When I was in the third grade I always got bad marks. My grades were fine, but I couldn’t control my talking. My teacher and I didn’t jive well. She was trying to teach and whatnot and I really wanted to socialize. At the end of the year she suggested I take theater classes to put my drama and mouth to good use. This advice ultimately led to me learning a good lesson about taking chances, the hard way.
Turns out being dramatic doesn’t mean you’ll be a good actress. I found this out as I prepared for my first musical.
We’d been practicing techniques for what felt like years, but was probably just a matter of weeks. Our director dished out the parts for our final performance. I had one small role and she offered me another. I’d be on stage with just one other kid who would play the class bully who kept pulling my pig tails.
“And Jennifer, since you wear your hair in pig tails, I thought you’d be perfect for this part!” The director said.
She looked at me, waited for my elated response when I did something probably no child had done before.
“Oh, that’s ok, I’m wearing my hair down for the play,” I informed her. “Down” meant going to the salon, and having my hair blowed dry, and pulled straight with a searing hot comb. I’d be at the salon for hours, bawling most of the way through from a tender head, but then so happy with the shiny silky end result.
“So…” She slowly asked for clarity with a confused look on her face. “You don’t want the part?”
“No thank you, I’m wearing my hair down!” I added in an air hair flip for good measure.
“Ok,” she said, exasperated. “Who else wants the part?”
A slew of hands went up.
It went to Becky with good hair.
I didn’t regret my decision. That was, until my mom found out what I had done. She was so livid. Something about “with all the money we spend…”. She made sure that my braided pigtails were exactly what I wore the day of the play.
It was my first harsh experience with letting a chance pass me by. Would this chance later have been the first door that led to my broadway debut? No way. But on stage, as I watched Becky play the part I passed up, I realized that could have been me, and I let it fly right by.
I’ve been talking to my kids about chances lately. Especially my daughter. At the start of her competitive cheer season she was scared to go up in her stunts (where other little girls lift her up above their heads). After a few times of saying “no thank you” she started to notice her teammates trying bigger, more advanced stunts. After awhile she asked me why she wasn’t getting to try some of the new things.
“Did you tell them you wanted to try?” I asked her.
“No,” she said. She told me she said she was scared, but then later when she saw someone else try, she realized she wanted to too.
This immediately set off a spark in my mind. We’d recently read What Do You Do With a Chance by Kobi Yamada. In the story a little boy sees chances flying around him. As he goes to grab one, he stumbles. Other kids laugh and he tells himself he’s never going to take a chance again.
The chances continue to fly by, but after a while he notices he sees them less and less often but he continues to let them pass right by. Eventually they stop coming around all together.
Later in the story he sees one again, and I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a fantastic children’s book by the same author who wrote What Do You Do With an Idea that makes me equally weepy.
Anyway, I reminded my daughter about the story we read together and asked her if she remembered what happened to the chances as the little boy kept ignoring them. It really helped personify the idea of opportunities, and I’ve seen her become more willing to take chances that she’d ordinarily be too scared to take.
A few months ago I got an email from the Oprah Winfrey Network inviting me to be a part of their OWNShow programming. I was in a weird place with the pregnancy. In fact, I missed their first two or three email attempts because I was in so much of a funk. I didn’t know a lot about the opportunity but from what I could tell I didn’t feel worthy or qualified to even be on these people’s radar. I was scared but I also knew I couldn’t let the chance pass by.
I said yes and a month or so later I was sitting in a studio, chatting with Oprah’s producers about my blog, life tips and ways to cherish your everyday. Wow.
At first, under the lights I was completely out of my comfort zone. For a decade I was the one asking the questions and interviewing guests. Now the questions were turned on me and it was a nerve wracking. But it was a pivotal moment for me where I realized I have a message, and though not always clear it’s getting through and people are noticing.
So far a couple pieces of the interview have aired on OWN and a couple more have been shared on the web. I’ll try to embed one below.
When I was 10, passing on a big chance for a role in a play I did it out of naiveness and vanity. But nowadays when I pass on an opportunity it’s like my daughter said–because it’s scary. There are moments when we’re terrifyingly doubtful of the outcome. But we are responsible for our own decisions and happiness. We have to decide we are more excited for the possibility of a good outcome than we are fearful of a bad one. Decide you want it more than you fear it. Then jump.