This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Feis America Magazine.
My husband and I drove to a feis late one night with a van full of small children. We made it to Boise, Idaho in time to tuck each child into their motel bed. The next morning, despite the early hour, we made it to the Boise by the River Feis on time.
As we searched for the registration table, I felt the familiar competition nerves begin to flutter. To add to my nervousness was the novelty of having my nine year-old son compete in his first feis.
We settled the kids on the bleachers with a backpack full of distractions, and enjoyed watching our son compete.
With only two hours to go before my own competitions, we opted to stick around the feis arena, grabbing a strength-zapping hot dog for lunch. The two hours came and went, and we realized that the feis was running far behind schedule.
As the wait dragged on, I began to wonder if I should be at the competition at all. An uncomfortable feeling of doubt crept into my consciousness, resulting in an unsettling case of anxiety.
After warming up for too long, we adults began competing. Halfway through my single jig, I landed a leap wrong and twisted my calf muscle, taking me out of competition. I sat out the rest of the dances, tears swimming in my eyes, wondering what in the world made me think that I, an over thirty, mother of five, beginner, could compete in Irish dance?
My body is too old, I thought, do I honestly think I can dance with a body that has taken the abuse of time and motherhood? It was the first time I had honestly doubted that, if I had the will to aim high and the determination to work for it, I could accomplish any dream.
I looked over to where my family lay sprawled across two rows of bleachers. The baby had succumbed to a nap in my husband’s tired arms and the four other small children were roaming the stairs amid scattered crayons and snacks.
What gives me the right to submit my family to this torture? I wondered. My mishap bred negativity and soon I was questioning the wisdom of pursuing Irish dance at a time in my life when I could be content to watch it from a distance.
I had worked so hard on my dances, traveled hours to attend the feis, and paid money to compete in the dances that were passing me by. I do not know which pain I felt more keenly; the injury to my leg, or the torture of sitting on the sidelines, watching my adult friends compete without me. Self-pity threatened to block out any positive that could come from this experience.
As my three year-old daughter “helped” me rub ice on my leg, I wondered if my husband would echo the feelings of doubt and trepidation that haunted me. After all, he had just spent ten hours wrangling kids, footed the bill for dances I did not complete in, and watched helplessly as I sustained an injury.
When I voiced my concerns, his response gave me hope.
“You can’t let this get you down,” he encouraged, “you’ve got another feis in a few weeks.”
How I needed that support. Self-pity vanished and I began to form a plan of attack. I can do this, I determined, pushing the uncertainty and fear behind me. I can follow my dreams of dance regardless of my age, or the number of children I have at home.
I limped over to the results table and did my best to help corral my small children while we waited for the placings to be posted. To my surprise, I placed in every dance that I had been able to compete in. A few of the ladies whom I had competed with came over to check on my leg. Although it still hurt to put pressure on my leg, my spirits were lifted and I looked around the arena with a renewed commitment to pursuing my love of Irish dance.
The injury to my leg was minor; I am already back on my feet again. The real victory came from my triumph over self doubt.
I’ve since come to the conclusion that if the pursuit of something brings you joy, embrace and pursue it with all of your heart. You will spark a change in yourself, and ignite transformation in the lives of those who are touched by your light.