A couple of days ago, I walked to the Mexican grocery store down the street from my house here in Lincoln. I was picking up a few “necessities”, like saltines and ramen since I have been feeling a little under the weather. As I walked the aisles in the store, I had a silent conversation with myself about how to say I was sick in Spanish (Estoy enferma…) and then I thought about what they would say and what I would say back and so on and so forth. When I reached the register, the cashier asked me, “How are you today?” and at that moment, fear choked up all of my planning and I said in English, “I’m sick.”. I cannot tell you why I feel so afraid of speaking a language that for all intents and purposes I should be practicing in order to communicate with my family and my neighbors, not to mention putting those 6 years of school Spanish to use.
I feel like an amateur. The first definition of amateur is someone who does something (usually a sport or other pursuit) for pleasure and is not paid. The second definition is someone who does something poorly. Well, I guess I know which definition I lean toward. Further, Merriam-Webster defines an amateur as one who lacks experience or competence. That’s how I feel and that’s why I often choose not to participate in activities that build or add to my experience.
Sadly, “The Polly Yukevich Amateur Hour” does not stop with foreign languages. This sense that I am not good enough to do things extends into practically every corner of my life. I am a musician, and in many respects, I think I am a great musician. Although I am currently pursuing my P.h.D. in music education, it is rare that I play music, and even more rare that I play or perform in public. I work at a bar where we have karaoke almost every Thursday, and I often sit out, attending but not singing, feeling plagued by feelings of inadequacy, fear of judgement and a general feeling of anxiety/sadness. There are truly few things that I love more than music and in particular activities like karaoke where anyone can come to the table, and yet I am paralyzed.
I find myself falling into this way of thinking, a cycle of analysis and over analysis which plays out in public like nothing is wrong on the outside and I am screaming with self-doubt and anger on the inside. I become so distraught and upset with myself that I further solidify that I am not good enough, that I lack the necessary experience and that I add nothing to society–my doubts were correct.
These doubts, thoughts and subsequent inaction are most definitely the product of both a lack of experience, but also any number of interactions where I was told or made to feel that I was not enough, and that my potential contribution would not add anything to the world or lives of others. A couple of months ago I became visibly distraught in a conversation with a musician who had self proclaimed them self the gatekeeper of who could call themselves a “singer”, a “French Horn player”, a “bass player”, etc. They believe, as do many, that only those who are “masters” of their trade, or in this case instrument (just one) can claim to be a player– no one else is worthy of the distinction. I tried to level with him and talk about the ability of every person to be musical and make music, and how detrimental this idea of gate keeping can be to a person who has an interest in making music. I left the conversation peacefully, but my face way flushed and all a sea of emotions (rage, anger, embarrassment, inadequacy, sadness) whirred in my head and heart.
Even as I write this blog, I have extreme feelings of self doubt and the urge to delete every other word. As I pursue a degree in Philosophy there is no shortage of phiosophical thought, ranting, and writing in my life, but not very often do I share my thoughts or ideas with anyone other than my husband, and occasionally my dog when I’m working through something. I worry that my ideas are too radical, too conservative (not often), invalid, rambling, unhelpful, etc– I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
So, all of this is to say that I don’t like this behavior and I don’t like that I see it in others as well as myself. I don’t like how uncomfortable the thought of making myself vulnerable or communicating my feelings, thoughts and ideascan be. It’s a product of a lot of conditioning in any number of circumstances and I don’t want it to continue– at least on my end. I want to put myself out there. I want to have conversations in Spanish and mess up. I want to sing in front of my friends and colleagues without fear of judgement, of not being good enough. I want to write about the way that music makes me feel and how I think we could be educating students that might be better. I want to voice my concern, and put my thoughts into action. I want to have difficult conversations with friends, family members and strangers. I am not making any promises of drastic change– but I’m starting a process, admitting I have a problem, seeking solutions and self-acceptance (similar to AA).
My name is Polly, and I have an amateur problem. Cheers to first steps and vulnerability.