I’m a girl that likes to play things safe. I like to be a Good Girl, following rules and living up to expectations and making people happy and minding my own business. I like to be polite. Generally speaking, I like to fly under the radar and do my own thing.
But there have been times when I’ve broken out of my shell and seen the beauty of embracing my messy self – and oh, how those moments have changed my life.
I was a shy girl growing up, usually content to play with my Barbies or write stories and generally play alone at home while my boisterous brothers got rowdy with their neighborhood pals. I was alone often, but never lonely. My journals, dolls and imagination kept me company.
I never really spoke up for myself, preferring instead to blend into the corner. I took advantage of every opportunity to disappear. I practiced piano as much as I could when people weren’t around, and shut down as soon as someone entered the room. I didn’t speak up for myself with my parent s (which is why I never got the Easy Bake Oven I so desired but never asked for). There was one area of my life, however, where I craved the spotlight.
I started dancing when I was around 7 years old, and by the time I was 11, I was on our studio’s competitive dance team, soon to follow dancing with teaching and choreographing. Dance was my life. The dance studio was my home. My fellow dancers were my closest friends. My teachers were my idols. And the stage … the stage was a magic portal to an enchanted land where being me was more than Good Enough.
I wasn’t the most technically skilled dancer. I didn’t kick the highest or turn the fastest, and goodness knows I didn’t have the best turnout. What I had wasn’t technical or tangible. What I had was stage presence. The stage lit me up. The instant the music started, I would transform from a shy, insecure girl to a vivacious, spunky diva. I winked. I flirted. I danced like no one was watching. I danced BIG.
In my defense, it was kind of hard not to Dance Big in the ‘80’s. We did cool things like the Running Man, the Roger Rabbit and the Worm. There is nothing subtle about The Worm. I embraced these huge dance moves and made them my own, becoming the “jazz hand” queen of my middle school lock-in dance off. It worked for me.
Dancing was the mask I wore. It helped me become someone different – someone daring, someone fun. Someone a little bit brave.
As I grew, my tendency to shy away from the center of attention in everyday life continued. I hated being the center of attention at school and did everything I could to avoid giving speeches in front of small groups of people. I loved to debate, but joining debate club seemed like the worst form of cruelty I could imagine. All those people staring at me? Listening to every word I said? Judging me? No, thank you!
But when I was on stage, dancing, it was different. There may have been hundreds of people watching, but they were faceless blurs. The brilliant lights blinded me to my self-consciousness and I was able to shed the layers of fear and doubt that plagued me in my day-to-day life. I was able to just be Carrie. It was exhilarating.
I haven’t been on the stage in quite some time, so I haven’t had the opportunity to Dance Big. Maybe that has stifled me a bit. Without the opportunity to let that passion loose inside of me, I’ve been back to stuffing myself with insecurities and To Do’s and fears.
Without the stage, I’ve had to find other, more subtle ways to embrace my uniqueness and let myself sparkle. It’s been a long and cumbersome process, and it’s not as simple or as flashy as putting on false eyelashes and sassing it up on stage. I am learning how to sass it up in my own life, in my own way.
- To say “thank you,” instead of “I’m sorry”
- To say “no” to unnecessary commitments and “yes” to writing a blog post, reading a book with the sun on my shoulders or catching up with a friend over coffee
- To take the time to do yoga instead of self-sacrificing and People Pleasing myself into martyrdom
- To care for my body (with cactus water and beet salad) instead of beating myself up (with red wine and steak)
- To articulate my own opinions and feelings instead of following the consensus of the crowd
- To jump in the mud with my little boys instead of scrubbing the floor until it gleams
- To wear sequins and lace not because they are fashionable, but because they match my mood
- To ask for help
- To give people a little grace, and see the humanity inside them before I judge
I still have a problem standing up for myself, sometimes. I can be insecure. I can be shy and tentative. I can occasionally be downright awkward. I can also be overly controlling of myself and others, and I struggle with perfectionism daily. Yet, I’m no longer beating myself up for the things I see as failures within myself. Instead, I’m giving myself permission to grow, to learn, and to embrace the beautiful chaos that lives inside of me and fuels my soul.
Through this messy process of this thing we call life, I’m learning that perfection is not only unattainable but is undesirable. I’m no longer the scared little girl that cocooned herself away from the world out of fear that I wasn’t good enough.
I’m learning, slowly, to accept those parts of myself that make me, me. I’m beginning, day by day, to understand that my only job is to be uniquely myself, not to live up to anyone else’s expectations or try to do everything all at once and all perfectly. I’m learning to trust myself. I’m starting to be brave.
I’m learning to Dance Big, without putting on my ballet slippers.