On trying new things
Looking like a fool isn’t permanent, but regret sure as hell is.
You could say the above is how I’ve chosen to live my life.
I’ve long accepted the fact that I can be ungraceful. I was (still am, actually) a total klutz. I pronounce things weird. (Ask my friends in Delaware about the time I said “Amoco” incorrectly in the newsroom and they’ll laugh for about 10 minutes.) I am an oddball. I know what it’s like to stand up and be completely terrified in front of people because you suddenly have no idea how to do something, or explain something. You wish the floor would open up beneath you, but you somehow live through it, and in the end, you’re a little red-faced, but you haven’t really suffered a heart attack and you’re still alive.
Such is the feeling when you try something new. Many people are scared of trying something new because of the embarrassment or the specter of failure. Nobody likes that. Nobody likes being uncomfortable. But that discomfort is the only way you live richly. Quite frankly, it’s the only way to have more fun than you ever thought possible.
At some point, you have to put aside all the fears and accept that you will look like a buffoon. It’s OK. You’ll laugh about it later. What you won’t laugh about is if you didn’t try it and then you’re on your deathbed and you think, “you know, I wish I had done such-and-such.”
When I was a kid, I wanted to do everything. I was involved in a zillion extra-curricular activities and still wanted to do more. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted, but my mom always consoled me by saying, “You can still do this when you become an adult.” (Petulant teenaged me didn’t understand this at the time, though, and still threw a zillion fits.)
Adult me did understand this, though. (Adult me also suddenly had some disposable income, which made these things easier.) I took up dance at the age of 22. I took up ice skating shortly after. I took up curling well past the age of 30.
And at the age of 34, I decided to take up ice hockey.
Creaky knees, creaky back and all, I decided I wanted to play hockey. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a little while. I love the sport, and what better way to learn more about it and enjoy it than to actually try to play it. (Plus, Ed played hockey, and well, it would be fun to play together.)
But it’s not easy. Hockey may be the hardest thing I’ve tried to learn. Harder than learning classical pieces on the piano. Harder than ballet.
Knowing that I’m going to suck at it helps. Everyone starts from somewhere. I didn’t expect to have a stick in my hands and know what to do with it right away. I knew there would be falling. I knew I would skate like a turtle. Watching me try to stickhandle around a cone is a pretty good laugh.
But it’s all part of the learning process. You need to be able to accept that. Nobody likes looking like a fool or feeling like you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. The key is, though, that feeling isn’t permanent. You’ll get it one day. It’s hard work and a lot of practice, but one day, you’ll feel a little less foolish. You might even become pretty good at it. And hey, you might even enjoy the hell out of whatever it is you’re trying to learn.
I remember when I took up dance, I needed to jump out of the “adult” designated classes and go into the tougher classes designed for the kids who started, well, when they were kids. It was the only way I was going to advance as a dancer. It meant being in classes with people who were half my age and really good. It was intimidating.
But if you want to get good at what you’re doing, you have to be uncomfortable.
Those kids pushed me. They showed me what was possible. I learned from them. They didn’t make me feel like an old lady. I treated them as peers, and they afforded me the same respect. It helped that I stopped feeling like that awkward adult in a room full of kids. But I still remember thinking that I would never be able to learn all this difficult choreography. I’d never be able to do a triple pirouette like these kids could do.
But one day, through practice and persistence, those things happened. I was able to dance a beautiful ballet piece to Mozart with the other girls. I never did get to that triple pirouette, but I remember the day I correctly executed a double in jazz class. It felt like the greatest day ever. People gave me the thumbs-up. It was awesome.
It will happen. It’s hard to believe, but it will happen. You might not become a professional, but you can get good enough to make it enjoyable. The only person you have to impress is yourself. No one else. You’re doing it for you and no one else. You have to remember that first and foremost. And you have to remember that as time passes, no one will really care that you look dumb in the process.
It’s also key to have great teachers and coaches. I had great dance teachers, and my fellow curlers have offered me all kinds of advice along the way. The coaches running the hockey clinics I go to are good guys and very encouraging. They don’t care that I am a turtle. They always tell us it’s OK to fall. The regulars who’ve been there for months aren’t sneering at the rookies. They’re offering fistbumps and tips too.
(It also helps that I’m a teacher, so I know what it’s like to be on the other side working with a struggling student. I appreciate the hell out of all their help and patience.)
Someday, I’ll get this. I think I will, at least.
And honestly, I’ve never had so much fun doing something I suck at.