When I was 13, I had a mullet, glasses and a case of acne that just wouldn’t quit. To add to this awesome, I also played the clarinet in a youth symphony. I took myself prettttty seriously, guys: practicing every day, taking private lessons and obsessing over being the best I could.
And the thing was? I was really, really good. I worked really hard, and it paid off in the form of honor bands and playing in ensembles and being “the best” in lots of situations.
Then came youth symphony.
Our clarinet section was small (just two of us!) and as we started our season, we had to face the dreaded audition process for who would be first chair (the lead) and who would be second chair. I dreamt of being first chair: I practiced my pieces over and over, probably annoying the hell out of my parents with my constant repetition of Mozart and Beethoven. Clarinets aren’t exactly the most melodic instrument on their own.
I practiced my audition piece for the first chair in youth symphony harder than I’d ever practiced in my life. I knew the piece up and down and back and forth. I secretly assumed I’d blow my fellow musician out of the water, because while her piece was beautiful, she was always missing notes or getting off time, and technically, I was perfect.
On audition day, I killed it. I played my piece perfectly timed. I felt smug as I heard my fellow clarinetist waver from the time signature, and I excitedly assumed that I would be made first chair.
As our conductor, a man I adored, approached us to tell us the results of our audition, I felt sure that my hours of practice had would pay off in this moment.
“Ladies, I’ve made my decision. Amy, you are my Princess of Technique, but Liz, you are my Princess of Tone. It was a tough decision, but Liz, you’re first chair. Your piece was beautiful.”
I was so angry in that moment. I had been so perfect. Didn’t he hear how good I was?
I snuck off to the bathroom to cry and rage. It seemed so terribly unfair that after all my work and doing everything right, it wasn’t enough.
Later that night, my conductor approached me:
“Amy, you’re one of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever worked with. But you need to let go. Play from your heart.”
This weekend, 13-year-old Amy showed up at yoga teacher training. I spent hours preparing for my weekend: I made flashcards and listened to the podcast I was assigned. I read the book I was to read and prepped outfits and food. I was ready. I was doing it right.
I began with the intention of “winning” teacher training.
As I nervously taught my first Sun Salutation A’s to a small group, I felt as if I was nailing it. I got the poses right. I gave clear instruction. Technically speaking, I did really well.
Then it came time for feedback. One friend kindly shared that she felt that I knew the sequence in and out: I could explain a Sun A, and coach anyone through it. Technically, it was good…but it lacked passion, heart and connection.
Suddenly, I was 13 years old again and trying to survive on technique and doing it right, instead of doing it from my heart.
The cheesy sayings about life lessons coming up again and again are true. Over and over again, I’ve been complimented on my ability to “do it right” and “stick to the plan.” In some ways, it serves me incredibly well: I’m punctual, I’m effective in the classroom, I am pretty disciplined and my proverbial shit is together 99% of the time.
On the other hand, my fear of screwing up is paralyzing. I agonize over the way my words/actions/Facebook status/diet/yoga practice/blog posts/text messages/outfits will be perceived. I am an emotional person, but instead of letting those emotions and feelings guide my actions, I choose to stuff them down and cover them up, never wanting to be perceived as unable to handle myself, or out of control. I want a spreadsheet, a list of rules to follow and a star chart when I do it the “right” way. My desire to be right often cripples my ability to just be and do and love, genuinely.
And yet, as I started to teach the very beginning of a yoga class, I realized there was no “winning” but rather, there was learning, growing and opening. There is no end goal. There is no perfection. There is only participating in the experience in the best way I can: from an open heart, instead of one that’s constantly trying to do it right.
Perhaps even more than learning to teach a killer Sun Salutation, I need to learn this lesson: to show up, to engage, to be Amy, to open my heart and to stop clinging to my perfectly composed texts and gold stars and to just live in who I am and what’s inside me, trusting that it will be enough.