You guys. I finally figured out where and when my fiery love for goal setting started.
When I was young, maybe seven, I received a book called The Silver Slippers. (If you’re old enough to share my affinity to Lauryn Hill you may have owned it too as a kid.) I think it was a birthday present, maybe, or a gift at Christmas – it doesn’t matter.
If you asked me two years ago to recite the story, I would have drawn a blank. When I was seven, all I really cared about was the sweet jewelry that came with the book. I proudly wore my ballet slipper charm necklace everywhere. Ironically, the only place I couldn’t wear it was at the dance studio.
So the last time my parents visited us in Scotland, they brought the book with them so that I could share it with Lucy, a little ballerina in her own right. She will never get to wear the necklace – I lost it ages ago – but she doesn’t know what she’s missing. She and I have read the book together dozens of times. Isaac loves it too. It wasn’t until recently, though, that I realized how much that simple story shaped me.
A brief synopsis for those who are unfamiliar with this 1989 best-selling children’s book:
The story follows a little girl. She has no name. All we know about her is that she can’t quite get the hang of ballet and she feels eclipsed by her classmates. When the teacher announces there will be an audition for the dance recital’s prima ballerina role, the little girl comes face to face with her dream and feels like it could never come true. She feels like all the other dancers have it and she doesn’t. She relays this to her mother.
Later on, the mother surprises the little girl with a gift: a silver charm necklace showcasing a pair of miniature ballet slippers. The mother tells the girl that the road to realizing her dream will be hard work and there will be sacrifices. She tells her that the necklace is to remind her of what she wants to achieve. She tells her that her dream is within reach.
The little girl takes her mother’s words to heart and practices with great dedication. Finally the day of the audition arrives and the little girl wins the prima ballerina role.
She continues to practice, practice, practice at the studio and at home. All the while, she proudly wears her silver slippers around her neck. You literally see her standing taller in the illustrations, full of assurance in her abilities.
And then on the day of the show, she has a frantic moment in the wings before her debut. She meets her nemesis: self-doubt. Poor thing.
Eventually she remembers the charm dangling from her neck (which, in reality, she would have had to remove long before she put on her tutu but whatever.) The necklace inspires a sweet and memorable pep talk and in the end, the little girl dances her very best and learns the power of keeping her eyes locked on her dreams.
Nothing in the book has changed since 1989 but I certainly have. Now I have the privilege of hindsight. Now I can enjoy seeing how influential this book was to me as a young girl.
Now I can see why I was so determined to nail my ballet exams as a child. Now I know why I pushed myself so hard to excel academically. Now I know why I painted my left pinkie nail and named her Ruby. I had clearly defined goals and I fixed my eyes on them like the little girl with her necklace.
My story doesn’t end there but for tonight it must. Just know that while the goal setter in me is alive and well, my frantic overachieving self is mostly dead. I buried her and her perfectionist tendencies roughly around the time I was diagnosed with epilepsy and realized something had to give. Every now and then she attempts to bring herself back from the dead but for the most part, she’s six feet underground. I like her better there.
Elizabeth Koda-Callan, most people might offer you a round of applause for creating a formulaic and slightly gimmicky children’s series that has sold over 4.1 million copies. Instead, I would like to thank you for conveying an important message to me at a crucial stage: dreams are within reach for those who are willing to make sacrifices and work hard. I’m grateful that my early days were infused with that truth. It’s a delight to share the story now with both Isaac and Lucy.
At one time I regretted losing the necklace but between you and me, I’m happier with it gone because I like gold better anyway and now the kids won’t fight over who gets to wear it. One less battle is just fine with me.
Elissa Joy Watts