Sunday, April 03, 2011

Warning: You Are Now Leaving Your Comfort Zone

I've been a bit of an insomniac lately and for some strange reason, last night I kept thinking about something I did back in high school, something that comes back to haunt me every now and then. I took piano lessons for 10 years. Though I mainly played at home with only my immediate family within hearing range, I occasionally played at my church, for school talent shows, at recitals, or at family get-togethers.

One day, my high school concert choir teacher (who, while a great teacher, was notorious for being cranky) asked for a volunteer pianist to play the the national anthem for the finale of our spring concert, which included every choir in the whole school. No one volunteered. ("Buehler? ... Buehler?") It was a very fancy version of the song, and I could tell by looking at the music that it would be a challenge at my playing level; besides, I'd never accompanied a choir. However, as someone who is always willing to dangle outside of my comfort zone, I raised my hand. The teacher looked a little less grumpy. That very afternoon, I put my fingers to the ivories and practiced, practiced, practiced. I was determined to do my school proud.

The choir practiced a few times with me on the piano, and I don't recall it being bad or anything. The teacher spent a lot of time on the choir part and barely said a word to me. Then, the night before the big concert, the pendulum swung, and suddenly, it was ALL about me. The more the teacher yelled, the worse I shook; and as anyone who's played the piano knows, shaking fingers equals even more mistakes. I was trying my damnedest not to cry in front of (what I'm guessing was about 150 of) my fellow students. Suddenly, all that practicing and any modicum of talent I might or might not have possessed flew out the window. The teacher turned her wrath on the choirs and they stared at me like abused children. I don't think they were mad at me the way she was; I think they felt sorry for me. But either way, the rehearsal was a complete disaster--because of me.

As soon as everybody filed out, tails tucked between legs, the teacher came over to have a talk with me. I was lucky I hadn't cried in front of everyone, but as soon as it was just the two of us, I couldn't hold back my tears. The teacher was speechless, which I guess was better than yelling. In place of wrath, I detected sadness in her eyes. Maybe a little bit of fear, too. Because while she wasn' t known for being a sweetheart; when it came to concerts, she did put on a helluva show. And would I be able to accompany the most important song of the entire concert tomorrow night? I said something like, "The funny thing is, I had no idea until tonight that I'm so terrible. If I'd known, I never would've volunteered." Or maybe I didn't say it, but I was definitely thinking it. I stood up, gathered my music, and left.

So what happened the next night, at the big concert? Well, my song was the finale so I had to sing all the other songs with a terrible case of nerves. Then, I took a deep breath, stretched out my fingers, and played. I'd like to say I played my heart out, as I'd envisioned doing all those hours of practicing, but if I remember correctly, I just played well enough to get the choirs through the song. I got through it. No fireworks, no big hug and "I knew you could do it!" from my teacher or any of the choirs. Just the relief of getting the whole ordeal behind me and the gratefulness that tomorrow is another day.

I know the right thing to say is even though it was painful at the time, I'm glad I had that experience--that it's made me a better person or whatever. But if I'm being completely honest, if I could go back in time, I never wouldn't raised my hand in choir class that day. To this day, I get a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I think of it. It totally wasn't worth it.

Have you ever done something out of your comfort zone that you wish you hadn't?


TinaFerraro said...

Wow, Wendy, what a brave and touching story. I related completely, especially to your line about not realizing until that moment how terrible you were...

And it made me think back to my first road test and how I'd insisted to the driving instructor my parents were paying that I was ready--and then how terribly I botched the parallel parking. And how my teacher's face had fallen when I told him because I was going to be his first student EVER not to pass. And I was!

Me said...

Oh wow, Wendy! Such courage. And poo on that teacher. Hello, no one else volunteered. Beggars can't be choosers. I say YAY YOU for getting through it. I'm sure it made you a stronger person because, really, what could be so bad after that?

I've done plenty of things out of my comfort zone (going to college in NYC at 17, taking my 7 week solo trip across Canada and the US, spending a summer in a remote cabin 10 miles from the nearest town, auditioning for a play in college) but I can't say that I regret any of them. Everything is a learning experience and I wouldn't be who I am today if I'd made different choices.

Wendy Toliver said...

Oh no Tina! If it makes you feel better I can't parallel park very well at all. I keep begging ppl to teach me!

TLC, you are a brave soul. What adventures!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I once volunteered to lead a workshoip alone for a group of mental health professionals while I was still a grad student. Nothing terrible happened--no tears, no blatant criticism--but I still have that terrible feeling in my stomach like I was totally inept and out of my league whenever I think about it--cringe worthy moment. Really yucky feeling, and I DO regret every signing up to do it:)

Wendy Toliver said...

Oh man, that sounds horrible! Glad you made it through that, and thanks for sharing.

Heather Davis said...

Oh, Wendy! I ache for you back then. It's hard enough to be up in front of people without having an adult rattle your conference further.

I've done a lot of things outside my comfort zone. I guess one that stands out is going up to work at a lodge in Alaska, sight unseen. I remember my dad telling me -- if you hate it, you can always leave. :) I didn't hate it, but knowing that I could come home if it didn't work out gave me more confidence going up there.

nymfaux said...

WOW!!! Makes me even more thankful for all the amazing wonderful teachers I had...even the cranky ones I had were never so mean!

But if anything, I think it's more the opportunities that I didn't take that I regret more than the ones I did--There are plenty that didn't turn out the way I expected (or even hoped for)--but what if I hadn't even tried?

Yay for you for taking a chance!!!--And look what an awesome person you became by taking such chances!!! ;)

@Tina &Wendy, I don't know well I parallel park anymore...but I totally had it down and was SO disappointed when neither of my testers asked me to do one!--No, I didn't pass on the first try, because I wasn't ready...and because I ran a stop sign (which to be fair is a trick stop sign located--in the middle of a street with no side street--next to the DMV for this very purpose)--And because I got the Mean Guy, who was known for not passing people on their first test. ;)

Suzanne said...

I am going through this now. Right this very minute. When no one else wanted to be chairman for the SCC at the elementary school, I stepped up, thinking that I was enough of a grown-up to handle it. Turns out, I'm not. Everyone is upset at my poor leadership skills and complete lack of knowing what the heck is going on.

That'll teach me to volunteer.