By Libby Williams
There I was, standing in front of 250 kids – all my peers – on stage, bright stage light shining directly in my face. I was reading a compelling speech about the reasons I would make a good secretary for the student body and about to belt out a musical solo in favor of said position.
I was the new kid in a school where people had formed strong bonds since they were in the church preschool together. They knew each other. Their parents had cocktail parties together. Their grandparents played bridge together. And there I stood on stage in front of all of them, wide-eyed and naive, running a campaign for a position against a more seasoned local and singing (yes, singing) a little ditty based on a jingle from a vegetable company.
I wasn’t from there. My hair was different. My accent was different. My body type was different. I was awkward and uncomfortable in my skin, my heart, my mind. But there I stood, despite myself and all my shortcomings, in front of hundreds of my peers, belting out the chorus to “Libby’s on the Label” modified to suit my campaign for Student Body Elected Official. I am sensitive by nature. So I felt their jeers. I felt the snark, the insults, the mocking.
For some silly reason, I did it anyhow. It was too late to turn that ship around and I was onstage, giving it my all. I stood in front of them as an outsider trying to show them how things could be different…how I could be different. I didn’t care about the position much. My running was more an act of defiance to the social system. I wanted to prove that being me was enough, to myself and the whole school. I stood there in solidarity with all the outsiders – the ones who never could measure up and the ones who were bold enough not to care.
It didn’t work. I lost that election by one vote. One. And honestly, I have never been more proud of losing something. In retrospect, the guts it took me to get up there and fight for a crown that wasn’t meant to be given to me was the exact lesson I needed for a future in fighting for fearlessness. You see, that little election marked me. It changed the outcome of my future a little bit. It helped me fight for jobs I wanted. It showed me what it would be like to face heart break. It helped me campaign for my parents’ rights in the hospital against the corporate giant of medicine and an arrogant doctor when they were too sick to do it themselves. That silly little election made me believe I could be anything if I just fought for it. It taught me grit.
I feel like I have learned a lot over the years about fearlessness just by doing. Fearlessness – or grit – isn’t something you can teach. It’s something learned by experience. It’s a pull-you-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of mentality that is only learned from falling and getting back up…time after time after time. It’s learned by facing fears and overcoming obstacles that you tell yourself you can’t accomplish. Sometimes it’s placed in front of you because you have to deal with it. Other times, it’s something you choose. But it’s the fight – the mere act of getting back up – that means the most.
Avoiding pain and humiliation is a natural human response. I came from a family full of people who let fear ride shotgun. They moved safely within their tiny boxes so as to avoid the pain of reality. They were of the “don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself” school of thought. Honestly, who can blame them for wanting a little safety and security? It’s comfortable and comes with less medical bills. But it doesn’t seem to help us grow into the space we were meant to take up on this planet. Our true potential isn’t met without pushing through boundaries. Nobody overcomes anything by playing it safe.
I recently went back to my old alma matter and stood on that very stage again. Looking out into those empty seats, a flood of memories came over me. I became that young girl again standing in front of my friends and my adversaries, stomach in knots, embarrassed to be me. But then I paused, took a deep breath and remembered that a lot has happened since that moment. A lot of failures. A lot of lessons. A lot of heartache and breakthrough and achievement. I have worked hard to become something bigger than what was on that stage all those years ago. At the same time, I have stepped into the role that my young, naive self believed – that I am enough, regardless of what I have come to believe.
And while I have climbed mountains to get past the fear and the judgement, the depression and the anxiety, that little stage in high school was just the beginning of becoming the me I believed I could be.