My brother and I often quote “The West Wing” to each other so it was no surprise he cracked out the response, “We’re gonna ignore the fact that you’re late to the party and celebrate the fact that you’re here” when I told him I finally got around to listening to “Hamilton.”
Well, for the record, I haven’t finished listening to Hamilton yet. I keep playing “My Shot” over and over again. I’m kinda in love with that song, which is way better than getting “That’s What Friends Are For” stuck in my head from listening to the 80s mix tape on Spotify. But I’m totally digressing here.
I don’t have deep knowledge of Hamilton or its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda but I have to say this: every time I encounter Lin-Manuel Miranda, whether it’s a video clip or an article or his Twitter feed, I get insanely inspired. I can’t turn my brain off. It caused at least two, maybe three, sleepless nights because I was so ready to go — to create, to explore, to take a leap of faith — that I wrestled with my bed sheets for eight hours.
This is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s graceful gift to the world. He has the innate ability to make you dream, to turn on your imagination, to give you permission to ask “what if?” and maybe, just maybe, try something outside your current self definition.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we define ourselves and our roles in life, particularly how we define “athlete.” I would argue we all have an athletic self, but because we define an athlete as someone who is a professional or an Olympian or wins races or dedicates every single waking moment to perfecting his or her sport of choice, we miss developing our own athletic being and hence miss out on a whole lot of wisdom and fun that can come when we say, perhaps boldly, “I”m an athlete today.”
Our definitions of “athlete” are often limiting and at its most dangerous can be suffocating.
It’s that way, too, with other definitions — like artist.
I’ve gone on several group adventure/explorations through Women’s Quest and Green Edventures and each one includes at least a few hours of artistic endeavors. Usually it’s some form of painting or drawing. This is not my strong suit. To begin with, I’m a word person, not a visual person. Then I was never very good at drawing. I struggled in art class. But on these trips I gave it a try.
That is until one day a friend, who himself is a pretty decent artist, saw one of my paintings from a trip. He laughed at it. Not a pleasant laugh. One of those sarcastic, biting laughs. I was embarrassed. I threw it in the garbage. The next trip I went on, I sat out the art portion. I was not good at art, so why bother?
In the last few months, I’ve started to change my thinking. Life is limiting when we only do things we’re good at, or think we’re good at. If I only did things I thought I could excel at, I would spend my life on the couch playing the game “I can name that Law & Order episode in one wisecrack.”
There are artists who create masterpieces. They write things like “Hamilton” or paint magnificent pieces which hang on museum walls.
There are athletes who set world records and win championships and gold medals.
But those people aren’t the only artists and athletes in the world. My watercolor interpretation of the sunset doesn’t have to hang on a wall. My poems don’t need to be published or performed. None of that needs to happen for me to engage my artistic side, to play and have fun and explore and create. The value is not in the outcome. At least not always.
Same thing for athletics. I can love to run and never ever win a race. I can train and practice and recover and always be a mid-back-of-the-packer and still be in love with running and racing. The value is not always in winning.
I’ve learned so much by allowing myself to say, “I’m an athlete” even if a large portion of the population would say I’m not. Same thing with seeing the artistic part of myself. Each poses challenges to the way I’ve always thought. Each gets me out of my comfort zone. Each makes my life so much richer regardless if someone thinks my attempt is worthy. Of course it’s worthy. It’s worthy in its own right, for its own sake.
Perhaps I should thank Lin-Manuel Miranda for those sleepless nights which helped me see that that my attempts, both athletic and artistic, are worthy for what they bring forth from me as opposed to what they may bring to me.