On Wednesday night, NBC aired America's Got Talent, and we met a singer named Cindy Chang.
At 42, Cindy is an unlikely up-and-coming talent. A housewife from Houston, she was nervous and giggling as she said that she had always wanted to be a singer, but that her parents told her she wasn't good enough.
And then she closed her eyes, gathered herself, and began to sing. The audience, including me watching at home, was stunned, because her operatic voice is amazing, rich and sure and distinctive.
People rose to their feet, including tough judge Piers Morgan, who said her parents hopefully now know they made a mistake.
It's not the first time we've seen a story like this.
In 2009, 48-year-old Susan Boyle, a shy and not-so-polished homebody became a global phenomenon when she was discovered on Britain's Got Talent. Her previous experience was singing in the church choir and karaoke, as she looked for a break but was stopped because she didn't have the look expected of female entertainers.
Cindy Chang and Susan Boyle are not alone in having put a dream aside because someone told her she couldn't do it. It happens all the time. They are unusual because they kept taking action on their dream, though, and that's why we know who they are today.
There are lessons here for all of us.
I often speak to young people about choosing their career direction. There are two things I want them to know so they can stay focused on what they are meant to do.
First, I tell them that the perfect career is at the intersection of what you love, and what you're good at.
Cindy Chang shared that she only started voice lessons in her 20s. She always knew she loved to sing, and she also knew that her next step is to learn her craft, and the technical side of singing. She had the talent, but continued to work to make herself good at the thing she loves to do.
Susan Boyle did the same, honing and polishing her voice in her parish church, and sending out demos looking for a break. She knew that singing was her talent and her love.
Second, I tell young people that we have to learn to listen to ourselves, and to follow our own desires and inspirations, rather than letting a parent or authority figure chart our course for us.
Parents mean well, but they have their own view of the world and what's possible, and it's hard for many parents (including me) to see the possibilities that are available to their kids.
I'm sure that Cindy Chang's parents loved her very much, but from their perspective, all they saw were limitations, and taking on their limits was what kept her from finding her path earlier.
The lesson here is two-fold.
1. It's never too late to express your talents, even if you've been hiding your light under a barrel for a long time. Want to paint? Go for it. Think you can dance? Give that a try too. Always wanted to write a book? Start it now.
2. And if you're a parent, encourage your kids to do whatever it is that they want to do, even if you think they can't. Because you just might be as wrong as Cindy Chang's parents turned out to be.
We all know what we love. It just takes some guts to actually do it sometimes. So be a cheerleader for yourself in giving it a shot, and be there to encourage others to do the same.
Otherwise, the world might never get to see who you really are, and that would be a shame.
For more about letting your light shine, see: