I am reading a book by William Shatner (Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame) called Shatner Rules. One of Shatner’s rules is “say yes!” Whenever asked say yes, because you never know where the opportunity will lead.
Funny, I try to follow this advice as well as his advice to stay busy, hence my declaration to my best friend yesterday that I may be William Shatner – she didn’t even blink – she was probably not surprised as she has seen my tricorder and uniform. But this isn’t a post about William Shatner, it’s a post about being comfortable and realizing that as much as I try to follow his advice to always answer in the affirmative, I often wish I didn’t. I’d rather not say “yes” to things that make me uncomfortable. But if I only said “yes” to things that made me comfortable, I’d be saying “no” to an awful lot. And, I likely would have missed out on the things that make me the most – me!
Like teaching, for example, no matter how good it makes me feel afterward, no matter how wonderful that moment in the middle when everything kicks in and I think “yes” this is what I was made to do, I never, once look forward to it. Not once! I never feel comfortable going in.
A mentor and friend once told me that a little anxiety is a good thing, so I guess I should have known I’d be good at teaching; it always makes me feel anxious. Up there at the front of the classroom, I feel like that guy who just walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon praying all the way. You never know when you might fall and there is no safety net; like a standup comedian whose joke falls dead, all the eyes are upon you. And, even when you suspect that it will turn out okay, even when it has a 100 times before, you never quite believe it, you know the risk is there. Until that moment when it’s not, when you know that it’s safe to stop praying and you can just go with the flow.
I think it may be this very anxiety that makes me good at what I do. Consider if the tightrope walker just barged on out across the rope, unconcerned. He is right to be anxious, putting himself smack dab out there on the precipice – past the precipice in his case – is a scary proposition. And, that’s how my students feel every time they read their essays. And, that’s how I feel, too. Putting yourself out there not only opens you up to failure, but to criticism and insecurity and all the ghosts from the past admonishing you to keep your mouth shut!
I can’t listen to those ghosts because I’m the teacher. If I remain quiet, it would be a pretty boring classroom, but because I understand that feeling I can empathize with my students, encourage them to find their voices and soon I hear the whispers rise in all of us – “yes.”
The woman in my assisted-living class, the one who said she couldn’t write anything last week and sat there until we encouraged her to just talk to us about her memories, wrote a wonderful piece this week inspired by our conversation. Yes, she began with an apology – “I’m just a beginner, I don’t know if I did this right” – but then launched into a beautiful piece about being an English speaker growing up with Czech grandparents. Her style was easygoing, amiable, a pleasure to listen to and follow along. I trusted where she’d lead.
A new student showed up, a reticent New Englander, who didn’t want to share much other than his name, but who I saw jotting down a list of memories after listening to his classmates.
Even crashing can be a good thing. Living on the road where I grew up was dangerous for the family cat. The only one that ever survived it was my cat Mime, who as a kitty got hit by a car and came back kicking. We always attributed her subsequent old age to the wisdom she learned from this event. I bet she never felt comfortable when crossing the road, yet she put her anxiety to use, learning how to negotiate the dangerous terrain. Once she followed me down the sidewalk when I needed to cross the road to the neighbors to deliver a package, batting me with her paw the whole way, like a mama cat, warning a stray kitty to stay in line. She didn’t seem to want me to veer from sidewalk into road.
My anxiety about sharing, about being up in front has become my greatest tool. It allows me to understand, not criticize, to encourage and bear witness, because out of the whimpers and apologies, despair and discomfort, if we stay with it and see the tightrope to its end, the whispers turn to hallelujahs, and we find ourselves shouting, comfortable or not, “yes, here I am” to the world.
Why not try saying “yes” to the writing prompt above. I’d love to see where it leads you. Feel free to share your responses in the comment section or use the contact form to send them to me privately.