My students today are always surprised when they discover that I used to be a singer, actually a pretty good singer. All through college and the first 15 years of my career, I sang solos, in duets and trios, and in larger groups. I also wrote music for quite a while.
I chose my college because I was more interested in music than in drama, but before all that, there was a moment of truth. I spent three years in the elite choir for our high school, and at the beginning of my senior year, on a whim, I asked the director if I could sing a solo. Bad idea, or good idea, depending on how you look at it. It was my first solo–anywhere. He agreed and gave me the solo in a song called “The Turtle Dove,” with the choir backing me up.
The only problem was my heart-wrenching fear. Whenever we would practice it as a group, there was one note at the end that I couldn’t get. I would practice it on my own and could sing the high E just fine, but when I sang it with the choir, my voice would crack. Every time. The choir put it on the back burner, would practice it once in a while, but never perform it.
Finally the last performance of the year–my last performance of high school–arrived, and before the weekend, Mr. Wheeler, our director told me that we would be performing the song. Knowing that if we didn’t do it, I would lose my only chance in high school, I nodded in agreement. I stressed about the song all weekend up until Sunday night. I practiced it and practiced it. I knew that it was a matter of relaxing my throat; when I did I could hit the note fine. When I didn’t, I made dogs howl.
We sang all the usual songs and then came the final one: The Turtle Dove. Mr. Wheeler looked at me inquiringly, and I nodded. Let’s go ahead. The song began and I knew that there was no backing out. My friends told me that I was white as a sheet. I sang my part, concentrating on keeping my throat relaxed. And I hit the note. Afterward, friends and family congratulated me on my first solo.
I sang a lot of solos after that, including at my own wedding to the girl of my dreams. I also did a lot of semi-brave things after that: proposing to my wife, running for newspaper editor at my college; public and private things. But what I learned that day is that if you didn’t take that step into the unknown you would never learn the reward of achievement. And how much you are rewarded is directly related to how much you risk.
So what are you waiting for?