Tag Archives: failure

The First Lesson Is: Don’t Be Afraid Of Falling

16 Sep

My sister-in-law brought me along to her roller derby practice last night. She’s been doing the derby thing since March of this year, and I have been hella jealous. If there was ever anyone who was meant to be a bad-ass lady who roller skates, wears short skirts, body-checks other women and has a hilariously punny name. I mean, COME ON. That sounds like heaven to me.

Given all of that, why have I never tried to join a derby league in Toronto? Oh, I don’t know, because of Reasons I guess. I work a lot of evenings and didn’t want to have yet another night away from my family. I wasn’t sure how to find a good league, and was kind of freaked out at the thought of starting a new activity by myself with people that I don’t know. I’m not sure that I’m cut out for team sports; the idea of being yelled at by a coach makes me want to cry.

Most of all, though, I was afraid.

I wasn’t even sure that I could roller skate, for one thing – the last time that I’d tried was something like fifteen years ago at the now-defunct Forum Roller Rink in Cambridge, Ontario. I was there to celebrate the birthday of this dude that I had a huge crush on, by the way, and let’s just say that my roller-skate-skills did not exactly win me a place in his heart. As I recall, I fell. A lot. Embarrassing, sprawling falls, the type that cause people to point and laugh. Eventually I just sat off on the side, nursed a Dr. Pepper and tried not to cry. Story of my life, am I right?

Another problem was that I typically don’t enjoy participating in activities that I am not already good at, especially activities that involve me failing publicly. I have a very low threshold for embarrassment. I’m also a perfectionist, and I get frustrated with myself very quickly if I don’t master a new skill, like, immediately. Given all of this, it’s kind of amazing that I ever try anything new at all, although if I really think about it I can see that all of the new activities that I’ve tried over the past few years have mostly been things that I knew that I was sort of predisposed to be good at. For example, I had a feeling that I would be awesome at yoga because I’ve always been really flexible. Blogging didn’t intimidate me because, all modesty aside, I knew that I was a half-decent writer. I knew that I would be good at drinking scotch because it’s no secret that I’m a pretentious, snobby asshole.

I am not really good at any of the skills necessary for roller derby, other than a love of short skirts and the fact that I’m a hilariously scrappy fighter.

All kitted out - sadly no skirt, though

All kitted out – sadly no skirt, though. And yes, my shirt says, “The Bell Jar” on it.

Finally, the biggest fear holding me back was that I was afraid of falling. I was afraid of falling because of my bad knee. I was afraid of falling and being run over by other, faster, better skaters. Mostly, though, I was afraid of falling and looking stupid.

Imagine my surprise when my sister-in-law told me that the first lesson was going to be learning how to fall. Because, she said, I was going to fall whether I liked it or not, and learning how to do it properly would help prevent injury. Being a good skater wasn’t so much avoiding falling as knowing how to do it in a safe and controlled way.

So after wobbling pathetically around the rink a few times on my borrowed roller skates, I let her teach me how to fall. I learned how to fall on one knee. I learned how to fall on two knees. I learned how to do a four-point fall on my knees and forearms. I learned how to get up safely and quickly after each type of fall. Amazingly, after a good solid half hour of falling, I suddenly felt much more comfortable on my skates.

I had a sort of epiphany last night, skating around and around that open-air arena under the darkening Alberta sky. I realized how very much I need to learn how to fall in basically every area of my life. I need to learn that it’s possible to make mistakes and even fail and then get back up again and keep going. Right now, the thought of making mistakes in just about any arena – work, being a parent, my interpersonal relationships – makes me want to throw up. I feel like making a mistake is the end of the line, that there’s no going back, that whatever I’ve done will colour that relationship or work environment forever. The funny thing is that it’s almost never other people who make me feel that way; I make myself feel that way. If I inadvertently say something hurtful, or if I forget to do something or get something wrong, I have a really hard time forgiving myself and getting past it. To me, making mistakes feels like the world is ending.

But you can’t live like that, you know? You can’t just not make mistakes – that’s an impossible goal. Even if you are living the safest, most risk-free life ever, you’re still going to make mistakes. And anyway I don’t want to live that life – I want to take risks, I want to try new things, I want to push myself. So I think that I have to learn how to make mistakes, by which I mean how to react in an emotionally appropriate manner to my mistakes, and also how to work to quickly fix them instead of diving under the covers and crying for three days. I want to learn how to have arguments or even fights that don’t end with me apologizing profusely (or sobbing incoherently) because any kind of conflict makes me feel sick.

Most of all, I need to realize that if I want to succeed at something – anything – I might have to fail first.

There’s a theory by mid-century child pediatrician and child psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott that says that one of the many reasons why play is important for children is because it’s a safe place for children to make mistakes. In play, children are able to explore the world and themselves without fear; they are able to try new things and make mistakes without serious consequences. Winnicott says, “It is playing and only in playing that the individual child is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.”

