My Own Life Lessons

I’ve been reading Life Lessons in the Band Room, a book my high school band director recently published, just after he retired. So far I’ve been loving it and highly recommend it. You can check it out here.

The book has brought back so many memories from my time in marching band, things I had completely forgotten about and probably would never have remembered, otherwise. This morning I read from chapter 6, The Power of Choices, and from within the chapter, Choosing Hard Things. For those who have followed my blog from the beginning, you could probably guess that this section of the chapter spoke to me. I’ve written before about doing hard things. My own personal mantra or saying for my life, ever since I gave birth to my first child, has been, “You can do hard things.” In reading this chapter, I realized that marching band was probably one of the first lessons I really got in realizing that I could, indeed, do hard things.

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In the book, Steven Hendricks describes how hard marching band is. “. . . can you play that well while marching around a football field? Can you play while concentrating on moving forward, backward, and sideways? Can you play and successfully navigate through a drill that requires you to memorize eighty-plus coordinates? Can you learn to separate your lower body from your upper body so you are an athlete and a musician at the same time? Finally, can you do all of this and trust every other kid on the field to do his or her job so you don’t have to worry about running into someone or falling over a prop that was misplaced? Marching band is hard!”

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It really is hard! I remember being so excited to start marching band. I had neighbors and friends of my brother’s who had done it and all loved it. Summer band was okay. Most of the time we marched in a straight line, and I could handle that. But learning the field show for fall competition season just about killed me! And I was a pretty decent flute player! I had sat first or second chair throughout most of junior high band, but I struggled so much with being able to play and march at the same time. I remember being embarrassed at how much help I needed from my section leader at band camp. As the season wore on I got better. I could play a little bit while marching. But I wasn’t going to give up. I loved band, and I loved playing my flute. By the time our very last competition came that year I was able to play the entire field show while marching the show at the same time. I was so happy! And by the time my junior year of marching band came, I had no problems. It’s strange to look back on it now and wonder why I struggled so much. I even went on to become the flute/piccolo section leader my senior year. Even though it was easier by then, I can still say with complete honesty that marching band is hard! But it was so worth it. I still look back on it, nearly twenty years later, and can say it was one of the best experiences of my life.

In the same chapter, Steve talks about how people often choose easy things over hard things. This was definitely me for much of my life. I always did really well in school, got good grades, graduated with high honors, got scholarships to college. A huge part of that was because I worked my butt off, but some of it was also because I chose the easy way within my classes. I chose to read books or write papers on subjects I knew would be easy for me. Then, during my third year of college, for some reason I decided to challenge myself.

Instead of a final test in my Native American Lit. class we had a final paper to write. I automatically thought of the easiest thing I could write. However, I figured I should go out with a bang. I had known since I was in ninth grade that I wanted to major in English. There I was, at college, starting my upper division courses in English, and I realized it wasn’t right for me anymore. So I decided to change schools and change my major. This was going to be the last Lit. paper I ever wrote. So I chose to go with a tougher topic, using a literary theory I didn’t feel I understood super well, but that I knew my professor appreciated. Writing that paper was harder than any other one I had ever written. It took so much time, and I stressed about it so much. When I finally finished and turned it in I decided I would be happy with a C on it. I couldn’t believe it when I picked it up during finals week and saw a 90 on it. I got an A-! It was the hardest paper I had ever written, but it was the best paper I had ever written as well. And my professor had seen that. I still am just as happy today as I was then that I chose the hard over the easy. It yet again proved to me that I could do hard things.

Probably my favorite quote from Steve in this chapter is when he talks about all the kids who make the choice to do marching band despite how hard it is. He asks why we choose to do hard things. “We do them because the reward for doing hard things is so much greater than the reward for doing easy things. We do it because it prepares us for the hard things that will inevitably arise in the future.” I know this is true. I know I wouldn’t have felt the sort of accomplishment I did on my paper had I written something easy. There are so many things I wouldn’t have learned, experiences I wouldn’t have been able to cherish, had I given up and not continued doing marching band, something that was hard. And I know these experiences do help us. We can allow ourselves to grow and add upon what we’ve already been through.

Giving natural childbirth to my daughter a little over eleven years ago was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life. Giving natural childbirth to my son a little less than four-and-a-half years later was even harder. He was a lot bigger! Even though it was painful and so, so, so incredibly hard, it was so, so, so worth it! Those were the two best days of my life! Not just because I had brought these beautiful beings into the world, but because I had chosen to do something hard, and I still use those experiences to help me do hard things to this day. Whether I knew it at the time or not, I now believe choosing to do marching band, choosing to stretch and challenge myself with that lit. paper, helped me believe that I could do other hard things, like giving natural childbirth, which helps me do hard things now.

