Why Do You Do What You Do?

Some people plan their lives meticulously. Some just fall into things. When did you last have the time to really think about why you do what you do? I asked myself this question, and this is what I found:

For many years I have kept a framed photograph on a shelf in my house, in full view. It stays there because it is a great photo. It is a head and shoulders, black and white shot of a beautiful 18 year old girl, being a bridesmaid. It is a wedding photograph, so it is posed, but the girl is still natural, happy, smiling and clearly enjoying her important role of the day. This great photograph just happens to be of my mother.

My mother died eight years ago. We were close, we talked openly, I knew her well.

After she died, I often found myself taking that frame from the shelf, looking into those eyes and talking to her. One overwhelming question emerged, perhaps obvious, but at that highly emotive time so potent and it was this – Once upon a time mum, you were so young and so beautiful, life stretching out before you and you were clearly imbued with a youthful sense of ‘possibility.’ And now, a lifetime later, the journey is over and mum, honestly, what would you have done that you didn’t do?

By any criteria, my mum had a good life. As a child, she experienced war but was not directly damaged by it. Like most people she worked hard for everything she had, a home, an active life, some good holidays. But she was a hugely intelligent woman with a great zest for life. She was born into a time and a family when there was no more expectation for her beyond being a wife and a mother and to find a job that would fit around her other commitments. Consequently, she had a limited education (something she strove throughout her life to improve) and she lacked the opportunities and confidence that she would have needed to truly succeed. The dawning realisation of her untapped abilities grew simultaneously with raising a daughter – me.

Outwardly my mother appeared happy enough but privately, I know, she was frustrated with the passion of untapped talents and abilities. And now the journey was over. All that potential, all that zeal, silenced.

In that silence, I was forced to ask myself the same question. If your time was now, today, what honestly have you not done that you would wish you had? And for me, there was only one answer – Acting.

A passion from a very young age, as a teenager I would learn, by heart, shut in my bedroom, long tracts of Shakespeare just for the love of the words. My own personal demons had held me back, and now, as some sort of tribute to my mother, I knew I had to face them.

Eight years later, I have trained, I have ‘trodden the boards’ many times, and I am an active member of two theatre companies. I have fulfilled my potential ‘regret’ and I have learnt a great deal on the way. I thought it was performing that I craved but I was wrong. Actually, I much prefer the rehearsal process; the exploration, the unraveling, the crafting, the sharing, the building of the narrative. I realised it was the words and the stories that I loved.

I also love the confidence that has grown, pretty much without my noticing, to stand in front of an audience and present, not as in ‘acting,’ but as in just allowing myself to be seen and to be comfortable with that. Now that I have found it I honestly do not understand why confidence skills, acting skills, presenting skills are not routinely taught in schools. It seems logical to me. Just think of the difference it would make to so many lives – mine and my mother are among them.

This is why I work with true storytelling and why I love teaching ‘presentation skills.’ They should both be as natural as breathing. The ability to just ‘be,’ to be present is as important in everyday life and decision making as thinking. We should all be completely comfortable in our own bodies whether we stand alone or in front of an enormous audience. To spread these skills is now a mission and thanks to my mother’s openness and honesty, a personal passion. Thanks, mum. x

Why do you really do what you do? What’s your story?

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