This past week I went into our high school for my first speaking engagement as a writer. I tried to soak up the pure joy of being asked, of seeing the realization of my dreams come true one by one, and to have the chance to give something back and possibly motivate others with my circuitous path to get where I am today.
I rehearsed a few things in my mind, but didn't write anything down or plan too much, and was a little nervous walking into the school. There tends to be a disconnect in our town between the elementary school and the high school, in that the elementary is lauded as a wonderful school (and it is, a million times above and beyond any expectations I might have held as a parent) and the high school is feared a bit by parents of younger children. There is no real reason for the anxiety, just a general fear that we don't know what to expect when our children are ready to move to "the big school next door."
Walking in for the first time, I was greeted warmly in the office, and after I signed in, was offered directions to the classroom I would be speaking in. I walked the halls to get there, peeking into rooms as I went, and gradually feeling calmer and happier about the school. Laughter rang out, kids walked in the hallways and greeted me with a smile or a nod, and I realized clearly that the worry I was experiencing, like so many worries, was not founded on anything real at all.
In small towns, people talk, and we have to choose what we add to the conversations we hear. I've been dead guilty of spreading negativity around, and buying into the game of telephone that can exist when "facts" are passed from person to person and end up bearing no relation to the grain of truth the topic may have started with. During the election, when Jason ran for town council, I was brought up short on this point, and since then, have been working harder to get all of the information before I pass along anything I've heard.
The mystery surrounding the high school is a part of this vicious circle of negative information. I'm so glad to have met the teacher who invited me to speak to her class, because she is passionate about how wonderful the school is, and her passion sparked something inside of me to get involved and make a positive difference. As a result, we have begun a student-led newsletter committee and are hoping to communicate some of the great things going on at the school to the broader community. The students I met inspired me with their enthusiasm and interest to promote what they love about their school to the rest of our town. Positive energy is catching; it flows from one person to the next and lifts everyone's spirits.
When I got to the class and began speaking, I was relaxed and encouraged from my short tour through the halls. I realized again that I have something to give, and if I take the time to get involved, the potential exists for me to receive ten times what I gave away. Those students listened, laughed, and interacted with the message I delivered about following their passions, leaving perfectionism and a hope for overnight success by the wayside, and building their confidence to do what they want to do with their lives.
They asked thoughtful questions when I was done talking, and I loved giving them the most honest answers I could. I saw something in their eyes which motivated and challenged me. These kids have their whole lives in front of them, filled with possibilities, and I clearly remember what it felt like to sit in those hard classroom chairs and stare into the future. It's daunting, but also exciting, and I came home jazzed and enthused by the idea that we can all give something to each other, regardless of our ages, interests or the paths we take in life.
If we are truly ourselves, comfortable in our own skin, we can relate to anyone and offer something of ourselves without losing any of our own ground. I felt way better walking out of the school than I did walking in. And that kind of change stays with me, becomes part of my character, and makes me a better person.