would have to memorize lines and choreographed movements, I would take the chance that I might fail. The day of tryouts I was still telling myself, "If you don't think you can do it the right way, just don't go." My heart was pounding. My hands were shaking so badly when I got up to sing, that I wasn't certain the people holding the audition would hear me above the rattle of the paper.
But something happened. When I opened my mouth to sing the sound was loud and powerful and sweet. I reached for the high notes that sometimes were beyond my reach and nailed them. With no crack in my voice. I was trying to do my best even though I might fail. But I didn't.
That audition probably wasn't the end of the trap that kept me from trying but it was definitely an important part of the process. I guess I realize that if I want to live life to the fullest, I have to take chances.
Now, I do take these chances, small ones, with baby steps, every day; voicing my opinions in class discussions or debates, reaching for a high note when I sing in chamber choir, performing in other school plays, riding my horse over a three-foot jump.
Three years ago, I fractured two vertebrae when I fell from my horse going around a hunt course. That was a case of genuine risk that could be considered real failure. I couldn't carry a book bag or take gym for four months. It was both frightening and life limiting. I couldn't ride - didn't want to ride - for nearly a year. The injury meant I couldn't try out for basketball, which I loved. And, the day I tried out for track was the first day my doctor allowed me to do any physical activity at all. The coach didn't take me. I was, after all, out of shape. But I still liked to run, so I started running with my mom. No stop-watches. No cheering crowds. I hadn't made the track team, but I hadn't failed either.
I have finally learned to push myself. I'm taking a tough science course right now. Some of my friends are talking about auditing the class so a low grade won't affect their chances for college. Me, I'm taking the chance that if I try hard enough, I'll get a good enough grade that it won't detract from my strong grades in other subjects.
I have come to realize that even though my parents and grandparents, friends and teachers don't always have the answer to "What should I do?" they will be there to support me when I try.
"Life is learning to deal with Plan B," my mother stated in her speech. But I now know that the Plan A's I make for my life will become easier and easier with every chance I take. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.