While I wasn’t exactly one of those girls who sat alone on the bleachers, scribbling in her notebook the astute observations of an outside observer, I certainly had an affinity for words.
In the third grade, I composed my first work of fiction about the oldest woman in the world. A piece that I don’t remember much about except for one sentence,
“She sobbed and sobbed and when she was through she found herself sitting in a sea of wrinkly tears.”
A sentence that garnered praise from Mrs. Perry, the opportunity for me to read my story aloud in front of the class, and a conference with my mother about my potential.
A few days later, led by a buxom woman with thin red lips, I was extracted from class without any explanation, and led to a separate wing of the school I’d never been to before. She instructed me to do three tasks in thirty minutes: organize some blocks on a table, solve a puzzle, and read a few paragraphs and then articulate what I thought the author was trying to say. The next thing I knew, I was traveling back to that wing once a week with a handful of other kids. They called us ‘gifted’.
Some months later, as I fished around in my mother’s desk for her cigarettes I’d taken to cutting up and flushing down the toilet, I found a long manila envelope with Emily scrawled in black marker. Unbeknownst to me, those puzzles and blocks were an IQ test. My score was a 143, with a little arrow indicating “high”.
The number 143 didn’t mean much to me, but the little red arrow left little room for misinterpretation. A moment of inflated, self-importance was clouded by an unwavering spell of self-doubt.
“What if it’s a fluke?” I worried, “and now they just think I’m really smart.”
With no real way to know, I pushed it to the far-reaching corners of my consciousness, and rolled on with my nine year-old-self.
By eighth grade, my mother decided I should attend private high school. Come time for the entrance exam, everyone was shocked to find out I’d scored in the lowest percentile.
“How can this be?” my parent’s foreheads creased with confusion. “Our daughter is very bright,” my mother assured my prospective school, with a terse smile.
In an effort to discount the standardized test, I took another test similar to the one in third grade; however, this time my score was twenty points lower than the original.
While we couldn’t see it then, the energy dynamics at play for not feeling whole as a female, coupled with my sneaking a peak in the manila folder, caused me to unconsciously shy away from things I thought I might not be good at, for fear of not measuring up. I still liked writing better than math or science but no longer felt that magic fluidity of stringing sentences together in an effortless way.
By averting challenges in an attempt to hold up this image of intelligence I thought was expected of me, I‘d retarded my own growth. In cramming for the A, I’d compromised my ability to think.
Despite having an abundance of life’s opportunities available to me, I steadily steered myself down an increasingly narrow path, only engaging in activities I knew I’d excel in. I was unconscious to the fact, that in my bid to be perfect (to gain approval and acceptance from my parents) I was blocking myself from the true meaning of life – the ability to grow into understanding of who I am and what it means to be authentically me.
It wasn’t until about six years ago that I recognized just how much I was living my life for the expectations of others, or in other words, performing my way through life. We learn to perform from such a young age, piling layers of pretending and performing on top of each other, mistaking our familiarity of the performance with authenticity.
Performance is like kryptonite to happiness and fulfillment, because only when we are truly authentic and vulnerable can we feel joy.
If any of these signs feel familiar, go easy on yourself. Your path brought you to here where you are gaining consciousness. When we illuminate truth, our vision of self expands, allowing us to shift away from destructive behaviors and grow into more aware, compassionate and ultimately more joyful people.
So how do we transcend something that’s so ingrained in who we think we are that we barely even know we’re doing it?
In a word. ART.
Art heals as we reveal ourselves to ourselves, authentically. Artistic expression is a powerful form of self-love because it forces us to be vulnerable. As we suspend judgment, we are giving to ourselves in that moment. We are literally sending a message to ourselves that, “It’s OK to be me. I am enough in this moment.”
Where I once suffered from a pervasive apathy about artistic pursuits, I gave myself permission to be the beginner, and I became impassioned with the energy to paint, write, sing, play guitar and write music. I felt like new pathways were being formed in my brain, I felt like a kid, I felt alive!
The impact on my life was so dramatic it was like listening to music for the first time after being unable to hear for 20 years. I found that most of life’s rules and restrictions, we impose on ourselves, and that I.Q. doesn’t equate to wisdom. The joy is in the doing, the joy is in the moment, and above all there are no mistakes because every creation provides deeper insight to understanding who we are! Don’t settle for a staring role in your life; find the courage to discover who you are. I promise you won’t regret it.