When I was 14, I loved two things, and I loved them deliberately. The first was basketball, and the second was the stage.
I’m not sure which love came first, but I remember wearing my Kings jersey to middle school, tacking up a Mike Bibby poster to my bedroom door. In my stereo, burned Broadway soundtracks with accompaniment music played on loop so I could practice for auditions.
The two things are not so different if you think about it. An audience to watch. Pressure to perform. Uniforms, costumes, sweat dripping on Nike leather, staining ballet satin. Your heart thumping in your ears as you run, dance, leap, sing. Everyone is watching, yet it’s not their eyes you crave; it’s how your body feels so certain at the center of the stage, in the middle of the court.
My love for basketball is so odd to think back on now. I mostly remember myself as a creative and imaginative child, tearing through chapter books and filling journals with moody poems and song lyrics. Yet while there is some truth to this version of me, it is not the full image. I am the daughter of a musician, after all; I am also the daughter of a three-sport athlete. My father loved both the stage and the sports field. From him is where I likely got my competitive yet creative nature.
So basketball. This was the sport I loved most. We had a hoop in our driveway, and every night during the warmer months, I played with the neighborhood boys, working on my jump shot, the ball thudding against the plastic. “That doesn’t count,” they’d taunt me. “No backboard shots.” And so I began to work on my threes.
I wasn’t good at sports. There is no turn in the story where I work hard enough and then, against all odds, become the star of the team. I ran funny (still do) and didn’t have the coordination needed to weave around the taller players. Even when my dad coached our team in eighth grade, my end-of-the-year award was for “Most Enthusiastic Player.”
The stage was where I actually shined. I knew how to use my body and voice to fill a room. I started with singing, then dancing, memorizing soundtracks to popular shows like The Wiz and Annie. I was never lead in any of these musicals—my vocal range didn’t allow for it—but I knew my home was on stage all the same.
By my junior year, I’d given up sports, focusing my attention on acting in plays, specifically dramas. When I didn’t have to rely on dancing and singing, I could more easily land the roles I wanted; I only needed to become a character, to channel my emotions into the script.
It was perfect. I was no longer the dramatic “emo girl” in the high school hallways, but the talented actress who could make herself cry on cue, who could pierce through a silent auditorium with a single line of anguish. As long as I was playing someone other than me, I could freely tap into heavier emotions—emotions that were expected on stage, even encouraged. I didn’t have to explain how I so easily conjured up these feelings. To the audience, it was merely talent.
I told my theatre teacher my plans to audition for a few college theatre programs later that year. I wanted to pursue acting full-time. A pipe dream, sure, but I was 17. My teacher chuckled and shook his head. Good luck paying for those schools. You’ll need to get a full scholarship. He said this in a way that implied I wasn’t good enough, like he didn’t believe I could get in.
For anyone who has been a part of a theatre program, you know it’s quite close-knit—I spent every day after school rehearsing or doing homework backstage. My teacher and I had often talked about shows together, and brainstormed roles I could play that would help my resume and college applications. Yet he never gave me these roles, and I often felt discouraged and confused by this dangling carrot. I loved theatre desperately, and others affirmed my talent. His comment, while not out of character, felt like a gut punch from the one person who was supposed to be on my team.
It’s funny how those small moments stay with you, define you. If I close my eyes, I am still standing before my teacher, watching the doubt spread across his face. Humiliation finds me, then a fire I didn’t know I needed.
I applied for my dream schools anyway, sending in audition tapes of monologues and musical numbers. By spring, I’d been offered a humble scholarship to a university in Los Angeles and a role in the fall musical.
Sometimes we’re not good at something, like how I wasn’t good at basketball. I knew this deep down—I knew it would never be more than a sport I enjoyed. But this was not the case with theatre, which I loved like you love your own breath. I needed it to survive. More than this, theatre made me feel safe. The stage was home to a younger version of myself learning what it meant to have big feelings. That’s how I knew I was good enough to be there, because I couldn’t live without it. That is until I did.
See, I ended up taking a year off between high school and college, and while my theatre scholarship was reserved for me, my role in the musical wasn’t. I needed to audition when I arrived on campus the following fall. Except the fall show had a small cast, and I didn’t prepare as much as I should have. When I left the room, I knew I wouldn’t get a part.
My dream for theatre died on a fall afternoon in 2009. When I saw the cast list posted without my name, the ghost of my high school theatre teacher was standing there with me. All of his doubts, compounded with mine, suddenly felt true. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t belong there. By the end of the week, I’d dropped out of the program and changed my major. Just like that. A small seed of doubt suddenly sprouted. That was the last time I was ever on a stage.
