Taking Action Despite Details (and shoes)
It all started with two colleagues barreling into my office one recent morning. “We need you to come sing with us. Right now. Come on.” Now, singing isn’t really my thing. Public speaking and presenting would be far more up my alley. Not singing.
At first, I politely declined. I couldn’t imagine in what world I would agree to their requests.
They asked again, this time with a little more desperation. And again, I declined….but I could feel my usual defenses starting to weaken. I started to wonder why I was resisting in the first place. By the 3rd round of begging, I had come to the realization that I was definitely going to be singing, despite my brain being like “WAIT! WHAT IS THIS???!!! WE DON’T DO THIS!”. All the consistently rational parts of my brain were saying this was not what I wanted to do, but that didn’t seem to matter as much as it usually would. Between my initial hard no and my eventual agreement, I had remembered my Word of the Year for 2021: Action. UGH.
Sure, it was a very odd, very sudden request, but I knew that I had initially declined, because that was my usual go-to when the details were scant, and it wasn’t part of my normal routine. I realized I was avoiding a chance to do something unusual because it was just that – unusual. Whether I liked it or not, I had already assessed the current circumstances, evaluated the potential problems and called myself out. In those few seconds, I coached myself into taking a different path, whether I like it or not. A path that included an unusual action. Now that I had become aware of what was going on in my head, I had to do it.
So, I did it.
Immediately, my two coworkers darted out of the office, down the hall, up the stairs. I hustled after them, trying to keep up in my not so practical but very chic shoes that I would not have worn had I known about the need to sprint up a flight of stairs. I had no idea where we were going or what we were doing, but damn if I wasn’t going to look good.
We climbed up to the first floor and I quickly realized my coworkers had more details than they were letting on. At least one more detail.
The destination was the medical center chapel. Again, this is unusual for me.
We arrived at the chapel a little out of breath and with a lot of questions. I looked around at the other people in the room. Everyone had the same bewildered look on their faces. I asked the people on either side of me if they knew why they were there. They did not. One muttered something about singing, the other said their boss had called them and told them they were needed in the chapel.
By the apprehensive look in everyone’s eyes, I gathered that no one had a clue what was going on. Are we super sexy risk-takers, or wildly gullible suckers? Presumably, this was the exact question on everyone’s minds. Regardless of the accuracy of that last sentence, we for sure were all people who were willing to say yes to something, details be damned.
Then, a very cheery and kind appearing chaplain walked in with a guitar slung across his chest. With his easy smile and kind voice, he embodied pure joy. “Thank you all for joining me on such short notice! Most of the chaplain service is out sick this week, and we’re usually the ones who would do this. We had to improvise. It’s great to see so many people willing to make a joyful noise in the fellowship of others!”
He handed each person a piece of paper that contains song lyrics. Just lyrics, no musical notes. Mind you, I don’t really know how to read sheet music, but that detail seemed unimportant at the time. Maybe someone else could and would have found the little notes helpful. And maybe I could have stood close to them and followed their lead. Probably not, but maybe. Resigned to my melodic ignorance, I studied the words. That’s when I noticed numbers next to each verse. 10 verses. I looked around. Including me, there were 10 would-be singers in the room.
I started to think this might get weird.
“Alright! Let’s number everyone off and give you a few minutes to practice your solos!”, said Guitar Chaplain. Things did get weird. Turns out we were all to be soloists in a song we didn’t know, singing to music we’d never heard, while being recorded by the facility audio technician.
Guitar Chaplain was very hyped about this. The 10 of us surprise soloists were much less hyped. Feeling more and more like I was about to be swallowed up by joyful quicksand, I spoke up.
“I will tap dance on stage, I will give a presentation to thousands, but I really don’t want to sing a solo.”
“But your voice is a joyful, celebratory noise!”, exclaimed Guitar Chaplain.
I appreciated the sincere faith he had in my completely unproven assumed talent, but I was relieved when others echoed my concerns. While this story is mostly about taking action and how doing things out of the norm can be good for growth and personal development, let us not overlook how important it is to advocate for yourself and your boundaries. My boundaries include not singing a surprise solo at work.
Guitar Chaplain, benevolent and kind as he was, reluctantly granted us all a reprieve. Instead of performing presumably very bad solos, we broke into two groups; verses group and chorus group. I was team chorus. Despite my fear of sounding like an alpaca (Google it, seriously), I went all in. Luckily for me and my inability to do much of anything quietly, so did my counterparts. We might not have fully delivered on the joyful part of the chaplain’s request, but we sure did make noise.
The performance was not without its hiccups. Start recording, stop recording, receive gentle feedback from Guitar Chaplain, attempt to follow Guitar Chaplain’s direction, screw that up, stop recording, and so on.
In the end I think it was a bit of a mess, but we did it. 9 other risk-taking non-singers and I all sang a beautiful song to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which will at some point be emailed out to everyone at the medical center. Everyone at the medical center will listen to the recording of us singing. Everyone.
But you know what? We had fun. We all took a chance. And eventually a few brave souls did volunteer to sing a few lines by themselves. Everything worked out well for everyone. By reluctantly agreeing to do something that I do not typically do, I was living up to my word of the year for 2021, which is “Action”.
Taking action can mean many things, and on that very unusual day, it meant jumping out of my routine to sing with a group of people who also jumped out of their routines. In the end, the other 9 singers and I bonded in a way only those who have shared a potentially humiliating but eventually enjoyable experience can bond. It was funny, interesting, a little scary at times and very much out of the norm. I took action in a way that I would not have predicted that morning when I woke up, and it was largely due to self-awareness and a promise I made to myself.
2021 is my year of bold actions, and on that day, I met that goal by saying yes to a weird request and made some unexpected joyful noise. I recommend this kind of day to everyone. Throw caution to the wind, answer a curious request and see what happens.
Take action. You might meet new people, you might live up to a promise to yourself, or you might end up with a funny story to tell. And sometimes you end up with all 3.