America’s Got Talent (AGT) is one of my guilty pleasures. That and those predictable-but-weepy-in-a-good-way Hallmark Channel movies. But those are another story. Simon Cowell, who created the still-wildly-popular AGT in 2006, is certainly the judge viewers love to hate. Some folks tune in to see exactly how picky or downright mean he can be. Though Cowell seems to be mellowing with age, he can still throw a well-placed dagger at a performer the audience has given a standing ovation, no matter the boos that follow or his fellow judges’resounding yes’s.

A few weeks ago, a lovely, extremely thin young woman sang a poignant song on AGT called “It’s OK.” She’d composed it about her ongoing experience with cancer. Her voice was beautiful, pure and haunting, and her heart was in her music. The studio audience went wild. Howie, Sofia and Heidi declared resounding thumbs up’s.

Obviously floored by the performance, Simon initially had no words. The singer, Jane Manczewski, who performs as “Nightbirde,” spoke into his silence. “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”

Cowell’s eyes went wide. Then he began his commentary. “There have been some great singers this year. Your voice is stunning . . . but I’m not going to give you a ‘yes’ . . . ” The audience voiced immediate disapproval before Simon, who swiped at a tear, continued. “I’m going to give you something else . . . ” At which point he stood up, leaned across Sophia and slammed The Golden Buzzer. For uninitiated readers that’s the big banana that sends a contestant straight to the finals with no more judged appearances beforehand.

With that, golden tickets rained down upon the astonished, elated singer. Simon mounted the stage to give her a heartfelt hug. Talk about inspiring. In a post-performance interview this remarkable 30-year-old – in a voice sincere and enthusiastic – said, “I have a two percent chance of survival (from cancer), but two percent is not zero percent. Two percent is something, and I wish people knew how amazing that is.” Her smile then lit the room.

Jane’s words, both those of her song and those spoken that evening, are pure wisdom born of experience. Tough stuff to be heeded by folks whose goal is growth – mental, emotional and spiritual. Tough, because it’s harder to focus on what you really want, take a hard look at the excuses you use to keep from living it, and choose to gift yourself with positive change. It’s often far easier to keep happiness and fulfillment at bay, waiting until the “perfect time” . . . which, sadly, may never arrive.

How many people work unfulfilling jobs, yet keep their noses to the grindstone all the way to retirement, and then die before they can live their “dream life,” whether that be traveling, spending quality time with family and/or friends, achieving long-desired goals, or chillin’ in a beach chair? How long can it take a person to step away from a relationship that to onlookers is a no-brainer negative for at least one of those two people? (I’ve resembled that remark numerous times in my life thus far, thinking, Maybe he’ll change if I try just a little harder. Never gonna happen.)

How many times have you said, “Oh, I’ll be happy as soon as I ______ (fill in the blank)”? That statement is so common that it’s become a cliché. You’ll be bucking statistics if you happen to land an affirmative outcome.

Before I met him, Captain Steve, the sailor whose sweet, 27-foot wooden sailboat brought me down the Intracoastal Waterway to Beaufort for my first visit in 1999, had worked in a state prison system for a number of years teaching inmates the how-to’s of making license plates. He admitted the job had been depressing, but he’d been hanging on until a retirement in the not-so-near future. In his off time this talented, creative man crafted historically-based, gorgeous, rice-gathering canoes. I don’t know that any ever saw water, as most of his clients commissioned them purely as objets d’art and paid him well, but he couldn’t crank out canoes fast enough to earn a good living at the process.

Then cancer struck, a bad one that led to stem cell replacement, which transformed Steve into the boy-in-a-bubble for a while, but didn’t cure the cancer. Out of options, his doc told him to quit his dead-end job and go find something to do that he loved. At least he’d spend his remaining time in a happier place. So thanks to doctor’s orders, the cap’n took early retirement, found a fixer-upper boat on the Chesapeake, re-teaked and renovated her, bow to stern, and literally sailed away from his former life.

Last I heard he was still sailing the seas aboard the Christina Marie (named for his daughter) and manning his beloved Harley-Davidson on land. Twenty years past his medically-proclaimed expiration date. A happy camper. And in my opinion all because he let go of his original plan of “I’ll live my dream as soon as I retire from this gosh-awful job,” and instead took a leap of faith, which landed him in high cotton. I’ll always admire his fortitude.

As for AGT,  I’ve re-watched Nightbirde’s performance on Youtube numerous times since my first sighting, and I get teary every single time because this young woman speaks such a simple, important truth that I keep needing to hear. Greeting her as she walked offstage immediately after her Golden Ticket performance, host Terry Crews thanked her, saying that we all needed her message after 2020. Amen.

Turns out hers is not a new idea. Back in the mid-1800’s, Henry David Thoreau gave posterity a wise heads-up when he said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Don’t allow circumstances to postpone your happiness. Start a foundation for building your best life. Carve out a bit of time for yourself and steal away into your own heart, even if it’s initially for a “found” hour that you may eventually develop into much more. Remember . . . you’re worth it!