"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Measure of Success

Even though it's only been a few weeks her name is lost to me, but I can see her face and hear her voice as if she were standing in this room.

The first time I saw her was during her initial audition for American Idol. She was a featured story: a girl from the country, never been out of her small town or her small life, no hope of getting out. Hair the color and texture of old straw, blotchy skin, bad teeth - the possibility of prettiness just beneath the surface. A lilting accent, making music of words that expressed the wonder, the dream, the hopes for the audition.

Her story made me want her to succeed. Her breathy twangy singing made me want her to succeed. My memories of another girl who thought she'd never find her way made me want her to succeed.

And amazingly, she did. She made it to Hollywood - the next step along the path. She was both jubilant and terrified. Had never flown on a plane, been away from her mother, or been in the company of such a wild variety of humanity.

The Hollywood audition did not go well for her. She was less appealing than the first audition - her face was puffy, her clothes ill-fitting and tacky, her voice more fear than music. And while the judges were surprisingly kind to her, it was clear she wasn't ready for the big time, and they told her she wouldn't be moving on.

In her departing interview - and this is the part that haunts me - she said through tears, "I took a risk and it didn't work out." The final shot is of her trudging away down a narrow hotel corridor with her small sad suitcase trailing behind.

I wanted to reach into the screen - I still want to reach her - and tell her her risk did work out. The only way she failed is if she believes she did. I wanted to help her see all she has now that she didn't have before. I wanted to tell her she's so much more than her fear.

I've thought of her this week as I struggle to reframe my own recent risk-taking and the outcome of that. Carrie and I are at the end of our first round of teaching memoir classes. The experience has been as deeply satisfying as falling in love and as painful as any soul-growing transformation can be. To be in the presence of women for whom writing, learning and healing are a priority is as good as life gets. Carrie has proved to be a perfect teaching partner, and together we are that magical gestalt where our whole is so much more powerful than the sum of what each of us brings individually.

Initially I thought our success would be measured by the growth of our classes. That people would be so happy with what they got from us, they'd be dying for more and tell all their friends they had to join us, too. Of course, it's not happening that way. The spring is looking very different from what we originally anticipated. Possibly no classes at all. Possibly coaching. Possibly nothing until fall and then something more concentrated.

As with so many things this year, I choose to find success in what works and to follow that path. The closed doors are not failure. They are guidance. I wish I could offer this gift of success to that young girl. I wish I could thank her for being a reminding presence in my life. I wish her the sight to find the next open door.

photo from Flickr


Carrie Wilson Link said...

I'm going big with the "rehearsal" belief. Don't know what we're rehearsing for, but so glad we're in it together.

Lorna said...

I was so rooting for her too! And like you, I hope she didn't take the loss as any sign to give up hope. Maybe someone will contact her having seen her on Idol? I hope her confidence just keeps building.

I love your line about women gathering together to write, learn and heal. That seems to be my mission as well!

Love the photo too by the way; it's haunting and promising, all at once. Great, thoughtful post.

Wanda said...

Boy...success or failure surely are in the eyes of the beholder. I'm right there with you. Guess all we can do is take the next step.


Your feelings about the young girl mimicked my own. I so wanted her to succeed and when she didn't I wanted to take her in my arms and tell her everything would be all right. So many kids are living similar lives. It hurts to see it. I hope someone saw that young girl and saw the potential that I saw. She would work hard at singing if only she has the chance. God bless her and you for being so tender hearted. Blessings. Barb

Elenka said...

What a great post. I know exactly who you are talking about. Good lesson to share with us.

Amber said...

Well, I was sad I couldn't swing your class this time. My life is a little crazy and broke. BUT I have NO doubt that it is a GREAT class! I WILL take it someday, and it will be wonderful. Don't you dare give up until I get my chance! keep going, doors will open.

Love :)

Unspoken said...

It seems we only learn this lesson with time. But those of us who know it, long to pass it on!

Jessica Nelson said...

"Closed doors are guidelines" I LOVE that line.
Success is something that really isn't tangible, imo.
Who knows who your class is touching and changing? A changed/healed heart is so much more successful than a full class, right? :-)
As usual, a beautiful post!

Go Mama said...

Love this post. So poignant.

"Her story made me want her to succeed. Her breathy twangy singing made me want her to succeed. My memories of another girl who thought she'd never find her way made me want her to succeed."

Oh, we just keep trudging along, sometimes with lazer-like focus, other times pell-mell, nudged by our inner stirrings and shaped by life's events. Who can say why some things happen and other things don't.

I'd add that success could be measured by becoming more music than fear. More authentic than formulaic. But success within the marketplace is a whole other matter.

As we follow our unfolding, life is a journey, not a destination. Lord knows where it'll take us...


Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh! this is so insightful and beautiful, and so true.

If we measure ourselves by the word "success" then that word can also be a measure for the word "failure"

One person's success can seem another person's failure if we try to measure up to them.

If someone isn't published, they will see a published author as successful and they as a failure, ...but...

the published author can feel a best seller is a success and they are a failure ...but...

the best seller can feel that 1% who makes millions off books and/or movies as successful and therefore they are a failure....

and on it goes in that circutous negativity if we let it....if we don't recogize success in our own personal way instead of in such broad "it's never/not enough" terms!

I need to take my own advice!

Suzy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
patti said...

Oh, Catbird Scout, what a beautiful post--and perfect timing after last night's Academy Awards.

I LOVE the imagery and the use of the closed door as a guideline.

May we all strive to follow His path.


Mark Lyons said...

You have come so far in your own walk...and I am SO proud of you for that!! It wasn't too long ago that you would have held the same beliefs as the young girl on AI...that "the risk is too great" and "what if I fail?"

The greatest gift that you can give to yourself (and you are doing it now) is to follow your dream. It may not lead you where you thought it might...but it will take you to places beyond your imagination.

Keep writing...and keep following your dreams!!

Love you


Janna Leadbetter said...

I remember the girl! I've always, always been drawn to the underdog, and I was behind her with all of my fan glory. I so wanted her to go on. But you're right, she didn't fail. Maybe someone in her life will give her a message like this one you shared with us.

Blessings to you, Deb.

kario said...

It's amazing how we can see things differently when we're looking at someone else's journey. I felt the same way you did when I watched her leave Hollywood - I was hoping against hope that she would go home and feel good about herself. At the same time, I know that I wouldn't have been able to do that very well. Thanks for the reminder, Deb.

Let's make a pact to give each other that perspective from time to time, okay?


Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Me too. I hope she keeps trying. She had such a beautiful heart of hope.

Carol............. said...

I like your post.

Now that I'm older I know that we need to embrace the failures as well as the successes because they are indeed a part of the whole....... unfortunately DURING the failures it's hard to be at peace with this.

Rick said...

You are such a good person, Deb.

Anonymous said...

I wish I lived in your neck of the woods.

Patty said...

I love the way you write, I always get so wrapped up in whatever story you are telling, this one was one of my favorites. Keep it up!

Cindy said...

I know of whom you speak-lovely and sad sentiment.