My niece Miley is 9-years old. Recently, she ran for class representative. All of the candidates had to give a speech and then the class voted. In her speech, she said things like, “I’d make a great class representative because if I had to choose between being right and being kind, I’d choose being kind.”
Her teacher messaged my sister the night before the announcement so that Michelle could prepare Miley. When my sister told me, I could physically feel my heart just crumple in my chest.
Instantly, I had about two dozen flashbacks. What it felt like when I didn’t see my name on the list after 7th grade volleyball tryouts. Falling down the stairs in front of the varsity boys’ soccer team my very first day of high school. Getting my first B in sophomore geometry. Hearing people laugh at me when I tried out for a school play. Failing my driver’s test the first time. And the second.
(Hey, I get test anxiety, ok?)
And really, there’s a lot more. You don’t get through public school unscathed. At least not when you’re a big-nosed, bushy-eyebrowed twerp with braces and a perm who openly plays with dolls past the fifth grade.
(Looking back, someone should have pulled me aside and told me: you’re the best kind of kid. Kids like you make fantastic adults. Then again, maybe I’m just super narcissistic and hope that my spawn are just like me in some respects.)
These aren’t nearly the worst of the blows life has afforded me. (Wouldn’t that be great?! If getting an 87% on my sophomore report card was my biggest not-good-enough moment?!) But it sure did feel like it at the time, each time, and oh man do I ever remember that same exact feeling and recognize it the second it comes knocking. It’s the same gut-churning, can’t breathe, fiery hot feeling every time: shame.
When I heard about Miley, I’d have done anything to go back in time, storm the fourth grade, and rig the vote. Anything to stand between her and that burning sensation.
And if I could, I’d go back to the 90’s (brave, I know) and tell the knock-kneed kid who got cut from volleyball that she’d make softball and field hockey, and those were way better. I’d tell her that all that extra pretending and make-believing she did would pay off when she was a teacher and a mom. I’d tell her that you can pay to straighten up a broken nose, but a crooked heart is damn near impossible to fix.
I’d tell her so many things, but most of all I’d tell her about how that ugly feeling is one of the reasons why we’re put here, and that if I’ve learned anything, you shouldn’t be afraid of it. You should lean into it. You should wrestle it. You should pound it with your fists and call it by its name. Because everyone, everyone, knows it. Because everyone has had it knock them down time and time again, and because your pain isn’t special — but it is valuable. So feel every ounce of it and learn how to fail better next time.
Also, I’d tell her to make a friend like Miley. Because when she found out that she’d lost the vote, she shrugged and said, “I think I’ll probably run for vice president next year.”