I have been curious and eager since the day you were born to see what you will become. I can’t wait to see what that one thing is that will make your eyes light up when you talk about it; that one thing that you will spend hours that feel like minutes perfecting and exploring; that one thing that you can’t wait to share with other people. Right now, the things you are enthusiastic about are food, being read to, watching Toy Story, drawing with crayons and waking up from naptime, but someday, you’re going to find fulfillment in something much more; something that will become part of your identity. Maybe you’ll be a songwriter, writing songs with profound lyrics or catchy choruses. Maybe you’ll pick up an instrument, getting lost in the tones you can create with your fingertips, creating a beautiful outlet for all the things that make you happy and all the things that make you sad. Maybe you’ll find a sport you enjoy, constantly carrying a ball or a tool of the sport with you so you can practice in every spare minute you have, dreaming of representing the US in the Olympics someday.
I watch you all the time, waiting, knowing someday you’re going to stumble across something that makes you feel alive, that gives you so much joy that you can’t wait to share it with us—Mommy and Daddy—and when you’re ready, with the rest of the world. I can’t wait to tell you how proud I am of you and how dedicated you are, no matter the initial quality of your attempts, because I know it’s just a matter of time before someone tells you that you aren’t good enough.
Daddy and I are not going to be the type of parents who won’t give you structure out of fear that it will “inhibit your creativity.” I had Granddad and Granny for parents, both of whom are proud Marines to the core. I had a structured, sometimes strict upbringing and I’m the most creative person in the family. Daddy and I also do not believe in showering only praise and omitting constructive criticism; this would create an elevated sense of accomplishment in you, distort your self-perception and make taking judgment on your abilities nearly impossible. We believe in honesty; granting applause when it’s due as well as making suggestions for improvement, when applicable.
My ventures (individually) as a singer and a writer haven’t been easy. They’ve been exciting, given me focus, given me joy and ways to serve God, but it’s not always been rainbows and unicorns along the way. I’ve had some hard truths spoken to me over the years, from people who are much more knowledgable and wiser than I am. I’ve been given insincere compliments that meant well, but wound up doing more damage than helping in the end. I’ve also had some cruel things said about myself and my abilities from people who didn’t know better at all.
Regardless of what your heart someday chooses to pursue, I want you to know that I’ve been there, too, and here is what I will tell you.
Strive to Be Your Best, But Don’t Expect to Be The Best.
One of the most difficult things for a person to reconcile with is being told by someone who loves you that you are the very best at what you do, then losing a competition—sometimes not even placing. You expect what Mommy and Daddy speaks to be truth, so if we convince you that no one is better at something than you, you may assume you were somehow judged unfairly. It could give you the impression that you are superior to another person (or people) and this can generate resentment and jealousy, neither of which are ever a good thing. It’s not a bad thing for you to know that we think you’re the best; what’s bad is if we make you believe everyone else should think so, too.
Don’t Do It to Be Famous; Do It Because It’s What You Love to Do.
Looking back on my life, one of the most destructive things ever spoken to me was, “Well, you could be famous already if you wanted it bad enough.” Imagine giving something everything you’ve got and hearing this. It should never be about fame; what a superficial, meaningless goal to have. Saying that to someone is the same as saying, “Your best wasn’t good enough, because it’s not making you famous.” It shifts your focus from using your talents to help others and serve God to prestige for yourself; it stops being about the joy derived from doing something you love and becomes about who knows your name and who thinks you’re great. If someone someday wants to pay you to do the thing you love, awesome. That is fantastic! But sometimes, it’s not in God’s plan for you to make money that way. Maybe it’s just something to help you cope with life; something for you and those you love to enjoy.
It’s Not Always Your Talent That Will Make You a Success; It’s Your Level of Dedication.
Some people have an inherent skill that it seems like they don’t even have to work for—they were just born with it. They win talent shows, outshine everyone else on a stage, win championships and competitions just by showing up. They may sometimes be awarded less than first place, but not often, simply because they are just naturally gifted at what they do.
