Society encourages us to pursue marketable things at which we excel. Is there value in pursuits that challenge our weaknesses?
The weeding and winnowing starts when we are very young. What was it for you? Too short to play basketball. Can’t color inside the lines. Can’t do math. Can’t visualize. Has no rhythm. Can’t sing. Might as well give up now. We’ve all fallen victim to such pronouncements, whether they come from peers, parents or other authority figures. It is incredible how powerful they can be, lodging themselves deeply inside our psyche, shaping every though and action that comes after them.
Many of these pronouncements come at a young age, but there is one type that we usually deal with later. I’m speaking of those related to health and wellness. Some of these things we cannot change; there is an intersection between perception and reality. For example, I have serious gluten intolerance issues. I can’t eat or inhale wheat, barley, rye or anything made from them without becoming very sick. I will never compete on any reality cooking shows– too many things there that would make me ill– but I can make some awesome tasting food in my own home!
Meet the singers in the Breathless Choir, a project sponsored by the Dutch technology company Philips, famous for innovation in the fields of lighting, sound and recording engineering, healthcare and lifestyle improvement. These are people who have extremely serious breathing impairments: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, cystic fibrosis, acute asthma. There is even a 911 first responder who has lost one third of his lung capacity. Director Gareth Malone had one week to get them to sing, to get air flowing and help them match pitch. He had to get past their diagnosis and their fear.
The result might not be the most perfect musical performance, but it is enjoyable, both for the performers and their audience. The miracle is that many of the singers become healthier in the process. Singing teaches people to make the most of their breath, loosening areas of tension and retraining the mind. Joy and confidence are worthwhile byproducts, but physical healing and maintenance are completely priceless. The intersection between perception and reality can also be a place for growth.
You might complain about their vowels, their technique or their tone quality.
As a professional singer and voice teacher, I can attest that we do far too much of this kind of critiquing. I see young singers every day who have no intention of becoming professional musicians but would like to learn to sing better. Many are afraid of their own voice because someone told them they were too loud or tone deaf. This often keeps people from starting or progressing, even if there is a “diamond in the rough” there. There is a place for being critical when singing is part of competitive, artistic business, but we must also recognize the value of singing and performing for the joy of it. There need to be safe places in the community for people to explore music, dance and art, even if they aren’t going to be stars, even if conventional wisdom says they aren’t talented. Let them move, let them create, let them sing. Some will surprise you.
We all reach points in our lives where we feel stuck and need to find a new point of view, a new tactic to continue growing. If we can consciously identify those pronouncements and assertions that are governing our lives, we can examine how valid they are for us. If you can’t do something that you desire to do, it may be that you need training to do it better. Even if you won’t be able to be the best in that field, pursuing it may supply something else for you: joy, calmness, confidence, even healing. Those things may not bring you public recognition or monetary compensation, but they can change the quality of your life.
What is it you have always wanted to do?