Beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive.”
Those words by Krista Tippett stopped me in my tracks this summer, as I read her book Becoming Wise. I turned a few more pages and came across this: “What are you doing when you feel most beautiful?” That’s what social venture entrepreneur Jacqueline Norvogratz often asks, whether she is interviewing job candidates or working with people in unimaginably difficult situations. With her question she calls out our strength, making space to name where abundance lies, instead of focussing on the barriers we face.
When I am coaching people to help them find their own guiding stories — why they do what they do — I often use these prompts:
Tell me about:
A turning point in your life
A clear and present obstacle or challenge you faced
An event that illustrates one of your strengths
Now I will add — “Tell me about a time you felt MORE alive” or “What are you doing when you feel most beautiful?”
These questions call out stories that connect with the “why of the what we do.”
Around the same time I was beginning to contemplate this question, I hit a challenging moment — and asking this question pulled me through. Here’s the new story I discovered.
When Girls Rock Winnipeg rocked my world
I’m one of those people who obsessively counts the number of females on music stages, in clubs and festivals. One of those who complains about the lack of equity in the music industry and can’t believe that the needle hasn’t moved significantly since the ’90’s, when I was a working musician.
So last year, when I had a chance to help get a fledgling nonprofit called Girls Rock Winnipeg off the ground, I leapt. Our first Girls Rock Camp for girls and gender non-conforming kids aged 10-14 launched in August.
A mess of misgivings
A year in planning was finally coming true, but on the eve of camp all I was feeling was anxious. We were running a day camp that had never been run before in Winnipeg on a shoestring budget, and 22 parents and guardians had entrusted us with their kids, from 8:30 to 5 for six days running.
But that’s not why I was a mess of misgivings and nerves — and I kind of hate to admit it.
Just a few weeks before the camp I found out I had lost a fairly big contract scheduled for September. Then a pile of bills came in, including a speeding ticket that I quickly hid at the bottom of the pile. The dentist had called to let us know our son needed two expensive fillings. I was cutting short a trip to the west coast, flying home from Vancouver to be back to volunteer. I was leaving my husband to drive our road-weary 11-year-old Mazda back on his own, and I wasn’t sure the car would make it.
All in all, I could feel our bank account plummeting by the minute. What was I doing spending an entire week volunteering at this camp? I should be booking work meetings, filling that yawning maw in September, doing something fiscally responsible!
I had a choice
I could begrudgingly fill my volunteer duties and take as much time off during the day to work on my own business. Or I could decide to put that huge mess of anxiousness aside and embrace the camp experience fully. OK, I know what you are thinking, “Come on, Cate, the choice is obvious!” But it wasn’t easy, at least not at first.
I was the hallway DJ — coordinating volunteers, greeting parents and campers at the beginning and end ofday, handing out earplugs for the drummers and the occasional tissue (for campers, volunteers, and even parents), minding the gaps and filling as needed.Twenty-one campers learning to play an instrument, form a band, write and record an original song, and perform a concert…all in one week. An equal number of volunteers, including some of the best female and non-binary musicians in Winnipeg… From the moment I got to the venue at 8:15 to when the last camper signed out, it was nonstop action.
First day out I was almost in that moment of feeling “most alive” when I got a text from my husband. “Call me right now!” The clutch in our car had blown in Chilliwack. Big exhale. In the background I could hear five beginner drummers banging out time to You Get What You Give by New Radicals. Five newly minted electric guitar players digging into their first power cords. “Come on. Look at what you’ve got right here,” I told myself. I was getting closer.
Tell me, you ask, what were you doing when you felt most beautiful?
It came loud and clear at the end of day 4. I was wearing a sweaty t-shirt, soaked from lugging recording equipment from the loading dock to the makeshift recording studio. My legs were shockingly tired from running up and down the long hallways all day. Then the camp directors asked me to step in and help a band in crisis. This was the only band of campers who had struggled from the start to work as a team. The band coach was a family therapist by trade — and an awesome drummer to boot — and even she was tearing her hair out.
Hours away from recording their song, the vocalist was in tears after arguing with the drummer about lyrics. The bass player was acting out and the guitarist was refusing to play her lines. (OK, for any of you who have ever played in bands, I know this sounds familiar!) The coach and I managed to coax them through a passable rendition of their tune. But there really wasn’t a lot of joy and love in the room. That’s when the 11-year-old guitar player put her instrument down and said. “I don’t want to play guitar, I want to be the vocalist.” “Really?”, I was thinking, “This is what we get after working so hard?”
“Well, next year you can come back to camp and be a vocalist,” I said.
“If there is a next year,” she shot back.
“Of course there will be camp next year,” the coach and I said in unison. And then every last one of them said: “We want to come!”
In that moment, I knew exactly why I had spent an entire week volunteering. Nothing had changed in my September schedule, none of those bills had been paid, no business development had been done.
But, for every moment that a camper felt a little taller, played a little louder, shone a little brighter, the same was happening for me.
Girls Rock Camp affirmed for me vividly what a group of people can do together fueled by passion, on a shoestring. We were moving the needle for some of these kids and for ourselves. The kids were more than a little all right, and so was I.
ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: These were some of my favorite people at Girls Rock Camp. Camp directors Brandi Olenick (far right) and Jessee Havey (centre) . I’m the grinning one on the left.