A year of saying the right yeses and nos

Buachaille Etive Mor - Jon-Marc's first Munro

Buachaille Etive Mor by Jon-Marc - his first Munro

When I spoke at the memorial service for my brother in November last year I stated my intention to keep climbing mountains in my way for him. (Eulogy for Jon-Marc.) I had to take some time and identify my mountains and how I needed to climb them. Around this time last year, it became clear to me how I could challenge myself, and I decided to take on that challenge in 2012.

I come from a typical huge Catholic family. There are aunts and uncles and cousins upon cousins. From such a large sample base, there are very few major illnesses and nothing like Jon-Marc’s case of a relatively young man so ill with colorectal cancer. This healthy family background had instilled a level of bravado in me about my good genes and the likelihood of a long, healthy life. Jon-Marc’s illness brought that idea crashing down. I began to realize that I had to grab life now and not put off things I hoped to do one day. This realization came just before Jon-Marc died and, without thinking of it in that way, I climbed my first mountain.

I have always loved musical theatre, and I love to sing. The problem is, although I very much enjoy being around other people, I am introverted and do not like to have attention focused on me. The idea of singing in front of other people on a stage terrified me, but I realized it was something I had always hoped I would overcome and do one day. Waterworks Players decided to do “Chicago” which is a musical I love, and I realized the time had come to face that fear. The worst part was the audition. I went to the first night of auditions to watch the process and try to talk myself into doing it the next night. It terrified me, but I lucked out that only a few people came the second night. Most of the faces looking up at me when I got on stage to audition were friendly faces who I knew only wanted me to succeed. I was incredibly nervous but made it through the audition and was not only cast but given a solo (I played as Mary Sunshine.) Now I was terrified of that performance in front of an audience of strangers. I knew there was a chance of failing miserably and having to face that embarrassment but if I didn’t fail the rewards would be so great. And they were great.

In considering how I was going to climb my mountains after giving the eulogy I thought about the experience with Chicago and recognized those were my mountains. It’s when an opportunity comes along, and my first reaction is to say no because my brain presents me with all the possible scenarios for how it could go wrong. I need to search in my heart and when I realize this opportunity could go right and be so rewarding, or it’s the right thing to do then I must attempt to climb the  mountain. These are the right yesses. Over the course of the year, I realized that I do say yes a lot but many times it is to things I don’t want to do but feel obliged. These times were when I added the idea of also saying no but the right nos.

I haven’t reflected much on the nos because it was easy to see what they did. They allowed me more time to do the things I wanted to do and also cut out a lot of stress from my life. I felt the stress level lift as soon as I said no or more commonly cut out a stress factor from my life. I wasn’t entirely successful at saying no every time I should have, but it was a big improvement.

The yeses are much more worthy of reflection because I can look back on this year and see the wild ride it has been, at least for an introvert. I’ve sung a lot more this past year than ever before because I’ve pushed myself to do it when normally I would avoid at all costs, even in smaller less public situations. I have no training except for all the hymn rehearsals at Catholic school, and those were pretty rigorous … but that was a long time ago. I don’t think the sound I make is too painful to other ears, and singing is good for the soul … it has been one of my joys this year. I may yet live to regret this attitude. I was asked to take part in a lip dub at work, but we were not dubbing we were singing live. I had to sing along in my office, and this pushed me again with a camera pointing in my face. The finished result will be shown at a Longwood event this coming year so I may have to cringe through it all. I had an iPod playing the song in my ear while singing so I was finding it hard and I’m pretty sure I was off-key.

The other two major yeses have been very rewarding if not always producing the desired results. I directed the pantomime at Waterworks this year. I wrote last year about our pantomimes – Pantomimes: A Uniquely British Tradition No Longer. I’ve enjoyed being on stage and doing other smaller behind the scenes roles at Waterworks but directing a show myself where all the responsibility ends with me was a huge undertaking. Just the idea alone of telling a cast and crew what to do and being “in command” is an enormous hurdle, out of the comfort zone for an introvert. I am so glad I took this on because it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I had a wonderful cast and crew who made the show, and getting to know these people better and work with them was a brilliant bonus. It was a delight to watch the audience at each performance as they reacted the way we had hoped to things that were happening on stage. I will treasure the memory of doing this show forever.

The second major yes also came towards the end of the year. I said yes earlier in the year to being a co-chair of the Staff Advisory Committee at Longwood University. A concern was brought to the committee later in the year regarding the current presidential search. Staff had concerns about the process and also about the fact our current interim president has been disqualified from the process because she does not possess the qualifications being required. It was decided to take action by drafting a letter to the Board of Visitors and collecting signatures from staff in support of the letter. Then I had to read this to the Board of Visitors and hand over the letter and the signatures to the Board. This initiative pushed me in so many ways as I met and talked to people all over campus. It also allowed a chance to work more closely with other members of the Staff Advisory Committee and that was a pleasant bonus to the process. While we did not succeed in changing the current course of the presidential search, we did cause the situation to be discussed across campus resulting in more people being informed about what was happening. The staff had a voice and made their feelings felt, and we collected signatures from around one-quarter of the current staff. Reading the letter to the Board of Visitors was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life, and one of the highest mountains scaled in the course of this year.

Recently I’ve seen a lot of people posting various forms of a quote that says we/I regret the things we/I did not do not the things we/I did. I’ve seen it attributed to several different sources, so I’m not sure who did say it although it is possible several famous personalities have stated something along those lines. I feel that sentiment fits well how I have tried to live this year. I gave myself this year as a test run to see how well I could do and what would happen, but I intend this to be a life change. Now I look forward to seeing what this attitude will bring in 2013!

Jon-Marc in Chamonix, Sept 2010

Jon-Marc in Chamonix, Sept 2010

Life is Beautiful

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