I don’t tell you this story to cast blame on my teacher. While I don’t commend his teaching style, I ultimately made a choice myself, because we make our own choices. Ultimately, I gave up. I chose to believe I wasn’t good enough, and in choosing to believe that, I wasn’t.
It’s hard to believe in yourself; I get it. Especially when doors are closing in your face and even more so when you have naysayers whispering in your ear. I have this conversation with creator friends frequently (also, hi, writing, we’ll get to that), but I think this also happens on a much larger scale. It’s easy to get discouraged about the path you’re on when the fog never thins. We doubt ourselves, we doubt the quiet voice inside that tells us we’re exactly where we are supposed be, that if we stick with it, it will eventually pay off.
I don’t mean we’ll all become sports stars or win Tony Awards, either. I’m not taking about fame or monetary success. Moreover, when I say “good enough,” I use the phrase loosely and interrogate my own meaning (what is the definition of good anyway, and who decides that?).
Instead, I’m talking about the affirmation we give ourselves when we claim our seat at the table and then take that seat and stay put. This is the hard work. Anyone can say, “Yes, I believe in me, I believe in my dream, I believe this is the path I’m meant be on.” What’s difficult is leaning into that truth and then taking a step forward. And then another. And then another.
We do this, ultimately, for ourselves. To honor our dreams and passions. To create art and offer it to the world even when the world doesn’t seem to want it.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve doubted my voice on the page. Every week when I go to send this newsletter, I hesitate and go through a predictable cycle of negative emotions. The only thing that keeps me going is the fact that this isn’t basketball; it’s theatre. And that the only person who can get in my way is me.
How do I know this? For me, it’s because I don’t just love writing; I feel it in my body. When I complete a story, it lingers on my skin. I remember that feeling about theatre—how when we finished a show and the adrenaline wore off, I felt like the truest version of myself, even if I was pretending to be someone else. Theatre offered me a safe space to play with all my emotions in a world that isn’t always so kind to sensitive people. Writing does that too.
What matters most in this life is that you’re showing up and being true to yourself—whatever that means and however you evolve over the years. No one can tell you who you should be or what dreams you should chase after, or which ones you should table. Only you get that role. Others can offer input, sure, but you are the one to choose whether you move forward or take a different path.
And you know what that means for you, if you quiet your thoughts for a moment and listen. What makes your heart skip a beat? What passion or project or creative endeavor gives you goose pimples and childlike joy when you think about it? What loves make you want to rejoice and scream and quit and never stop all at once?
That thing you’re thinking about right now, and that flicker of doubt you feel because it’s scary and you don’t want to risk it all if there’s a chance you may lose—That’s it. That’s your thing.
Now hear it from me: You’re good enough to go after it.
“I thought of this branch and the dangling hanging of it all; how I immediately resonated with how awkward and vulnerable it looked, but was then surprised by its secure attachment.” I loved this recent piece on Big Feels, and I’ll be ruminating on this line for a while.
For some joy (!!) This IG comedian is a new favorite.
A song for your Tuesday evening:
I needed to read this today more than I could possibly, humanly say.
I'm a few decades into this writing gig. Ten years into it mostly full time in one way or another. And I’m having another period where I’m living not just month to month but day to day. Perpetually in the red. Dancing between paying this and not paying that and what groceries do we need and what can we live without. I'm tired and I'm questioning and wondering why the hell i keep pushing this particular boulder up this particular hill.
And so today a series of events landed me in a Massive Crisis Of Confidence and a few hours of miserable self pity what-a-fucking-failure-I-am tears.
And then I dropped and shattered a whole entire jar of Trader Joe’s pumpkin bisque - and the tears came.
And I shooed the dog away and cleaned up the mess of pumpkin soup and dried my tears and sat down and read this essay. And my shoulders crept down from my ears and my breath slowed and I thought okay, self, you're gonna keep doing this. Maybe not because you believe in yourself so much at this particular moment, but because writing? I feel it in my body. It's the truest version of me. And because i'm still showing up for this calling, even in the midst of this fuckery.
So tonight after i found a different dinner and took a series of real big breaths and listened to Taylor Swift sing about karma - i sat down and wrote. And wouldn't you know it - I think i'll make it another day at least.
So thank you. These words mattered. Very much. To this writer, tonight, they mattered the most.
I've noticed that those of us with trauma or chronic illness tend to suffer from significant negative self-talk, and self-doubt, while at the same time having a tendency to have rigidly, even righteously, held views and opinions which form part of our self-identity. We also appear to be more prone to being affected by other people's opinion of us or of our beliefs and values, and may more readily feel shamed, blamed, embarrassed, wronged when someone disagrees with us. Some of this might stem from not feeling seen and heard in our developmental years, and then since we live on the edge of threat-response stress states, are more easily pushed over that edge through feelings of not being seen and heard, or understood, later in life.