I didn’t see myself as a poet when I first started Car Window Poetry.
In middle school and high school, I spent a lot of time listening to and writing hip-hop music. But I didn’t really see the connection between poetry and the lyrics I spent so much of my time writing.
So you can imagine how surprised I was when, last fall, a college professor in Colorado Springs asked me to be the keynote poet at a community event her class was hosting.
Are you sure you’re asking the right person?
She asked me to send her an email with a few poems I’d written, so she could share them with her class. Then, her students would make the final call.
Still confused, I went home that evening and sent her whatever “poems” and forgotten verses I could find in old journals and archived iPhone notes.
Even more to my surprise, she replied to my email with the following:
“Hi Alex, my class would like to formally invite you to be the keynote poet at their event… They were impressed with your poems, especially your rhythmic and rhyming patterns.”
While I was still unsure about my identity as a poet, I accepted the invitation. It seemed that the professor’s students saw something in my half-spoken-word, half-rap pieces that fell into the category of what they were looking for.
How many times have you been called into something you didn’t believe you were qualified for? More than you can count, right?
In those moments, I used to think confidence was key. But now I know you need humility too.
Imagine being in my shoes. You go into that poetry event and you think, ‘I know exactly why I’m up here. They thought my rhymes were impressive. I’m going to kill this.’ Then, you mess up one line or you don’t see anybody nodding along. And guess what. Your world is shattered.
But here’s where humility comes in.
Same scenario. You’re sharing at this poetry event, and, rather than thinking you have it all together, you think, ‘I don’t know why I’m up here, but I am. So here goes nothing.’ You mess up a line. You look up at one point and nobody’s nodding along. But you’ve already accepted that you’re not perfect and things aren’t going to go 100% as planned, so you’re still afloat.
I’ve been reading a book lately called The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning, and I love the way the author Ernest Kurtz puts it:
“To deny our errors is to deny ourself, for to be human is to be imperfect, somehow error-prone.”
When stepping into mystery or embracing a new creative identity, humility isn’t just good. It’sessentialto our humanness. Having it all together actually runs contrary to who we really are.
As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says, “People aren’t brands. That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”
That night, I stood up in front of a room full of strangers and acknowledged it was my first time ever being a keynote anything.I took a deep breath and shared the pieces I’d prepared.
At the same time, another moment I didn’t think I was qualified for was happening in rooms full of strangers across the United States.
Car Window Poetry was being featured on NBC Nightly News.
A lot of times, I don’t know why God is calling me into certain places.
Usually, I don’t believe I’m ready.
And I’m learning that’s okay.
But I’m also finding that my voice matters.
My story matters.
And there’s a reason why God has put me in the places He’s put me in.
I’m going to get it wrong.
I’m not always going to make sense.
And still the story goes on.
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s understanding none of us are perfect. We’re all trying to figure it out.
But it’s also an acknowledgement that none of us are in control.
The more loose-handed we hold the things in front of us, the more adventure I believe we’ll actually get to experience.
Adventure is out there. But tasting it is going to require: less controlling and more showing up.