She came home in tears, my little ballerina. She wanted the part of Clara in the dance theater production of The Nutcracker. So did about 37 other girls. Only one got the part of course, and that year it was not my daughter.
I don’t normally throw celebrity quotes at my children. Because, well, normally I don’t see most celebrities as particularly wise. However there is one quote that seemed very appropriate for the moment, and which popped in my brain right then. It had been spoken by comedian/actor Steve Martin, of all people. I had happened upon an interview of him and heard the reporter ask what was his formula for success. He had replied with the quote that came to my mind that evening:
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
I repeated it to my daughter that night she came home in tears.
“There, there,” I soothed, hugging her and running my fingers through her hair, “you are a beautiful dancer and you keep practicing hard.”
Then I said it.
“You’ll just have to be so good that they can’t ignore you.”
Her eyes searched mine.
I explained, “You must be so good that they feel they feel compelled to cast you as Clara. Do you understand? You must try so hard and improve so much that they feel they absolutely must put you in the role. You must excel not just at the audition but every day in class. They must see you willing to work hard. They must see you with a smile on your face and a determined attitude. You must execute the combinations with precision and grace. You must decide to have and maintain a happy spirit. You can’t compare yourself with others and should focus solely on trying your best.”
“It won’t be quick and it won’t be easy,” I continued, “and it will take perseverance and of course there are no guarantees, but the only option here is to work so hard and do so well that they feel they simply must cast you. You must be so good that they are drawn to that.”
She nodded slowly, seeming to take it all in. Then I hugged her.
Little Grace did work hard. Every time she became discouraged, I reminded her with a wink, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” It got to the point that I would just begin to hear her start complaining out of frustration and I’d say, “Grace…” and she’d finish the sentence, “I know…be so good they can’t ignore you.” In the beginning she would roll her eyes at that comment. Months later, she would smile. Pretty soon she stopped complaining altogether and simply pressed on.
Grace prayed every night that she would be good enough to be cast the part of Clara (if it was God’s will of course) and every day she would practice as hard as her young body could. Weeks passed. Months. I watched Grace improve, not just physically in the execution of the particular ballet combinations, but in her attitude and outlook. She was genuinely happier with a more positive spirit. Her attitude towards schoolwork even improved. I kept thinking that no matter what happened a lot of good was coming out of this challenge.
Secretly, I struggled a bit, though. I knew it was good to encourage Grace to do her best, but should she really be praying for this less than hugely significant intention? Surely God willed every little girl to have the happiness of being center stage. Why should I think mine was more deserving than others?
Ultimately I concluded that the experience was training Grace to work hard and simply trust God to determine the outcome. It was fine for her to pray for this intention, which was so dear to her little heart. Opening her heart to God on the matter would help her learn to trust God with all of her concerns. Whether she earned the part or not was not important. If she won I would help her accept with gratitude and humility. If she lost, I would help her with good sportsmanship, acceptance and resignation.
Fast forward to the happy outcome. Grace was cast in the part of Clara the following year. She squealed at the announcement. We gave each other high fives. She was nothing short of ecstatic. Thank you, God, I prayed that night, for this little blessing for my girl.
Not everything will unfold to be her desired outcome, but in this case it did, and for that I’m grateful. I’m happy too to discover that even little girls are not too small to learn certain important truths about trying hard and trusting.
Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you. (St. Augustine)
Theresa Thomas is the co-author Stories for the Homeschool Heart (Bezalel Books, 2010 & winner of About.com Best Catholic Book of 2010), family columnist at Today’s Catholic News and a contributing writer for the Integrated Catholic Life™.
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