inspiring joy filled living

Who Are You When No One Is Looking?

Photo by MEUM MARE:

March 24, 2023

Six months ago I stepped into my very own classroom, teaching elementary students one of my most favorite things: music.  As a painfully shy child, I remember being the kid who regularly hid behind my mom’s legs.  I was anything but confident, preferring to stand back and watch first. Observe and then engage.  Usually to the detriment of my parents as their feeble attempts to coax me out of my mother’s arms often went without any such cooperation.  Needless to say, I was definitely a mama’s girl who much preferred to sit back and watch the world around me rather than jump in.

Until music.

My transformative year was fifth grade.  I was cast as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and the electrifying feeling that came with live performance was nothing short of life changing.  That season I found my voice and confidence. I found an energy that was unlike anything else on the planet.  Belting out Somewhere Over the Rainbow into the darkness of our elementary gymnasium, it was as if I was floating outside of my body.  Pure joy. A prelude perhaps to a decade later, belting out the National Anthem at the darkened Staples Center before the Clippers took the court.   

As the years have tumbled on, the gym looks smaller and the stage is not quite so expansive, but the memories of greatness are etched forever because it was the first taste.  The first time I’d ever felt like I had a purpose and a passion.  A magical moment that began to shape the rest of my life, how I would see myself and perhaps how I imagined others would see me as well.  

I have a quote in my classroom by the brilliant British author, C.S. Lewis, who wrote among many things, The Chronicles of Narnia. It is boldly written on my board to serve not only as a reminder to the children, but maybe even more so as a reminder to me. 

Integrity is doing the right things, even when no one is watching

The Oxford dictionary definition for integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, moral uprightness.  With six words, C.S. Lewis gently yet incredibly powerfully pushes us beyond the basic meaning of the word by adding: even when no one is watching.

I cannot think of a more direct call to action than this quote.  It illuminates any bluffs we might be holding, any second thoughts, any hesitations.  It makes us honest because WE must be the ones to be accountable.  It’s not up to anyone else to regulate rather it leaves the onus squarely on us.  

So where am I going? How does all this relate? I believe there is a kind of integrity that we owe ourselves.  A person inside of each of us who has the grace, beauty and all the potential in the world.  A beautiful, untapped, well of talent and knowledge. Like I had in fifth grade atop an elementary stage. When doing the right thing feels so right.  I firmly believe that beautiful momentum is what can be used to change the world and bring C.S. Lewis’ quote into full vision.  When we help others find ways to tap into their reservoir of greatness.  It becomes so much easier to make good choices and do the right things when we ourselves feel valued and worthy.  When our voices feel heard and we feel seen.  When what we do, or not do, matters. Integrity becomes a tether we willingly hold to, not because we must but because we cannot imagine living any other way. Where the commitment to ourselves draws us closer to our goals, rather than dragging us a long. The perspective and attitudes shift along with the intentions themselves.

Now of course this comes with groundwork.  Through parents, teachers, coaches, grandparents, family and friends.  The knowledge that there is right and wrong.  The full understanding that morals exist and the painstaking time it takes to teach, correct, redirect, rinse and repeat.  The marathon of teaching integrity is no small task.  It takes a dedication that is best made in love.  

But once the foundation has been laid, then we get to the meat and potatoes of the quote. The realization, that like Dorothy, we had the power in our hands the whole time.  The new meaning that even when no one is looking we still hold that power.  Of course we can debate the idea that this also encompasses not cheating on your taxes or only taking one piece of candy out of the Halloween candy bowl that has been left on the neighbors’ porch.  Perhaps that will be sussed out at a later time, but for now I want to peel back the curtain a little bit (by the way, I’m loving all the Wizard of Oz references!), and see how this fits with living our best lives.

So who are you when no one is looking? Do you like who you see? This one has felt big for me.  In the last six months since losing my father to his battle with cancer, I have begun to realize how many places in my life I was not living well.  I was skimping on what I needed.  Life felt like it was constantly on exhausted auto-pilot.  The mental toll from grief was like nothing I imagined it could be and if you are experiencing it, please know you are not alone and you’re not going crazy! Google it! The mental exhaustion, the foggy brain, the slow mind, the wiped out energy-it’s all very real.  And yet in that season, I also started a new job. Within two weeks of saying good-bye to my father, I was in my brand new classroom.

Along with juggling three busy kids, a husband with a crazy work schedule and did I mention we were crazy (or stupid!) enough to say yes to coaching and team momming three sports teams?! We had said yes to the sports months prior and there was no way to know the outcome of my Dad’s health, but looking back now I can see how fragile life was in those early months.  I promise this is not a complaint (maybe a little rant, ha!) but it just goes to show how easily life can be thrown way out of balance.  How one card falling can bring the whole picture into chaos.  

Now six months out I have learned a very valuable lesson.  The lesson is that I must show integrity to myself even when it is hard.  To say no because my mental health needs it.  To ask for help in ways that before I felt too proud to ask for.  And to realize that I can do this…even when no one is looking.  That greatness we all have inside of us will be snuffed out if we don’t tend to it and take care of it.  I am becoming a believer that there is joy that is meant to be experienced every single day.  We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our attitude about it.  And when we are able to let go of the things that distract us from our greatness, it automatically makes room for the things we want. 

If our lives are so full of mental clutter, the joy is easily sucked right out.  We lose momentum because we are caught in the weeds.  This is not easy.  It takes discipline.  It takes quiet time to discover what kind of life do you really want.  And it takes communication with the people you share life with so they understand what you need.  There is nothing selfish about having wants or needs.  Let me say that again:

There is nothing selfish about having wants and needs

Your greatness depends on knowing what you want and need.  But it does not mean you get to steamroll over others in order for your needs to be met.  It does not mean that anger drives the bus.  Love is actually quite the opposite.  Compromise through communication is how we will all feel seen, heard and ultimately loved.  It is how our needs will be met and how we will reach a greater balance in our lives.  But that only works if our loved ones reciprocate. If they refuse, then some big decisions about boundaries need to be made. Life is too short to not live authentically.

And sometimes my dear friend, sometimes you just need to let something go.  You don’t need to volunteer for everything, you don’t need to say yes to all the invitations, and you don’t need to sign up for every sports training/class/team/dance class/lesson/sleepover for your kids.  They don’t need to do everything and neither do you.  Sometimes the greatest moments of living a life of integrity means there are gaps left open for joy to sneak in.