Finding My Voice

When was the last time you did something you were really, genuinely afraid to do?

 Joshua Tree

That was me last weekend—not for anything actually scary, but in the face of going on stage to sing karaoke… solo! I’ve been to karaoke a lot of times, but I usually watch from the audience, or join a group of at least three friends and stand in the back, far away from the microphone. Then afterwards I dream of choosing my own song and rocking out without caring what anyone thinks of my performance. “Oh well,” I think, “maybe next time.”

Apart from the past few years where I’ve pushed myself hard to step out of my comfort zone, growing up I was actually very shy. I was a hardworking and focused student, but it always made me extremely nervous to ask a question in class, and I think I would rather have died than present in front of a group.

This summer, I went to a friend’s family party and one of our middle school teachers was there. She remembered me— “You were such a good student, but painfully shy!” I’ve been working so hard to be outgoing that I had almost forgotten about those days. Her words reminded me. One year, I even wanted to run for student government but decided against it because I would have had to give a speech.

Somewhere along the way, I found my teaching voice. I still get nervous in front of a class (or recording videos of myself!), but I love the rush of connection so much and find the information so important that I keep stumbling through it. Singing karaoke on my own was another story. I’m always envious of the people with beautiful voices, and even more of those who can get up on stage and put their whole hearts into it when they don’t sound great. Like most humans, I usually want everyone to think that everything I do is excellent. A totally realistic goal, haha! Unfortunately, my singing voice is not one anyone would describe as “excellent” by a long shot.

Last Friday night, my two girlfriends and I sat watching and cheering on the other performers at the Joshua Tree Saloon. I had chosen and practiced a song for days, but I could sense the familiar heart racing, cold sweat feeling that usually keeps me in my seat. I procrastinated, waiting until we ordered drinks (of course!) and looked over the food menu. The crowd was small and friendly, and the performances were sparse since it was early in the evening. Would tonight be my night? I remembered back to a discussion with one of the brave women on our Thailand yoga retreat. She loved singing and did it as much as she could. She’d told us, “We don’t sing because it sounds good, we sing because we have a voice.” I swallowed pride and fear and walked up to put my name in. And when it was time to sing, I sang!

It wasn’t very excellent, and I kind of tried to hide behind the microphone, so stage presence is something to work on for next time, but I sang, by myself and for myself. And as a bonus, my friends and I were so supportive of the other singers that later in the night, we got called back onstage to perform background vocals for another performer. A little hype goes a long way!

Sure, there are truly terrifying things in life—disease, losing a loved one, going skydiving for the first time—but most of the time, what we worry most about are the little things. Should we speak up in a meeting? Can we state our boundaries or ask for what we want? Is it the right time to tell someone we love them? It’s easy to back away from taking risks because, for most of us, life as it is can feel pretty comfortable.

This year, this decade even, for me has been all about breaking through that comfort zone to find out what’s on the other side. Try the skill you’ve been wanting to try. Say the words you’ve been wanting to say. Sing the song you’ve been wanting to sing. Eventually, you might find yourself living the life you want to live.