101: Discovering My True Self

101: Discovering My True Self

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Discovering My True Self

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.

~Vincent van Gogh

I looked out at the smiling faces packed into the school auditorium. Flashes from cameras lit up in all directions. The applause filled my ears. I had done it, I had really done it.

Just a few months earlier, I would never have pictured myself acting in a play in front of two hundred people. “Not for a million dollars,” I would have said. But when the time came, I got up on stage and faced one of my greatest fears — and discovered I could do more than I ever gave myself credit for. I found a new person inside me, a much more daring, outgoing person who had been hidden all along, just waiting for the opportunity to emerge.

If not for my teacher, Mrs. Sather, I might never have found that opportunity.

In the first and second grade, I was extremely shy. I had friends, but it just wasn’t in my personality to be very outgoing, even when I knew someone well. I was even quieter with strangers, and so I wasn’t very good at meeting new people. I was afraid I would do or say something wrong, so usually I just smiled and listened to other people’s conversations.

I did well in school, though, and I loved to write. I would escape in my writing, where I could be myself and never have to worry about what other people thought of me. In my stories, I was never shy.

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Sather, always encouraged me to write more. She told our class to go after our dreams and dig in with both hands. I think she was one of the first people to see my inner strength.

One day, she announced that our class was going to perform a play she had written, a take off on The Wizard of Oz.

“I’ll begin to cast everyone tomorrow,” she said. “I need someone who is not afraid to be on stage in front of a lot of people to play the lead part of Dorothy. Anybody want to try?”

A few excited hands shot up — mine, of course, was not one of them — and Mrs. Sather smiled. “We’ll talk more about it tomorrow,” she said.

The three o’clock bell rang, and my classmates slowly filed out with their Beauty and the Beast backpacks and Lion King lunch boxes, chattering about the play.

I lingered at my desk, loading up my backpack, and was one of the last to leave. “Dallas,” Mrs. Sather called to me. “Will you come here for a minute, please?” Confused, I nodded and hurried to join her at her desk. Was I in trouble? I grew even more worried when she said, “Maybe we should wait for your dad to come pick you up. He might want to hear this, too.”

As if on cue, my dad walked in, his tall, lean frame filling the doorway. “Hi, Dal, how was your day?” he asked as he helped me slip my backpack over my shoulders.

“Um, fine,” I managed to croak out through my dry throat.

“I was just telling the class about the play we’ll be performing in the spring,” Mrs. Sather related. “It’s going to be a take off on The Wizard of Oz, and Dallas, I was thinking you would be perfect for Dorothy. But I was surprised you didn’t raise your hand when I asked who was interested in the part.”

Me, the lead? Was she crazy? I was terrified just thinking of standing on stage in front of all those people. I hoped to grab a small part where I could sit in the background and watch everyone else sweat over lines in front of all those pairs of eyes.

“W-well,” I stammered, “um, I thought it seemed really hard, and I was never very good at talking in front of lots of people.”

“Oh, Dallas, you’re great at memorizing things, and you have such a sweet personality. Perfect for Dorothy!” She paused. “Of course, plenty of girls would love the role, and I could get somebody else…”

Mrs. Sather gazed into my eyes as if seeing my inner self locked away inside. “But I’d love for you to give this a try for me. I had you in mind for Dorothy while writing the play! If you really don’t want to, though, I won’t make you. It’s your choice.”

My mind was spinning faster than the merry-go-round on the school playground. Mrs. Sather, whom I loved and admired, wanted me in this role. She believed in me. My gaze shifted across the room and stopped on a poster I had never noticed before. It showed a shooting star and read, “If you reach for the stars, you might at least grab a piece of the moon.”

I realized it was time to throw off my shy cloak and show the world who I really was. I looked Mrs. Sather right in her sparkling blue eyes and said, “Okay, I’ll try.”

Fast-forward through five months of practicing, set building, line memorizing, and costume creating. We were ready. I knew my lines, blocking, songs — and the rest of the cast’s lines, blocking, and songs. Still, I was as nervous as I had ever been. My knees shook. My heart pounded like I had just run a mile. I proved to myself that I could do it in practice, but could I prove it to everyone else when it really mattered?

“It doesn’t matter how you do tonight,” said Mrs. Sather, as if reading my thoughts when she came backstage for a final check. “You have already shown yourself how wonderful you are. That is the most important thing.”

I smiled because I knew she was right. I proved I could take chances, be daring, and have fun doing it! At the end of the play, when the audience stood and applauded, I knew they were not just cheering for my performance that night, but for the performances they knew would come in later years because of my newfound confidence.

~Dallas Woodburn

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