Girl Happy

On Being Joyfully Ordinary

My little sister is named after the family from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life; her middle name is Bailey. You can probably guess, then, that the fictional Bailey family has been an integral part of my life. If you don’t know the film, it follows George Bailey, a young man with big dreams who tries desperately to escape his hometown and become an architect. Different things tend to hold him back, like his responsibility to the family building and loan business, and he ends up staying in Bedford Falls for the entire portion of his life that we see in the movie. He has a mid-life crisis of sorts, where he realizes that he has not become what he wanted to be and has made many mistakes, and he ends up wishing that he was never born. An angel, Clarence, actually shows George Bailey what the lives of the people around him would be like if he had never been born, and he ends up overwhelmed with a newfound appreciation for how wonderful his very ordinary life is. 

The first time I saw It’s a Wonderful Life, I thought that it was incredibly sad. A younger version of me was so sad that George never achieved his dreams or got out of Bedford Falls. It drove me absolutely nuts that George’s younger brother got far more recognition than him, even though, in most situations, he put in less work and behaved more selfishly than George. I was unable to extract the true message of the film: that being able to list off great achievements doesn't matter, it's the love in your life and the way you connect to people around you that matters. 

microphoneWhen I was younger, I knew that I wanted to be an actress, or a performer of some kind. Between dance, musicals, choir, and a cappella performances, I've been on stage from an incredibly young age, and I thought that I wanted to live in that world for the rest of my life. By the time I turned 17, I was all set to audition for musical theatre and vocal performance conservatory programs on top of regular college applications. Then, at the end of my junior year of high school, I was diagnosed with vocal nodules, or "nodes" (yes, the thing Brittany Snow gets in Pitch Perfect. No, they don't actually make you a female bass). Now, the process of auditioning for conservatory programs is incredibly competitive. After watching deserving friends go through the process and end up with nothing to show, I can say that I definitely wouldn't have ended up at any of those schools, nodes or no nodes. But to me, starting my senior year of high school and college application season, I was reevaluating my intended life path, and it was terrifying. But, it forced me to evaluate what I was genuinely passionate about. 

Music has always been an absolutely fundamental force in my life (even though I suck at theory), and it's easily my greatest passion. In looking at my day-to-day life my senior year of high school, I realized that the thing that made me feel the happiest, like I was actually doing something, was not rehearsing for the shows I was in or singing in choir concerts, it was teaching music and directing the vocal ensembles that I ran at the time. While performing made me happy, it was teaching, directing, and conducting that made me feel comfortable and yet also creatively fulfilled. I discovered that I wanted to teach music and direct choirs. 

There is a horrendous saying that permeates conversations about education (especially in arts education, I've found), that "those who can't do, teach." Now, I have met plenty of people who can "do", but could never have the patience or interpersonal skills to teach, but the real problem with believing that teachers can't "do" is that it assumes that everyone who becomes a teacher would have or should have chosen a more glamorous career path if they could have, that any music teacher would ditch their classroom in a moment if they could make a living on stage. This just simply is not true. I know because, when I first considered becoming a music teacher, I thought I was copping out, resigned to a path I didn't want (at least temporarily) because I was in poor health. But the longer I taught and directed, and the healthier my voice got, the more I realized that teaching is so much more than a desperate attempt by a failed performer to keep music in their life. Some of the best connections I have built through music have been because of experiences I've had teaching, and my proudest musical performances have been of pieces I've conducted and arranged, not sung a solo on. 

Happy

I realized that there is a lot about the "glamorous" lifestyle of a performer that is honestly not right for me. Constant auditioning would be anxiety-inducing and would make my entire job feel like a constant competition. Working pretty much only nights and weekends would destroy my social life. Being a performer would have been a dream, and come with a lot of sweet sweet validation, but honestly, I don't think that that life is my dream anymore. I don't need my life to be "goals" or to have a job that other people perceive as a high achievement. I just want to go to work every day and be happy. 

“High School Me” thought that the way to be happy was to pursue the most enviable path that would secure the most sought-after lifestyle. She thought that the only way for George Bailey to be happy was to leave Bedford Falls and become an architect, at any cost. But the real way to be happy is to do the thing you love every day. Music is the thing I love. Teaching has become a thing that I love; I've started volunteering in a second-grade classroom this semester, and every time I leave, I think "I'm definitely supposed to be a teacher." I don't need to be "living the dream." My dream is to do something that makes me happy all day and to come home to the people I love at night. And if that means being a teacher that people love instead of a performer that people envy, then I am happy to be joyfully ordinary.