Friday, June 12, 2009

Moments that Change Your Life

Susan Miller's horoscope always has interesting tidbits each month that make me think. This bit really resonated with me:

Change is an essential element of life, for the planets continually are on the move. Think back to times you were forced to make changes and worried, only to see that change brought you into an exciting new sphere, and that it was all for good. You probably ended up thankful that you were asked to make them.

Truer words never spoken and all that. I really believe we are always going through a process of change even if we don't realize it. Change can happen instantaneously - you meet the love of your life, a car accident takes someone from you, you get The Call. Whatever the situation, those moments sear into your psyche and forever change your life. Or the change happens slowly, over a number of years, water wearing away stone to new and, hopefully, interesting shapes.

But what I find most interesting are the moments of change that happen in childhood or adolescence. Duh. Why I write YA fiction I guess. We get 18 years of that precious, hopefully magical and not horrendous, time yet we (or at least I) only remember snapshots and snippets of the day to day life. But it's those moments that you might be quite happy completely forgetting about (ie. Most embarrassing, Most disappointing, Most traumatic) that I find most interesting. Because it's those more distressing moments that will be the one(s) that end up being the most potent. The moment(s) that you can look back on later (maybe much later) and eventually say, "I'm glad that happened. I learned and grew from that. Even if it almost killed me."

I have such a moment and every time I think I'm too afraid to do something, or want to avoid a challenge because I'm going to stress over it too much I think about it. So what was the big moment? I tried out for - and won - the female lead in my high school musical, Man of La Mancha.

What's traumatic about that, you say? Sounds like a happy ever after story, right? Um, not so much. For one thing, I was a very anxious, worry-prone kid. To the point that I would literally get sick to my stomach before performances or speeches. I loved theatre arts though. Dreamed of being an actress one day. But how was I supposed to follow my dream if I got so worried about it that I couldn't go out on stage? I don't know what made me try out - maybe I thought I wouldn't get it. Maybe because all my friends were trying out too. Who knows? But when I got the news that I was the lead (and, let's not forget it was a musical and I wasn't the world's best singer by a long shot) I was, to say the least, floored.

I seriously considered dropping out. But when my Mom found out she said that wouldn't be the right thing to do. I'd tried out and had made a commitment from that point on - I had to live up to it. But I don't think she knew how absolutely terrified I was about performing - gah, and singing! - in front of 300 people a night for 3 nights. I was seriously hoping to get a semi-life threatening disease so I could back out. Unfortunately, I wasn't struck down with pneumonia and the play had to go on.

The week before opening night I barely ate. Only then did my mother start to re-think her earlier advice to me (Portuguese mother's don't like it when their children do not eat) but it was way too late to make excuses by then. Opening night loomed large and monstrous in front of me. I spent the hour before the curtains rose in the girls washroom wondering how I could lock myself in and still be able to face my friends the next day. I spent the final few minutes while the orchestra finished its opening overture pacing backstage, muttering to people "Don't talk to me" (I had this awful belief that if someone spoke to me I would be sick on site). Somehow, someway I made it through the performance. I don't remember much of it. And for each of the 3 performances I went through the same process: washroom, pacing, muttering, performing. And somehow I got rave reviews.

But it's not the praise I received for the performance that I think about now. What I think about most is my final thought as I took my final bow on the final night of the musical. As I stared out at the audience, exhausted, emotionally spent, feeling utter relief that the horror was over, seeing my mother standing and cheering me on, having come every night to support me, I thought:

"If I can make it through this, I can make it through anything."

And from that moment on, my anxiety and worry lessened. Not overnight, but over time. I still worry about things but that moment when I'd faced one of my greatest fears - and faced it head on every night for three nights - became a defining moment in my life. A moment of change. There are others, of course, but that was a biggie for me. Maybe the first big moment of change that led to a lot of things I never thought I would do in my life. And I thought, at the time, that it was a horrible experience.

So when my kids face pressures, challenges, dilemmas, or outright defeats, I always think: "Is this their moment of change?" "Will they learn and grow from it?" "Will it make them better people?" I think back to my first big moment of change and wonder where I would be if I hadn't faced my fear. And I'm always - always - thankful I did.

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