TRYING OUT FOR THE TALENT SHOW
When I was in second or third grade I decided to try out for the talent show.
I had an incredible plan. I was going to do a hip hop lip-sync and dance performance. I had a blue Nike beret that I planned to wear sideways. I had shoes that lit up when I busted sweet moves. I had some fake Oakley sunglasses. I had some wacky home-made Hammer pants that had unbelievable neon designs on them. I couldn’t believe how good this was feeling.
And I was going to do it to a Christian rap song. Perfect. A gym full of first-through-sixth graders in 1994 should love that, right? I was pretty sure that after the talent show, the sixth graders might pick me up on their shoulders and suggest that I take over half-time entertainment for the rest of the year’s basketball games. The girls that did their sloppy gymnastics routine to Alanis Morisette’s “Head Over Feet” last year could eat their hearts out.
In my mind I probably imagined some sexy female dancers behind me, too, mimicking my deftly choreographed dance sequence. I know it was a Christian song and all, but everyone knows that all great hip hop performances have sexy dancers. And although I knew the teachers judging the talent show wouldn’t be able to actually see my imaginary sexy dancers, I figured they might still catch my vision, you know?
The day of tryouts came, and I was feelin’ it. I went to the bathroom to take a look in the full size mirror. My beret and shades and LA Lights and Hammer pants were looking outstanding. When my name was called, I walked into the gym and took my place before the American-Idol-style panel sitting at half court. I surveyed the judges. Mrs. Pentzer the music teacher that wore razzle-dazzle sequined shirts. Mrs. Ritterscamp the hippie art teacher who loved Georgia O’Keefe and always wore a smock. And Mrs. Webster, the wild-card fourth grade teacher with a wicked perm.
“I’m going to do a song and dance to the song ‘Addicted to Jesus,’” I announced.
And then the music began and I executed my song and dance routine with the energy of James Brown and the precision of Michael Jackson. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I think I took a little bow at the end. For good measure. The judges couldn’t hide the stunned looks on their faces. Then, in one of the most horrifying moments of my grade school career, sweet Mrs. Webster asked a question. For clarity.
“So, Nick, were you planning to dance along with the song?”
Clearly she’d missed my vision. Clearly she hadn’t been paying attention to the performance. Clearly she hadn’t seen my sweet spin move I’d stolen from the Vanilla Ice portion of Ninja Turtles II. Maybe the blurry lights from my shoes had sent her into a portal of radness and she’d missed the whole thing?
Or maybe the sweet moves and sexy dancers and spin-kick breakdance move was all in my head. Maybe all I’d really done when they hit the play button on the cassette deck was barely lip-sync, move my arms from side to side a little, and fantasize that I was killing it. In my mind it was the performance of a lifetime. In reality, I was an awkward kid in an embarrassing outfit lip-syncing (and not dancing) to a hopelessly cheesy song.
Needless to say, my name was not posted on the talent show roster posted outside the gym the next day.
Getting slammed in the talent show tryouts taught me something important. In all my best intentions, high ambitions, and self-confidence, I sometimes create an imaginary version of myself. An awesome, crowd-pleasing, hip-hop-dancing, Hammer-pants-ing celebrity version of myself that’s painfully far from reality.
I’ve spent too many years of my life thinking I was way more awesome than I really am. I mean I don’t say it out loud or anything. I just tend to have this internal chip on my shoulder that’s averse to hearing anything that doesn’t stroke my ego or my ambitious plans.
This is a really hard thing to come to terms with. Especially when you have hopes and dreams that are partly built on how amazing you think you are. It can be really devastating to learn that you’re less awesomethan you’d imagined. But there’s a certain liberation that comes with living rooted in reality, instead of self-centered-dream-world. That’s why we need other people to help us self-edit.
Sometimes we just need a second opinion of ourselves. I once heard Bob Kauflin say that “we all need at least a couple people in our lives that love us but are not impressed by us.” We need other people to show us where our sloppy bits are. Most of us know this in theory. But when it comes to actually inviting other people to tell us where we’re epic-failing, we avoid it like the plague.
It’s surprisingly easy to get people to tell you the truth about what they see in you. You just have to give them permission. I promise most people will tell you the truth if you ask them sincerely. And when they actually tell you something that stings a little, you have to thank them. Do that, and you’ll avoid a lot of embarrassment. Plus, you’ll establish a network of people that help you grow at an accelerated pace. A beautiful network of people who will tell you that if you’re gonna’ show up in LA Lights and Hammer pants and imaginary sexy dancers, you better do the dance to go along with it.
How big is the gap between who you think you are and who you really are? How much do you self-edit? Who are the two or three people in your life that have full permission to give you constructive criticism? Who are the people who tell you the truth, who “love you but are not impressed by you”?