The fist time I heard Bette Midler’s story, I wished I had packed a bag at 18 at headed to the Big Apple. Bette was braver than I. She moved to New York, lived in a closet-sized apartment and waited tables while enduring the painstaking process of making her dream of being a performer come true. While I had known since I was six years old that I wanted to be a singer and I loved the idea of Broadway, I never mustered the courage to follow in Bette’s footsteps.
In sixth grade, my class went to camp for a week. I don’t remember the point of the trip. That is to say, I don’t know why our school chose to send sixth graders there year after year. I am sure there was some educational basis and while I despised the social element of it, I did learn a lot. We cared for and rode horses, learned about composting, slept under the stars and awoke covered in cool morning dew and we repelled down a really tall wall. At every point int he experience, I remember asking what was going to happen before participating. I discovered that I loved repelling even though I was terrified to try it at first. Thank God for a hot counselor whom everyone called “Dude” who provided plenty of motivation for this chubby, four-eyed girl from the city.
It wasn’t fear of getting hurt or even death, however, that caused my hesitation to repel down the wall in the woods or that prevented me from moving to New York after high school graduation. Fearlessness was my strong suit. The thought that something bad might happen to me never crossed my mind and caused my parents countless hours of worry. It was fear of failure. What if I wasn’t good at it? Whatever it was... What if I failed miserably and others made fun of me? What if I put myself out there and I became a laughing stock?
One day, the same year I went to camp, a neighbor boy followed me home from school and mocked my singing every step of the way. I remember him saying, “If you think you’re so good, why don’t you...” He went on and on. I acted tough but I was dying inside. That feeling stayed with me for so long. Too long, in fact. Even today, when someone attacks my ability or my talent, I feel it in the pit of my stomach and the thought crosses my mind, “what if I am not good at it? Oh my gosh, what if I am one of those people you see on American Idol auditions who really believe they can sing but they can’t!
Of course I recover from the negativity much quicker now than I did when I was a kid but it is so evident to me now how critical our growing up years are and how impactful negativity can be. And as I walk through the streets of New York, I wish I would have known better as a kid. I wish I would have never doubted myself. I wish I would have been more like Bette.