In my former life, I was born to be a star. Or so I liked to tell myself.
In middle school, when girls my age were playing in soccer leagues or crying over the Backstreet Boys or doing things that cool girls do (it’s a mystery to me) I was making up dance routines alone in my basement to A Chorus Line and just waiting for my big break.
Every time I visited my grandparents in southern Illinois, I had a long running fantasy that some small town theater troupe was going to randomly approach me on the street and tell me they needed an understudy to play Maria in The Sound of Music TO-NIGHT and I was the ONLY ONE who could save them. I was the 12 year old they were waiting for.
When I met other basement dancing born-to-be stars, it terrified me.
I was so scared that there could only be one of us.
I carried this fear with me from childhood to college, where I majored in theater. Because I’m forward thinking.
At this point, I was feeling less born to be a star and more “I hope I can maybe lose a bunch of weight and not cry myself to sleep when I move to LA.” And I was even more terrified of other former basement dancers.
My friendships with other actors like me were weighed down by layers of “What if they make it and I don’t?” and “What if they’re better than me and I just don’t know it?” This terror was draining and alienating.
When I first left the theater and finally admitted to myself that I was born to be something other than a star, I felt like I was floating. Suddenly, the lens through which I saw the people around me re-adjusted and the fear that there could only be “one of us” disappeared completely. I was free to enjoy other basement dancers — to laugh and sing showtunes with wild abandon — because I now saw them as kindred souls, not competition.
Years later, when I started RKA ink and decided I was born to be a web designer (at least for now) the fear came back.
One summer, I remember weeping over my website for 6 weeks as I clicked on page upon page of droolworthy designers.
The difference, this time, was that I recognized the feeling and saw the Ego light go on on my emotional dashboard. I’d been here before. I didn’t like it.
Right around that time, I began writing 365 Tips For Working With Heart and shortly thereafter I launched Awesomepreneurs We Love: an interview series with people that inspired me. I took all the fuel I was pouring into fear and redirected it towards appreciation. And it actually worked!
I began to trust in the mysterious magic of loving other people as best I could and trusting that I would be okay. Not only could there be more than “one of us”, there had to be.
When I encountered a droolworthy designer, I successfully retrained myself to see them, not as competition, but as collaborators, mentors, role models, and at the very least inspiration. I also adopted a policy of being open with the designer I admired about how much I loved their work and why. If they had any tinge of “one of us” competition fear, it melted away when I openly expressed my appreciation for their designs.
This total recalibration of how I experienced other people was like a drug. I couldn’t get enough. The more I actively loved on other people, whether just in my mind or in relationship with them, the happier I felt. Fear was nowhere to be found.
I wonder what my experience in theater school would have been like if I had allowed myself to appreciate the talents of my fellow basement dancers. If I had treated auditions the way I treat my sales calls, I’d be saying, “If you need any references for other actors, I know so many amazing people!” while I passed out my headshots. “I want to make sure I’m the right actor for the part and if I’m not, that you find the actor you’re looking for.” Okay, maybe not a winning approach to the audition circuit, but it’s working beautifully for me as a basement dancing web designer.
Sure, I probably could have dropped the jealous drama queen act without leaving the theater, but then I wouldn’t be writing this blog now, would I?
Now that I have shifted my focus, I feel free to take in the brilliance of the stars that surround me. It’s a glorious, magnificent sight. I mean, even if I was a design star, I wouldn’t be able to watch myself sparkle.
Together really is better.