As I’ve said before, doing hard things, such as dealing with mental illness, might not be pretty. Trust me, giving birth, whether natural or not, is never pretty! With my son, I screamed, and I cried, like I scream, and I cry through some of the difficulties life throws at me now. That’s okay. You don’t have to do those hard things in a pretty or perfect way or in any certain timeframe. You just have to do them. And you can. You can do hard things.

A note about the pictures: They are pictures of pictures. That tells you how old I am! My high school marching band days were before the era of digital cameras, and my scanner isn’t working. So pictures of pictures. The first one is a shot of us on the field at a competition my senior year of high school. The second one is of me leading a sectional before a competition when I was section leader. Such good memories!

Anxiety’s False Perception

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One of the worst things anxiety can do to a person is weave a false perception around them. At least that has been my experience. I know there have been times in my life when others have thought I was cold or standoffish when really it was just my anxiety causing me to act a certain way. I feel as though I have gotten a better grip on it in the past year—at least when it comes to social functions. I often still avoid big gatherings when I can because those sorts of settings are usually a disaster just waiting to happen for someone with anxiety, but church is one place I usually want to be on Sundays, one place I most definitely want my children to be, so I have to go and interact.

Many years ago, I lived in Phoenix. One of the reasons I loved it there was because the people were so friendly. Most of the families in my ward (an LDS congregation) were like me—they were from somewhere else. Most of us didn’t have family nearby so everyone went out of their way to be friendly, to be inclusive, because if they didn’t they would be alone. It was quite the shock to my system moving back to Utah. I was still in “Phoenix” mode, I like to call it. I had shrugged some of my anxiety off while living there, and at first I went out of my way to try to make friends here. I remember one of my first weeks at church after we bought our new house, sitting by someone I didn’t know and trying to talk to her. She turned away from me and completely ignored me the rest of the meeting. I soon had other similar experiences that pushed my anxiety back to the surface in full swing. I started sitting by myself in meetings, didn’t look or talk to anyone. And thus, my unfriendly, snobbish perception or persona was born again. But the truth is that I acted this way because of my anxiety. I was so incredibly anxious and nervous that I would be rejected again that I could not make myself be the one to “go out of my way” to make friends with others. I avoided people not because I didn’t like them or thought bad things about them or thought I was better than them, but rather because I was trying to avoid getting emotional and having a panic attack. There were times I had to hide out in a bathroom stall while hyperventilating or crying before I could get myself to calm down enough to go back into a Sunday meeting.

So my heartfelt plea to others is to be understanding, to remember that if someone seems standoffish or snobbish or like they think they are better than you, it may actually be their anxiety. In reality, they may be desperate to have a friend, to have someone to talk to, to have someone who will care about them, but they just don’t know how or can’t find a way to do it themselves because of their anxiety.

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For those with anxiety, I think one of the things that helps the most is simply learning to be comfortable with who you are, finding some bit of confidence in yourself. I had a big breakthrough moment last September at a wedding in Alabama. I didn’t know anyone there other than my friend who had invited me and his friend who was the groom—and I had only met him the day before the wedding. When my friend told me about the wedding a week or two before I went down I almost had a panic attack just thinking about it—about having to interact with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I was really nervous when we got there, but that famed southern hospitality kicked in the moment we walked in the door. Everyone was so incredibly friendly and welcoming, and they immediately put me at ease, all anxiety gone. I even went way outside my comfort zone at one point and got up, left my friend and went into the kitchen to see if they needed any help preparing lunch for after the ceremony. I will admit, I was proud of myself! There was a moment, after more and more people had gathered, where my anxiety came back, and I just wanted someone to shield and protect me, but overall I think it was a success. Knowing that I could do it, that I could beat my anxiety for a time, has helped me so much recently.

Church is easier these days as well. I do have to give credit to the people in my new ward, though. They have been very supportive, loving and friendly, and I am so grateful for that. I usually try to sit next to someone rather than by myself and join in conversations. That one is hard because I think I’m a somewhat socially awkward person, and I don’t do well engaging in conversation with people I don’t know really well. But I still try. So never give up hope. Sometimes you can do hard things, even when you have anxiety.