Last Thursday I got up on stage and and sang (occasionally improvisationally) and spoke (mostly improvisationally) in front of an audience of a few hundred people.
For three and a half hours solid.
I was leading Rosh Hashanah services, something I’ve done for so many years now I’ve lost track.
As I stood behind the podium, I marveled at how much fun I was having, and how comfortable I am on the bima (stage), taking a leadership role in front of a large group. (I’ve been told that visitors to our congregation often assume I’m a rabbi or a cantor — in other words, a professional.)
You’d think I was born good at this.
Well, ha. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The truth is, although leading Rosh Hashanah morning services (and Yom Kippur morning services, which I’ll be leading tomorrow) feels totally natural to me now, and one of my favorite things to do is perform for an audience (though usually it’s singing jazz with a trio, or singing my original songs with my ukulele), it did not start out that way.
Before my synagogue started holding our own High Holy Days services, back in 1996, for a few years I went to services at Stanford Hillel. I remember sitting in the congregation inside Memorial Auditorium in 1995, enthralled by the gorgeous voice and elegant poise of the young woman student up on stage who assisted the rabbi as a lay cantor.
How I wished it was me up there! But that seemed… well.. impossible, really. Just a fantasy.
Then I was
invited recruited to join the board of my synagogue (I was still in my 20s at that point, and no doubt they were thrilled to have someone that young and energetic to invite recruit!) And when it became obvious that I could carry a tune (though I certainly didn’t think of myself as a Singer!), when we held our own High Holy Days services the following year, I was invited recruited to help lead the rounds.
I remember shaking in my shoes when the time came to get up onstage. My mouth felt as dry as Death Valley, and all breath had seemingly left my body.
It’s amazing I could be heard at all. Even with a microphone!
But I made it through… and was
invited recruited to lead one of the services the following year, in addition to helping with the rounds.
What? Me lead a service? No way! I’m not ready!
“Yes you are,” came the response.
And you know what? Although I wasn’t ready when they
invited recruited me, I got recordings of all the prayers and songs I needed to learn, practiced like mad, and by the time the next High Holy Days rolled around, I was ready.
And I was nervous as hell.
But I made it through.
And a few years later I was
invited recruited to take on a bigger leadership role, leading the entire morning service on Rosh Hashanah. And again, though I wasn’t ready at the moment I was invited recruited, I got recordings of all the additional prayers and songs I needed to learn, practiced like mad, and by the time the next High Holy Days rolled around, I was ready.
And I was nervous… but a lot less nervous.
Meanwhile, in 2002 I went to my first music camp, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop. When I found out on the first day of camp that there was a student concert in a few days, for which everyone was encouraged to front an act, I almost had a panic attack!
No way! I’m not ready! I thought. But I also really wanted to do it…
invited recruited two other women to join me in singing one of the rounds we do during High Holy Days services. And I was nervous, but I made it through.
(And people told me later that you could hear a pin drop in the building when we were singing — everyone stopped talking, even in the dining hall next door.)
I went to camp again the following year, and this time my goal for the student concert was to play my guitar and sing at the same time. I
invited recruited a band to back me while I sang Could You Love Me One More Time.
And my hands were shaking so much from the adrenaline, I barely managed to eke out a single chord. But I made it through. And it was fun.
Meanwhile, the years passed, and the High Holy Days came and went, and each year I had to practice a little less to remember what to do. And each year I felt a little more comfortable, and a little less nervous.
And meanwhile, the years passed, and I started taking singing lessons, and classes in jazz singing. And I started going to open mikes. And I started performing. And little by little, I felt more comfortable, and less nervous.
That’s how it works. That’s the secret: if you want to stop being scared of doing something, you’ve got to do it.
As a friend of mine used to say, “If you do something often enough, it becomes normal.”
Leading services has become so normal, that now I simply look forward to it every year. That stage now feels like home to me. And every year I think of that young student at Stanford Hillel whom I envied so much, and I smile when I realize that I have become my own version of her.
So if there’s something you’re secretly (or not-so secretly) wishing you could do, but you don’t feel ready, don’t feel like you could ever do such a big, bold thing, I hope you’ll remember my story and just start moving toward it.
Who knows, you might turn around one day and find yourself living your fantasy.
Then you can write me an email and thank me.
May you and yours be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!