When I was two years old, tragedy struck. The ball pit of my local Chuck E. Cheese had been removed! Luckily, it was the holiday season, and Santa came to my rescue, leaving an in-home ball pit for my sister and me. We both enthusiastically dived in face first, but it was soon evident to my parents that something was wrong. When they inquired about my disdainful face, I simply sniffled, "My arms are too short to reach the balls." I've been this dramatic ever since.
December of 2011 alone, I performed 10 times, between my various theater groups and choir commitments. I've since cut back to make room for other activities, (such as seeing my friends in places other than rehearsal) but anyone who knows me would be able to tell you that the stage is my second home. Actually, they'd probably tell you that I live there. To be fair, I have spent time napping amidst the seemingly never-ending costumes in the closet on the stage in my middle school.
Although I do occasionally sleep in my own bed, this past summer, I reached two amazing milestones in the same month: my 100th performance and my 10-year theater "birthday." Naturally, I was elated and proud of these achievements, and was eager to tell anyone who would listen what I had accomplished. I may never attend the Tony awards, but I'm pretty sure the way I felt is somewhat akin to the way I'd feel if I was even nominated for one. There was pride, certainly, but now I had a solid, concrete number, 100, and it felt like a badge denoting my commitment and dedication.
While many people were proud of me and eager to congratulate me, I couldn't escape the critics who invariably flock to destroy such happiness. I had several people tell me through social media that I was being vain, and even that what I had achieved wasn't significant. Although I tried to let the comments slide, they did stick themselves towards the back of my mind. They inflicted an incessant, nagging self doubt upon me that I didn't even continue to tell people when I was performing. Theater was still something that I was proud of, so I didn't want it spoiled for me by the toxicity of those I hadn't even met, and I was so afraid of the slander, that I unintentionally let these people ruin something that I love.
However, through sleepless nights of mulling over who I was and if my passions were worth what I had invested in them, I realized that I don't need anyone's permission to be proud of myself. In fact, life would be pretty miserable if I went around asking everyone for permission to value myself. Imagine a world where no one is allowed to be happy until everyone around them has agreed to allow it.
Theater isn't easy. I've lost many a night's sleep waiting for a cast list to be posted, rolled my ankle at least 7,000 times, endured more than my fair share of rehearsals that seemed to drag on and on (and on and on and on and on), and killed my voice belting some pretty intense notes for several hours a day. Heck yeah, I'm proud of how long I've been doing that! I endured all of that for the rush of performing, the cast sleepovers, the 2 A.M Denny's trips and the relationships I will carry with me past high school.
Even if it is just for high school, I'm living my dream, and I am proud of that beyond belief. The theater community has, throughout the years, taught me countless lessons, but if there's only one that I am ever able to share, it is that you have God-given permission to be unabashedly and fully proud of yourself for whatever you work hard at. A lot of the time, only you see the countless hours you spend training for a big race, studying to make the honor roll, or playing that flute piece until you felt like you might pass out, and you have a right to be proud of yourself.
Even if your time at the race is just under average, you get one C+ that keeps you from the honor roll, or you squeak at your big flute recital, you have a right to be proud of yourself for working hard. No one else's opinion can ever invalidate the effort, passion and excitement you bring to whatever it is you love.