The Light in the Dark

When I was twelve years old and in the 7th grade, Santa brought me a piano. How he fit it down the chimney, I’ll never know, but my parents swear they had nothing to do with it. I had always been a musical kid. We lived on a ranch and I could be heard from miles away, singing to the cows at the top of my lungs. So, of course, it made sense for me to learn to play the piano. When I think of my piano, I always think of my first piano recital.

Having started learning how to play the piano later in life than most kids, I was one of the oldest students in my teacher’s studio. The recitals were always structured the same way. The youngest and newest students would go first, plunking out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star while their parents beamed from their folding chairs in our teacher’s living room audience, capturing the proud moment with dozens of flash photos. Then the more intermediate students and then the grand finale with her prize pupil, Debi White, who would leave us all spellbound in her wake. Debi was a year older than me and her reputation reached far beyond the 8th grade. Every pianist’s dream was to be like Debi.

Being the enigma that I was, my teacher didn’t know where to place me in the recital line-up. She didn’t want to put me at the beginning of the concert, with all of the other new students who were five years old. I was older than most of her advanced students, but definitely not as skilled. In her quest to figure out what to do with me, she decided to stick with chronological order, putting right before…Debi White.

Oh, the horror!

Sitting next to my parents, waiting for the dozens of younger children to finish their moment in the spotlight, I could feel my stomach churn. The students got progressively better as the hours ticked by. Better than me. Better than me. Better than me. One by one, the seven-year-olds, eight-year-olds, nine-year-olds, and ten-year-olds would play their little hearts out, each one more experienced than I was. Each one more practiced and calm, with years of recitals in their rear-view mirror. Then it was my turn.

I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently, I was hyperventilating.

My memory of that recital plays back like an old warped VHS tape in slow motion. I don’t remember walking up to the piano and sitting down, but I must have. I remember sitting there, my fingers sweating, poised above the keys. My breathing grew more and more shallow. Beethoven’s Für Elise….dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee…I played on the piano, my breathing getting faster and faster. My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember the next part. I started again…dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee…I still couldn’t remember. My breathing got faster and faster… I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently, I was hyperventilating. I remember, in slow motion, looking out at my parents’ crestfallen faces in the audience, at the other parents staring uncomfortably with their kids fidgeting next to them, at my teacher, sitting at the side of the room, her lips pursed disapprovingly, and at Debi White, sitting in the back of the room, shining in the beam of light that peeked out from behind the closed curtains.

I don’t remember if I finished the piece. I don’t remember my walk of shame back to the cold metal folding chair next to my parents. But I do remember the glory that was Debi White. Debi White the thirteen-year-old child piano prodigy whose talent made us all forget about looking fear in the face for the first time.

Since that day, I’ve had many turns in the spotlight. To Santa’s dismay, the piano never stuck, but it served its purpose. It gave me a chance to fail and survive.

There’s a part of me that thinks back to that recital every time I take the stage. I feel that flutter in my stomach. I remember that things don’t always go as planned, but then I remember Debi. Debi shining.

There are people in our lives who inspire us. Who show us what’s possible. Who remind us that, even in the face of our darkest moments, that there is still light in the world.

Hold on to your beacons of possibility. Let them light your way.

©A Thoughtful Company, LLC


Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davis
An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership” which runs in NYC and Dallas, TX. Additionally, Kimberly teaches for Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business’s Executive Education Program's Transformational Leadership Program and their Latino Leadership Initiative. She is also privileged to teach for the Bush Institute’s WE Lead Program (empowering female leaders from the Middle East). Kimberly is a TEDx speaker and her book, Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, is the 2019 winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Business and Career; an Amazon Bestseller in Business Leadership, Business Motivation, and Self-Improvement, and Motivational Business Management; and was named as the number one book to read in Inc. Magazine’s “The 12 Most Impactful Books to Read in 2018,” with a cover-endorsement by best-selling author Daniel Pink.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. What an incredibly captivating and fascinating story dear Kimberly Davis 💙🧚‍♀️🤗

    The two revealed lessons are simply exquisite: 1. Yes, we are more than able to survive not only our failures, but also the highest level of pain even when our #unhealthy #ego makes it seem unbearable at the moment.

    2. The #inspiring folks in our life are put on our path for a very good reason: reminding us we are all meant to #shine. It’s just that our time didn’t come yet 💙

    Thanks my friend for the beautiful #vulnerability vehiculated through this story 🤗

  2. Reading it I thought of your bravery Kimberly. These experiences made you the brave person you are today. Brave in following your path and also brave in sharing your stories. You are a great story teller too. I wanted to give that younger Kim a huge hug. Thank you. (I also had a few years with a piano because my parents took me out of my ballet classes which I loved and bought me that instead. I realized it was my dad’s dream to play classical music in the orchestra. It was not mine.)

  3. Kimberly — Your story has such a wonderful spin at the end. Instead of being intimidated the rest of your life, you harnessed Debi’s finesse into personal inspiration. Wow… It would have been so much easier to Just. Close. Down. Thank you for not letting that happening, for being wise and brave, and being the beacon of light for so many of us.

    • You know, Jeff, I was actually musing on that very thing this morning, as a result of Laura Staley’s comment. I think the reason that happened (and trust me, it doesn’t always – in fact it rarely does it) was because I didn’t enter into the comparison game. I was able to see and appreciate Debi’s gifts without using them as a measuring stick for my own. It’s the comparison, I think, that causes the pain. This was such a huge insight for me this morning! Imagine being able to be in wonder and awe over the gifts that others bring without allowing that to diminish us? For her gift had nothing to do with me. It was just an amazing gift! My sincere hope is that this awareness is something I can carry forward, as I think it could be life-changing. Another reason this community is so powerful! Laura and you may have changed my life in our brief little exchanges. Now that fills we with wonder and awe!