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  • Writer's pictureAnnie Westphal

...well, this is uncomfortable

Last year I started taking piano lessons again, for fun. I took piano as a child, but I hated practicing, and every time I didn't practice (which was every week) I was terrified to tell my teacher. It was a vicious cycle, and honestly at that point in my life I didn't really understand what I'd be giving up. All I knew is that I just couldn't take it anymore.

And so I quit.

I don't know if you've ever quit anything that was really and truly making you so uncomfortable you'd literally rather be doing anything else, but the relief is indescribable. I highly recommend it.

That said, I did always want to learn piano, and after several years I came to regret my decision. But I was afraid, so I never went back.

Until now. My mother in law runs an awesome music school, so I figured...where's the harm? I'm so happy I dove back in. Though it has been tremendously humbling to start over, it has been a joy to learn something again.

That was a joy...until I had my first recital.

Now, back when I was pre-college, I used to perform in front of people all the time. Yearly vocal performance recitals, piano recitals (until I quit—thank you very much), plays, musicals, dance recitals—all were typical features of my adolescent life.

Every time, after each performance, people would say to me "I don't know how you stand up in front of all those people and sing like that. I could never!"

I used to think yeah, beats me too. Because the honest to Goddess truth was that it terrified me to stand up in front of everyone and perform. Every. Single. Time. Sure, it got a bit easier over time. It was even easier if I wasn't worried about nailing a tricky dance move or hitting a super high note. But that wasn't the usual case. Usually, it was hard and uncomfortable and I would be shaking before stepping out on stage.

Why did I do it? Well, everything that led up to the performance was so much fun! I loved the challenge of receiving a script, or a piece of music, and having the job of taking the flat words on the paper and bringing them to life. I am a creator, after all, and the alchemy of creation will always draw me in.

The performances always felt like they were for my parents; it was the rehearsals that were for me.

SO, fast forward a healthy fifteen years (yikes!), and there I am, shaking in my boots in front of a church full of students and their parents (and my in-laws—all PROFESSIONAL musicians) like I'm fifteen again. All I could think was I cannot do this...I CANNOT DO THIS!

I did it. Without passing out. Thank Goddess. And then I swore I never would again.

It was too uncomfortable. And, after all, I'm an adult now. I shouldn't have to do uncomfortable things if I don't want to! Being uncomfortable all the time is for teenagers who don't know another way of life.

Which is true. When you're in adolescence your whole being is uncomfortable, so a different shade of discomfort is just a different version of the same thing you're living through every single day.

There were moments when I used to feel like nothing in my life was comfortable for me. I didn't have a solid appreciation for what it was to be an introvert, so I frequently looked upon my need to be alone, to recharge, as a weakness and a flaw that I needed to overcome. This denial of my true nature only led to more discomfort, and more confusion.

I often pushed myself to do things that were unnecessarily stressful, or terrifying, because I believed that the stress was a good thing. Though I now appreciate that it may have actually been a good thing to wonder what exactly made me uncomfortable about auditioning, for instance. Being a thirteen year old girl, with a changing body that is already being sexualized by the world, and needing a break from being evaluated on my appearance and talent is entirely reasonable, in my humble opinion.

Now that I'm very old and very wise (lol, nope), I not only understand my introverted tendencies, but I've actually begun to celebrate them! Embracing who I am is teaching me how to live my life in ways that actually support me every day. It's most excellent.

But...I have realized that I've fallen into this habit of running away from things that make me uncomfortable, convincing myself all the while that they're "just too much for me."

I can't go to that event because crowds make me uncomfortable.

I can't do that performance because I'm too scared.

I can't start my blog again because it's been too long and I'm embarrassed.

I can't write my next book...

...............granted, COVID gave me some really great excuses. But after a while, I started to see them for what they've been all along: reasons to hide. Don't get me wrong; I do NOT want to go back to living the way I did when I was fourteen. Being uncomfortable all the time is indeed an adolescent's game, and I know what league I'm in. But I don't think the point of life is to be comfortable all the time. I mean, I'm not actually comfortable all the time! Even though I pretty much run from most things that scare me these days.

But I don't want to run anymore, not from everything. There are things that I'm supposed to do anyway, even though I'm scared. There is good fear: the fear that feels like butterflies, that flirts with that barrier between anxious and excited.

And now that I think about it, I don't really run from EVERYTHING that scares me. I mean, I did write a book last year. That scared the hell out of me, but it was that tingly kind of fear that precedes a new level of enlightenment, a new realm of discovery.

That fear, when it finally melted away, when the final words were written, left me in awe. There was no rush of relief. There was no "well, I'm glad THAT's over!" There was only a holy silence—like the brief pause before applause threatens to bring down a building—and a little voice whispering in my ear:

Let's do that again!

So, I'm getting better and noticing the difference between the fear that is my intuition saying "absolutely not, try again next time" and the good kind of fear. I'll keep practicing. I owe the teenager in my heart a break...the grace and the space to put her foot down and say "not today."

Like with spiders. I will probably always run away from spiders.

But when it comes to the big things, the life things, I owe her the boldness to live her wildest dreams.


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