As humans we strive to define ourselves. We make broad sweeping statements like ‘I hate mushrooms’ and ‘I’m so clumsy.’ Or, the oft hear and far more detrimental, ‘I’m so fat.’ Rarely do we take the time to question if these things are really true.
I don’t love mushrooms. But, cooked in the right way, even I will admit they can be pretty delicious. I can be clumsy sometimes, I can trip and I’m not the best tennis player on the planet but is clumsy something I should define myself as? Probably not.
It is a defence mechanism. It is easier to say ‘I’m terrible at sports, I have no hand eye coordination, I can’t run, I’m always falling over’ than it is to try. It is easier to accept these statements about myself than it is to try and prove them wrong. I’d rather not play that game of tennis for fear of all the balls I’ll miss and how stupid I might look huffing and puffing around the court getting nowhere fast. What I failed to realise in these kinds of scenarios is that the opportunity cost of forgoing the game of tennis, or run on the beach or mushroom risotto. What kinds of things have I missed out on because of who I thought I was or what I thought I liked? What kinds of things do you miss out on?
The things we tell ourselves over and over become our mantra. The words melt into belief, and over time become truths. I think too often we forget that we can redefine these truths whenever and however we want.
Rich is teaching me to skateboard. We snatch thirty minutes here and there before the sun sets and when work schedules and dinner making allows. We go to a smooth, freshly tarmacadam-ed road near where we live and take turns.
At first I thought ‘no way, this isn’t going to happen.’ Then I thought, why the hell not?
In the beginning I would hold Rich’s arm as he basically pulled me down the road, both feet on the board. As I gained more confidence, I started pushing with my right foot, learning how to move my body to stay in balance. Eventually he began to let go of me. I would go short distances, shouting for him to stay beside me. This feeling (and the shouting) brought with it intense flashbacks to learning how to ride a bike in the cul-de-sac near my house. I remember shouting at my mum not to let go, only to realise she wasn’t holding on at all. I can push off myself now, steer the board with my body and one day soon I’ll learn to actually stop and not just jump off mid-ride.
I’m not going to make pro any day soon (or, you know, ever) but it feels incredible to do something I never believed I could (that epic feeling of wind in my hair isn’t so bad either). The funny thing about skateboarding is that the more you let go, and relax your body, the easier and more natural it feels.
There is probably some life lesson in that.
Since moving to California the rug has been firmly pulled out from beneath me. Whenever I feel like I am gathering myself and getting back up onto my feet it happens again. The ground shifts and I stumble. It is hard and it is hard and it is hard. The recovery gets easier with each fall though. Every new challenge that I face I do so with less worry and less hesitation. I am finding myself analysing less and letting go more easily. Maybe this is because I have no other choice than to continue onwards, or maybe it just means that I am growing.
I am trying really hard to swallow criticism. I am saying ‘thank you’ a lot, feigning appreciation in order to foster the feeling. Criticism is one of my biggest stumbling blocks and in the past minor comments have left deep impressions that circled around my mind for days. This still happens occasionally but I am learning more and more to let the comments roll off my back. Focusing on negative remarks quashes my creativity and leaves me paralysed, unable to move on with a project or idea. Working in a creative field, criticism is a part of my daily life and something that, quite frankly, I wish I was used to by now. The older I get, and the further away from the world of education I grow, the bind between my self and my work is loosening. Not to say that I am distancing myself from my work, or extracting my personality from it, but that I am able to step back more easily now and not let the comments or criticisms of my work become comments and criticisms of my self. It’s a work in progress, afterall.
I am learning to relax more, and feeling a somewhat smoother ride as a result. We haven’t transitioned to bumpy paths or up and down curbs yet, so who knows what’s to come.
Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.
— Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things.