The other F word

We all know that saying -- "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."  And while it's usually applied in situations where class is an issue, it's equally relevant anytime someone is trying to be something they're not. 

I took this photo in Wisconsin a few years back; it was just in someone's front yard when we drove by, with no explanation, and it just -- struck me.  I loved the incongruity of it, and the facelessness of the bride was just -- eerie.

But it seems particularly relevant to me this morning -- this whole idea that you can dress a blockhead up to look like a bride, but she's still a blockhead.  And that's because I've recently come up against a rather glaring exhibition of my own shortcomings. 

I came to acting fairly late -- only 10 years ago -- and sort of through the back door: I've been doing readings and voiceovers and public speaking most of my life, so it seemed reasonable to assume I could take that talent to the stage as well.

But in reality those are very different skills: while reading requires excellent voice control, an ability to read well and quickly, to unearth the implications behind the spoken word, it's essentially a sedentary act; most of the action takes place in your face and throat.  Acting, on the other hand, requires a great deal of physicality, and you have to be very present in your body.  And I'm kind of -- not that person.

So I signed up this fall to participate in what I thought was a reading, but it's turned out to be a play, complete with costumes and blocking and movement and miming, and I'm definitely not only out of my comfort zone but also out of my competence zone.  So I've spent much of my weekend trying to figure out what to do about that.  I'm not upset or depressed or overwhelmed, I'm just out of my league.  And I feel like a bit of a blockhead: no matter how you dress me up, I'm still going to look like a blockhead.

It's good, I think, to push our limits, to try new things, to stretch the edges of our abilities.  But it seems equally healthy to admit to that other F word: to Failure, to weakness, to incompetence and mistakes.  The trick is knowing when you're in over your head and someone else could do it better.  I've always thought that one of the most important aspects of being a good manager was to be able to hire good people and be willing to delegate.  We can't do it all ourselves, and we certainly can't do everything well, so it's important to know what you can and can't do and let each person perform the tasks they do best.

Parenting has some related aspects: we challenge our children to stretch their limits and try new things to give them opportunities to discover their own competencies, strengths and passions.  But we have to also be willing to say, "Hmm... it doesn't look to me like this is where your heart and your gifts lie.  That doesn't make you a bad person -- it just means you might not be great at this particular thing.  Let's try something else."  As humans, it's important to keep broadening opportunities for one another.  But it's also important to give one another -- and ourselves -- permission to fail without coating the experience with a lot of blame or calling each other names.

Look at it this way. Just because this creature standing here is not a bride doesn't mean she's a blockhead.  Maybe she's just an incredibly beautiful and entertaining birdhouse!


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