I have always hated doing things in front of others that I’m not good at.
I don’t like looking stupid.
I don’t like seeming inadequate.
I don’t like failing at things.
To avoid any of these possibilities, my strategy for most of my life has been to simply NOT do things where I wouldn’t excel. If this meant missing out, so be it.
Best example for me: sports. Growing up, I soon realized that I was not a natural athlete. This didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy certain types of sports. In Elementary School I happily joined a gymnastics club and skipping club, even though I wasn’t great at either. But by Junior High, I was done. My system was to simply not try at all, embrace the humor of how awful I was, and fully lean into being the worst athlete in my gym class.
When we played basketball, I didn’t try to catch the ball. When we played volleyball, I served as half heartedly as possible. “Pick me last!” was a favourite line of mine when leaders had to choose teams. I “forgot” my gym clothes as often as I could manage.
This meant that the gap between my athletic skills and my peers only grew, but hey – at least I didn’t look like a fool, trying to do something I couldn’t do very well. At least it seemed funny. People could think I just didn’t care!
This continued for years. There were years of going to camp and sitting and watching games of soccer or baseball because I refused to play. Years of watching others throw a frisbee or a ball at the beach while I said “I don’t do that.” Years of saying “go ahead without me,” or “I’ll watch the bags while you play.” Years of avoiding embarrassment – and years of missing out on good things.
This summer, however, something changed. It started when I was visiting with my family in Newfoundland and we went to one of those tree top trekking sites, where there are a series of climbing and high ropes apparatuses. This would normally be something I would avoid like the plague for the following reasons:
- I am slightly scared of heights
- I am not good at things like this, so therefore…
- I would look stupid
But I looked at this thing with all it’s swinging bridges and climbing walls and I thought “I want to try that.” And so I said: “I”m going to do it.”
My husband looked stunned. “You are?” he said.
“Yes,” said I, shocking even myself.
I was not good at it.
The kids kept passing me, because I was so slow. I was the only person who fell and had to be rescued when I was hanging mid-air from one of the bridges. I screamed, several times, when I lost my balance, and I heard other people doing the course laugh at me.
But, you know what? I liked it!
The next day our family did a hike.
I should say here that while the athletic genes missed me, they did not miss my siblings. My older brother and sister are very athletic and also very active, as are their spouses and kids. My brother picked a hike rated as “extreme.” He felt that was exaggerating. He had done it before and didn’t remember it as extreme. (I should have remembered this is the guy that calls a day when he goes downhill skiing, cross country skiing and skating a “trifecta…”).
Awash with the success of the previous day, I went, even though I knew I would be slower and sweatier and more winded than anyone on the hike.
I did NOT know, however, that I would end up frozen in terror, sobbing my eyes out on the edge of a mountain and that my brother would have to literally pull me up the mountain to reach the top. (Please note, if you ever do the Little Port Head Lighthouse Trial in Lark Harbour, Newfoundland, the “extreme” rating is VERY ACCURATE AND VALID AND SHOULD BE TRUSTED. Also it turns out it I may be more than “slightly” scared of heights…).
But… I did it! I was proud of me! The pictures and the memories were awesome, and our kids still talk about it. They say: “You were so scared, Mom, but you did it!”
The next day, they all planned to hike again. This one was 10 km return, and it would be steep (not scary, but 5 km uphill). By now, I was sore from the tree trekking AND the hike of terror the day before. I knew I would be so slow. It felt too overwhelming to be the dead weight on the hike a second day in a row.
So I said I wouldn’t go. I would stay home and make dinner. I would read my book.
But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I didn’t want to stay home alone. I wanted to be with everyone. I wanted to climb the mountain. I wanted to be part of it.
So again I declared: “I’m going to go. I will be slow. I will be way behind you all.”
And I was. I was WAY behind most of the time. People took turns keeping me company. I had to take more breaks than others. I was embarrassed sometimes. I apologized a lot.
But I did it.
And I loved it!
(And the memories of that time together as a family were so much better than a forgettable day at home making supper).
At the end of those three days, something had shifted in me. I learned something I had taken way too long to learn:
Doing stuff, even if you are not great it, is better than not doing stuff!
It had taken me FORTY ONE years to realize that it was okay to do things even if I wasn’t good at them. Even if I was last. Even if I looked pathetic compared to everyone else. Even if it bruised my ego a little bit.
I wish I had realized it sooner. I wish I had climbed more mountains and tried to catch more basketballs.
But now it’s a new year, and even if I’m a bit behind on getting this lesson, I don’t have to let my fear of sucking hold me back anymore. I can be bad at things and do them anyway.
So this year if you see me trailing behind a crowd on a hard hike or at the bottom of a wall climbing wall, don’t worry about me. I’m doing just fine.