And then there are some people who have a smaller degree of talent—but talent, nonetheless—and a surplus of persistence and commitment. It doesn’t matter to people like this if they’re the best or not; they just love what they do. Placing fourth is like placing first to them, and if they don’t place at all, it’s an experience they learn from that makes them even better next time. They don’t view people who rank higher as a threat and don’t believe they’ve been unfairly judged. These people persevere because they are the best at what they do in a quiet, less celebrated way. They don’t give up, even when it feels like no one notices them.
Whether you have intrinsic talent or insurmountable dedication, (some people are even blessed with both) one is not preferable over another, and one is definitely not better than the other. How incredibly blessed you are if it comes innately, but what an inspiration you are if you never give up.
Be Discerning and Humble; Learn from People Who Offer Valuable Constructive Criticisms, But Don’t Let People Who Have Nothing Kind to Say Devalue You.
Some people have your best interests at heart. They can see your dedication and potential, but they can also see fixable things you can tweak to improve the quality of your work. They don’t make suggestions to hurt your feelings; they aren’t viewing your flaws as irrevocable failures, they see them as areas of growth. That’s a great compliment when someone offers you constructive criticism, because that means they believe in you; they believe in your ability to get even better at what you do. It takes a lot of humility to say, “Yes, I see what you’re saying. I will work on improving that.” Humility is a rare and under-appreciated trait that makes you a lot more approachable and a more likable person. The more humble you are, the more people are going to want to help you and see you succeed.
However, you must be perceptive. Not everyone has your best interests at heart; some people—whether jealous of you as a person or jealous of your skill and dedication—want to see you fail. Yes, it can be infuriating, and words spoken from such people can cause you to doubt yourself. But you also have to realize that the majority of those people aren’t genuinely speaking out of a malicious heart; most are simply misguided. You have to understand that, perhaps they never had anyone believe in them like someone believes in you. Maybe they’ve been torn down more than they’ve been encouraged. Maybe no one has ever told them that they have what it takes. It doesn’t justify their cruel words, but it can help you empathize with them. Maybe this is an opportunity for you to be the first person to ever build that person up and give them hope, in spite of how harsh they were to you.
Either way, know which words to take to heart, which ones to forgive and forget, and know when you are speaking to a troll.
Know the Difference Between Confidence and Arrogance.
Getting on a stage is confidence; thinking everyone else should go home because you’ve already won is arrogance. Taking a chance on kicking the winning goal because you know you can make it is confidence; thinking the team won because of you is arrogance. Be appreciative of the efforts of others, and realize how much work they’ve put into their abilities, as well.
Don’t Disregard People Who Are Not Experts.
It’s easy to hear something you don’t want to hear, then discount it by saying, “Well, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” Sometimes, that is very true. However, depending on what your passion is, it’s not always the “experts” who are going to be watching you. As a writer, sure I read up on advice in the industry and learn from fellow writers and editors, but I also need to be intuitive to the preferences of my readers, because besides myself, my readers are the ones I need to make happy.
Sometimes, Even When You Are the Best, You’re Still Going to Lose.
Honestly, this may be one of the hardest lessons to learn. This could also be the most difficult instance to implement humility, even over being told that there’s something on which you need to improve. Sometimes, people with less talent and/or dedication are going to be the first choice of a judge or a crowd over you. It doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is wrong; perhaps it was the judge or crowd’s perception. It also doesn’t always mean that it was an honest victory. The only consolation I have found in occasions like this is, if you really were the best, you will not be the only one who noticed the undeserved loss. Others will have noticed, too, and most of them will tell you so. Most of the time, though, there’s nothing that can be done to change this. All you can take from it is the lesson in humility and be happy for the person who won.
No Matter What, Mommy and Daddy Will Always Be Your Biggest Cheerleaders.
It won’t matter if you hit a sour note, missed the winning game ball, forgot your lines in a play, fell on your face in the middle of a dance or in a gymnastics competition. We will always be proud of you because you tried; because you put yourself out there to be judged when there are so many people who are too scared to do that. We will be proud of you because you are doing what makes you happy; because you inspire others by doing your best. No mortifying mistake would ever make us embarrassed of you or love you less.
It will only mean you’re human.