The following was written by the son of a Living Freedom blog reader. Homeschooled, and mostly unschooled, he wrote this as part of his college application.
The meanest dog you’ll ever meet,
He ain’t the hound dog in the street.
He bares some teeth and tears some skin,
But brother, that’s the worst of him.
No, the dog you really gotta dread,
Is the one that howls inside your head,
It’s him whose howling drives men mad,
And a mind to its undoing.
The ancient tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is a familiar one. A young man falls in love, only to have her torn away from him. He journeys beyond where any man should, and strikes a deal: to leave the Underworld without once looking behind, in exchange for his lover being returned to him. The ending is a tragic one: at the last moment, overwhelmed by the notion that Hades has tricked him, Orpheus turns, meeting the eyes of his lost loved one. For his failure, Eurydice is cast forevermore into the depths, and Orpheus is left to weep.
Hadestown explores this story through the lens of musical theatre. Despite shifts in the setting and characters, the central themes of the myth remain untarnished. When it comes time for the final trial to begin, Hermes, the narrator, offers a warning to Orpheus: that it isn’t the hound dog in the street, but the one that howls inside your head that is the true obstacle in his quest.
The howling that Hermes warns of is doubt. Both in the self, and in the world. If not for doubt, Orpheus would never have turned, and would never have lost that which he came so close to reclaiming.
I believe doubt to be the single greatest obstacle between an individual and the success they desire. I didn’t always, but there was one moment in my life that marked a turning point in my mind.
I was ten. I had been taking piano lessons for a time, and was to perform at my local homeschoolers’ talent show.
I was terrified. I’d picked a difficult song. I hadn’t practiced enough. Everyone else was better than me. Countless doubts danced through my head, until it was my turn to perform.
I sat down at the piano, opened my book to the correct page, and saw it, glaring at me as if we were battlefield foes: a key change that I’d struggled with for weeks before the performance.
I turned my eyes to the beginning, took a deep breath, and began to play. Despite my nerves, the gentle music soothed me, and I was carried away on the current of chords. Until I hit the key change, and the chords went sour.
Everything stopped, and I froze. I tried again, and it was worse.
A quiet filled the room, but my mind sung another story. Like a great gale, doubts flew through my brain, telling me that this was all pointless, that I should give up, that I should run from the room and never return.
I felt angry tears form behind my eyes, but I never let them fall. I wouldn’t let it end like this. I wouldn’t let it beat me.
The howling swelled before I stamped it silent. I returned to an earlier section, and began again.
It wasn’t perfect. None of my performances were. But it was better, and I was proud in that moment that I had overcome my doubts, even if only for a moment.
I learned that day that true failure is the choice not to try again. Doubt may make me stumble, but as long as I stand up after every fall, I’ll be okay.
Doubt told me I couldn’t finish the piece. I did.
Doubt told me I could never learn to sing. I have.
Doubt is telling me I could never make it into college. Maybe it’s right this time. But I’m here to try regardless.
And the simple cost of trying is defying doubt.
Back to me again. I was the opposite of this boy when I was his age. To my mind, doubt was always a truth-teller. If I doubted (and of course I did, constantly), it could be only because I really was no good, was hopeless, shouldn’t even bother to try some hard thing because I’d only make a fool of myself. I thought I had to be perfect, the first time, at everything I did. Therefore, predictably, I retreated from accomplishmeht.
I don’t know the name of the young man who wrote that essay, but I know he already possesses one of the keys to unlock a strong, self-directed life. This might be something for your own kids or grandkids to read.