My mom’s a lot like me. Or perhaps, the inevitable inverse... I’m a lot like my mom. Back in high school, Katy Perry was our girl. When ‘Firework’ came out my mother made me promise to play it at her funeral. I know my father would never approve of this, but knowing my mother she’d out-live my father just so he wouldn’t get the chance to.
My mom sang the song “I Can Only Imagine” at her own mother’s funeral. I was really young, but I remember it vividly. It was beautiful. When the movie came out this spring I really wanted to see it. Normally, I’m very skeptical of Christian movies. Frankly, they’re way too cheesy for my liking. But this one was different. It reminded me of my grandma, my mom, and the extraordinary power music has on each and every one of us.
It got me thinking.
I remember earlier this year when I’d travel to New York for a couple of Luke’s games. The family would be jam packed into the Camry and Gloria Gaynor would be bolting out how she’d survive and all of a sudden the whole family would too. Songs from the Wicked soundtrack would come on shuffle next and we wouldn't let those go unsung either.
I got the best of both my parents.
I'm tall like my father and I dance like my mother.
I’m a performer. I’m secretly convinced I’m an amazing hip-hop dancer in the mirror, but my father would definitely tell you otherwise, especially after I break out the chicken neck.
Despite my best efforts to stay in rhythm, turns out my father wasn't the only one who thought I couldn't dance. Or act. Or perform.
There are two life-altering things in life I didn’t get into:
When the cast was set, and the list of names was stapled to the bulletin board, I walked over prepared as ever for my wildest dream to come true.
After a finger-by-finger, name-by-name stare down, my heart sank.
Oh, my name was on the paper all right.
“STAGE HAND: Nicole Kornet”
I wore all black.
And my one job was to move a window.
But boy, let me tell you—
I moved that window.
With the biggest smile on my face.
I stood on the stage and felt the audience’s energy before me.
It was high school theatre, so the lights weren’t completely off in between scenes like how they are on Broadway. It was still fairly lit so the clumsy, not-so-sure footed high-schoolers wouldn’t break things on set.
I remember walking out, humongous smile and all, grabbing that window and looking through the panes. I saw my friends and my friends saw me.
They got out of their seats and started clapping.
I put that window on its correct duct taped “X” and waved back like I was in the Miss America Pageant. More roars of snaps, claps, whistles and “Ow! Ow!’s” echoed throughout the cafegymatorium.
I felt like the Disney Princess herself.
I may have only moved a window, the song “I Can Only Imagine” may have moved the world, but that’s what performance does to me. It drives me. It inspires me. Inspiration stirs up hope. It stirs up that little mustard seed inside of you that says, “You can.” You can be that famous musician. You can be that pro athlete. You can be whoever you want to be.
After piling 7 rusty propane tanks onto a bell cart, locking myself out on the terrace once again with a cut on my foreman that screamed tetanus shot, I thought to myself,
“Is this really what my life has come to?”
But then I saw my pumped biceps from placing all 7 tanks into their designated heat lamp, I caught a glimpse of the beautiful ocean lingering in the distance, I felt the sun on my shoulders, and I gracefully changed all 7 propane tanks without anyone’s help. (I used to need a lot of help.)
So yeah, my life had come to this, and I was proud of it.
A year later, and I’m a UCLA graduate still cocktail waitressing at the Marriott.
I was supposed to be on ESPN by now.
Isn’t it funny how we all think we’re going to do what no one else has ever done before?
“I’m going to have the coolest job, live in the biggest house, and everyone will know me-- by 22.”
“I’m going to skip all of those rudimentary steps that everyone else takes because I am DIFFERENT.”
Isn’t it funny? I think it’s funny.
Alberto just celebrated his 18th year working as a server at the Marriott. He’s 42. And he’s been providing for his 3 children for 18 years now.
He never comes in without a smile. He never panics when fifteen tables are full, we’re out of high-ball glasses, and our bartender is swamped at the bar.
He simply puts his hand on my shoulder and smiles.
He makes me want to work hard for him.
He makes me feel like what I’m doing is important.
He makes me realize it’s not about the title of the position at all.
It’s about your mindset.
Immediately I put myself in that high school window-moving Nicole Kornet frame of mind:
“Sure, all I’m doing is moving a window. Or maybe that’s just what YOU think I’m doing. I see the stage. I see the audience. I see opportunity.”
Gone are the days when scholarship checks provide for your every expense, the opportunities to dream never quiet, and your biceps had more definition.
I remember when my aunt came to visit when I was in middle school. She’s the youngest of my mom's siblings and was in college back then. She took my room and I was booted to the couch, aka mom’s bed, and dad was booted to the couch. I ran up to my room one morning and my Aunt Tiff’s college books were scattered all over my bed with highlighters lighting up the pages. Notes were squiggled in between the margins, the words were tiny, and there weren’t any pictures like my social studies books had inside. I read a sentence and although I knew how to pronounce each word, I had no idea what each word meant once put together.
I thought to my sixth grade self, “I’m screwed.”
"If you could do college, then after college you must be 20 and brilliant," I thought to myself.
Being 24 and not brilliant, I now know that sixth grade Nicole hasn’t really changed all that much.
She just showers more.
After college, you go back to square one. You have to get through the boring, ordinary, mundane jobs that everyone else has to, too.
It’s like I’ve forgotten about the hours upon hours of shooting in the driveway. The laps around the neighborhood with my stopwatch. The life-long practice it took to become a professional.
It never ends.
Just because college ends, doesn’t mean practice does, too.
You can’t grow weary of the ordinary. The normal. The mundane.
Because those who don’t grow weary make it to the top. They become known. They change lives. It takes rudimentary jobs done in an extraordinary way, extra hours added to a long workweek, and a mindset that never wavers from the person he or she wants to become.
It’s not what you’re doing now that matters. It’s how you’re doing it.
As much as Luke hates my obnoxious social media prowess, I do it because seeing 10-year-old him inspires 24-year-old me, and hopefully an inspired me can inspire you.
Because if not, we can only imagine.