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Hailey’s Story: embracing the hard parts of your story and finding your voice

“I wish somebody had told me that it’s okay to almost give up, because I think I would’ve realized in that moment ‘I’m almost giving up right now’ and it’s okay. I can almost give up and I can start fresh.”

Hailey Pots began taking piano lessons at nine years old. “Whatever I did, I did it full force.” These fifteen minute piano lessons every week at the Salvation Army grew into her life’s work today – teaching piano. “I just loved my piano lessons. I would go home and practice. She (Hailey’s piano teacher) gave out these little practice sheets. I filled out the whole practice sheet by the next week and I took it to her and I was all proud. And she looked at me and said, ‘This was for the month,’ but I had filled it out in one week. My parents couldn’t get me off the piano. I loved to play.”

A very shy child, Hailey found her voice as a teenager through piano. “I learned that I could be heard and that I could be understood. I think I was so terrified of failure. I definitely dealt with that growing up. Even just saying the wrong thing or other people judging me- I think I was afraid of handling social interactions wrong.”

Hailey says she learned, “Other people are not thinking about you as much as you think they are. In fact, they’re thinking about themselves as much as you’re thinking about you.” She says that realizing often other people share the same experience has given her courage to “take that terrifying leap of saying hi… which can feel really scary when you’re struggling with social anxiety.” Hailey recommends finding something in common with other people to overcome this fear. “There has to be something that you share. For me, it was music.”

While performing at a concert in Portland, Oregon, Hailey met with her now-husband Mac, a blind musician. As teenagers, they played together throughout the years and eventually fell in love.

“I think if anything the biggest thing [we’ve learned] is that our communication has to be clear and effective. He can’t read my face. He can’t read my body language. But I’ve had to learn that I really have to communicate effectively. I don’t have the option not to, because then it literally leaves him in the dark. It leaves him without connection.”

“I think about his blindness a lot less than I think people realize. I have asked him countless times, ‘Hey, could you run to the store?’ or ‘Could you pull the car around?’ I’ll forget that he can’t drive. Or I’ll ask him, ‘Hey, can you get hand me the blue one?’ That’s when usually we’re just laughing because I’m like, ‘Yes, I forgot you’re blind.’”

Today, they share a life together, not only as parents to three beautiful little girls, but as full-time musicians. Hailey is living her childhood dream as a professional piano teacher. She says that as a 12 year old, she had started teaching piano. “I really wanted to be a professional piano teacher. That was just my dream, my life goal. But there were lots of hiccups along the way.” 

She remembers a time at music camp as a teenager when she almost gave up on her dream. “I was getting ready to have a masterclass (which is a piano lesson in front of other people). I was looking forward to it, and I had just told [my teacher] the piece I was gonna play was a piece by Chopin. He looked at my hands and told me, “Look, I know you’ve got big dreams and big aspirations, but I would pursue something else. There’s no way you can go off to music school and get through a piano program with the size of your hands; they’re not gonna get much bigger, so I would just save yourself the heartache.”

“I put on a good face and I made it through the masterclass. But looking back now, that hurt. It really affected me… I walked away thinking, ‘why even play?’ because those words really, really hurt me. That’s when I almost gave up.

Hailey returned to the piano and in her senior year of high school prepared to attend music school. “At some point, I [could] see them (my dreams) on the horizon. I had everything laid out. I was getting my scholarship applications filled out. I was getting my essays written, and I was getting my audition tapes recorded, and working towards some live auditions as well.”

“I knew some stuff was going on, but I didn’t really know what at the time. I was very wrapped up in my senior year of high school and getting ready for these auditions. At one point, my parents asked, ‘Can you just be with the family right now?’ When they said that, I was shocked. It was unbelievable to me because (they) really supported me for so long. I felt blindsided. And I was angry. I felt entitled to my dream and everything.”

“We were facing a crisis together, and I did not- I could not- comprehend it or grasp it, or I didn’t even really know all the details I do now. I felt like they were standing in the way of me and my dream at this point. So, I decided to move out and do it on my own. I was freshly 18. At the time, I felt like that was the only way I could really deal with it.”

She says that was when she felt like she was starting to find her voice through music, but because of the crisis her family was going through, legal reasons prohibited her from sharing it. “I felt like I’d found my identity. And so, when my identity was so wrapped up in that and having that taken away from me just flipped my world. Isolation kicked in about then.” 

Now as an adult, Hailey has a different perspective on how her parents handled this family situation. “It can be so easy to look at somebody else’s life and go, ‘Well, why couldn’t you have done this or why couldn’t you have done this?’ But you’re not walking in their shoes. Even if you think you understand everything that’s going on, you haven’t lived life the same way they have. There’s no way for you to know how it’s affecting them and how they’re experiencing it. You’ll never know unless you communicate with them, unless you make that connection with them. The only way to get by is having grace for other people, having empathy with other people. To hear them out without trying to fix everything or trying to have an opinion.

Hailey chose to attend community college and finished their music program and earned her AA degree, rather than going off to music school. Briefly after Mac and Hailey decided that she would finish her program at community college, they found out she was pregnant with their first child, Aria. Seven months pregnant, Hailey graduated from college and suddenly found her self in another new season of life, motherhood. “I was trying to find my place, trying to find my identity, which I know other new moms can absolutely relate with. There’s an identity shift and identity change.”

She shares that once she began to find identity in my story, not just her season of life, she began to realize… “I matter for who I am, for who I was created to be- not for what I could do. Not for living up to my dreams or to the potential that I had set for myself.”

“I realized it’s not about the performance that you can put on. But I think we find our value in being heard and holding value in our story for what it is, without trying to block out all the hard stuff. I know, for me, the experiences I had gone through were really hard, I didn’t wanna talk about them. Even the traumatic experience I’d gone through that I was not able to talk about, I don’t know if I would have even if I could have. I don’t think I would’ve wanted to let that be a part of my story.” Hailey has learned that she is who she is today because of this experience, but that she doesn’t have to hide the hard parts of her story.

“When we open up, instead of trying to conceal all those hard parts, we can connect with other people. We start to see they have chips and cracks too.

And when you realize you can connect with other people in that way, we realize we have so much in common. There’s just something that happens when we are fully seen, fully known, and I think it helps us to then fully love as well.”

“I think it’s okay to almost give up,” Hailey says to those going through difficult times. “You have permission to do that. What matters is that you work through it, that you push through it, and that you push past it. It’s not easy. It’s gonna be really, really hard.”

She strives to teach her piano students this lesson. “You try again next time. You sit down. You try again. You do it again. You return… Playing the piano is a discipline and you have to go back to it. I think that can be applied to any aspect of life, no matter how difficult. I wish somebody had told me that it’s okay to almost give up because I think I would’ve realized that I almost gave up and it’s okay. I can almost give up and I can start fresh.”

“I can almost give up. And I can start fresh.”

Watch: Hailey & Mac’s Story on short video | Listen: Hailey’s Story on the podcast | Access: Resources

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