Sunday, October 25, 2009
What are you doing here?
I was at the end of a frustrating year of college at a school to which I didn't return. They had invited me to be a part of the inaugural year of their new honors program, and I spent the year growing up in a lot of ways. Musically, I had not grown much in those months, and one of my professors called me into his office one day as the spring semester was wrapping up. I had done well in his class, so I really didn't know what to expect. He started by asking a very direct question: "What are you doing here?"
He had seen some potential in me early in the academic year. In fact, he had considered splitting his large class into two sections with me leading the second section. That was quite a compliment, coming from an established professor, but the year passed without me ever really grasping and owning the potential he saw. This professor concluded that I was not being sufficiently challenged by the institution... that my full capability was not being nurtured. In some ways, it was easy for me not to thrive. Thus his question "What are you doing here?" was eventually followed by some suggestions of other (prestigious) schools that he thought would better sharpen me and call me fully forward.
I didn't take his advice on any of those schools, but his question stuck with me in more ways than one. Several years later, I was working in a church in a small town and a parishioner heard me practicing the piano one afternoon. Her question was identical to my professor's: What are you doing here? She saw something about me that I wasn't willing to see in myself, but the question immediately caught my attention.
I started waking up a bit that day, but I am only beginning to see how I have sold myself short in many ways for years. Perhaps it was because I didn't want to be driven by blind ambition, constantly striving to achieve more. More likely, it was plain fear that I wouldn't measure up to the challenge, that no amount of striving could compensate for my inadequacies. Sticking with what came easily seemed safer, but it wound up being ultimately less satisfying. It became rather like wearing clothes that are too small... I can completely fill them out, but there is more of me than what the clothes can contain. And it's not terribly comfortable.
Now I am being evoked again, and I am looking at myself with more honesty and less fear. Admitting my strengths and capabilities, I want a satisfying, sharpening environment that I have to stretch a little bit to fill out completely. I want to thrive. I can see many possibilities for how this can happen, and I am sure that there are possibilities I don't yet see. But if I remain willing to keep asking myself "What am I doing here?" and answer honestly, I believe those possibilities will become clearer and clearer.