If you know me in real life, or if you’ve been reading Great Smitten for a while, you may know that in addition to all my other creative pursuits, I’m also a bit of a singer. Not just your average shower-crooning, church-choir singer, but a real-life, sound-checking, Saturday night, sometimes paid, tips appreciated, songwriting, jazz/country/folk/soul singer. There was a brief period after high school when I considered moving to Nashville to pursue a music career. Sure, that would’ve been cool, but some things just aren’t meant to be. (Other things are.)
When I was about 16, my dad and I were in our living room watching LeeAnn Rimes perform on CMT (That’s Country Music Television, Britons. Don’t judge. That’s how we rolled in Harnett County.)
“She’s got a great set of pipes,” my dad said. (Yes, he says things like that.)
What I should’ve said, because it would’ve been true, was, “Yeah, she’s a really amazing singer.”
But I didn’t say that. Because I was 16 and insecure and jealous that anyone was a better singer than me -that my own father had the nerve to say some other girl was a great singer. Instead, I said something like, “I don’t think she’s that great.”
Oh my gosh, you stupid girl. Shut up.
I’d like to say that was the only time in my life that I withheld a compliment from someone very talented because of my own insecurity, but I’d be lying, and I think we all know that I don’t have much shame anymore. My life went on like this for a few years. Anything I did – music, acting, writing, baking, whatever – I needed to be the best at. And because I needed to be the best, I was stingy with compliments when it came to anyone doing the same thing.
I didn’t often go so far as to criticize out loud, but I kept a silent tally of reasons why someone else’s song/monologue/short story/cake wasn’t quite up to scratch.
For a while, I thought it was because I was just so sure I was the best.
But somewhere around my 21st year, I realized it was because I was pretty sure I wasn’t.
Not being the best terrified me. It paralyzed me.
Until I realized that not being the best was actually one of the best things that had ever happened to me.
Letting go of being the best meant that I started to enjoy all the things I’d had to work so hard at being the best at. It meant I could sing a sad song with so much more feeling because it didn’t have to be flawless. It meant I could write more, because every word didn’t have to be perfectly chosen – every comma didn’t have to be perfectly placed. It meant I could laugh at my mistakes.
And, best of all, it meant I could look around me at all the people making beautiful art and just really, really love them for it.
I started handing out compliments like they were Halloween candy.
To the girl in my acting class who had intimidated me all semester.
To my girlfriend who wrote the kind of poetry I’d only ever failed miserably at.
To LeeAnn Rimes (No, I know she couldn’t hear me).
So I’m not the best writer in the world. Or the best singer. Or the best actress, or photographer, or baker, or mother, or wife.
But I am so, so good at being me.