I think that maybe I need to re-learn how to play. I need more spaces in my life that feel safe enough to fall and fail in. I need to find activities that help me feel more comfortable taking risks in the rest of my life. Maybe roller derby is the perfect place to start.

Still a bit wobbly

Still a bit wobbly

And for the record, the rest of the practice was fantastic. I learned how to skate on one foot, how to stop and start, how to turn corners. My sister-in-law taught me how to “get a whip,” which involves skating up behind someone, grabbing them by the hips and pulling yourself forward and past them. I got to watch the more experienced derby ladies skate up to thirty times around the track in five minutes. I got to watch the “benched” players practice skating formations, jamming and taking hits. I watched people fall over and over again, only to get right back up and keep going.

It was amazingly great.

SKATING LIKE A BADASS

SKATING LIKE A BOSS

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Failure Is Easy (And Sometimes Success Fucking Sucks)

4 Oct

I did a teaching demo today for the owners of a local yoga studio. It was an amazing opportunity – their space is beautiful, they have a ton of teachers that I love and respect on their schedule, and it’s walking distance from my house. I’ve known the two owners for nearly a year, and they’re wonderful women – both are amazing instructors who have a quiet, gentle presence that would put anyone at ease.

Needless to say, I was fucking petrified.

I started out by nervously giggling my way through a short interview, and then spent a few minutes fumbling around with the audio system, trying to get my music to play and hoping that the trembling in my hands wasn’t obvious. I’d planned and reviewed the sequence that I was going to teach, so fortunately I didn’t forget it or anything, but my voice had gone strangely squeaky, and I could tell that my breathing was shallow. After a few minutes, though, I hit my stride and started to feel more confident. After all, I teach several times a week, right? I know how to do this.

Right?

Afterwards, they smiled at me, and told me what a lovely teaching voice and style I had, mentioned that I’d given excellent cues and had clearly been well-trained, and finally said that I had a beautiful practice.

Even a three-year-old could have heard this but coming a mile away.

But, one of them said gently, we noticed that you didn’t look at us. Do you ever walk around the room while you teach? Do you ever offer adjustments?

I do, I do, I stammered, I mean, maybe not as many adjustments as some other teachers, but I can do them. I mean, we learned how to. And I can walk around the room while I teach. We did focus on that in our training. Walking, that is, around the room, and not just demonstrating the poses to the students. It was something my teachers talked a lot about.

It must have been hard to teach to us, said the other, it was probably overwhelming to teach to the two owners of the studio.

I was totally nervous, I said. Didn’t you hear my voice shaking?

It was the sort of thing I knew I shouldn’t have said even before I said it, but then it came out anyway.

They talked to me a bit longer about the importance of connecting with your students, of having a relationship with them, and of maintaining an awareness of what’s happening in the room at all times. I said a few thing that probably sounded like feeble excuses. They thanked me for coming in, said that they had no immediate spots available on the schedule, but would keep me in mind for the future. I thanked them a little too profusely for having me in to demo for them (because it’s an honour to even be asked, right?) and then rushed out the door.

I don’t know which reaction to criticism is worse: to tell yourself that what other people see is wrong, that they just don’t understand what you’re trying to do, that they’re the ones with the ones with the problem, not you, or to do what I did, which was to tell myself that I’d flat out failed.

The thing is, they were right. I didn’t look at them while I was teaching. I probably don’t connect with and engage with my students enough. I do need to get up off the mat and walk around the room more often.

I could have said to myself that I would work harder, that I would take workshops on how to give adjustments, that I would get better and be the best teacher possible. The problem with that line of thought is that it seemed overwhelming and exhausting. I was tired just thinking about it.

It was easier to tell myself that I’d failed, that I was a bad teacher, that I should just give up and move on. It was easier to blame myself for not being prepared enough, for not thinking to look at them often enough, or even for scheduling a demo like this before I felt fully confident in my skills.

Failure is easy. Failure means that I get to give up, relax, not be so hard on myself. Failure means that I get to spend more time at home with my husband and son, and less time improving myself. Failure, somehow, means less anxiety.

Success, on the other hand, can be totally scary. With every success comes the idea that you need to build on it, keep the momentum going, continue to grow bigger and better every day. And success, of course, makes every little failure seem all the more bitter.

Every time I write something on here that elicits a reaction from people, that ends up being passed around on Facebook, or generates a lot of comments, I feel like my next post has to be even better. And then if I go a few days without posting anything that gets a big response, I feel like I’ve lost it, whatever it is: the ability to write, maybe, or to communicate effectively, to touch people.

A few things, though:

1. Every post I write doesn’t have to win the Nobel Fucking Prize for Bloggers

2. I am still just getting started as a writer who is writing things for other people, and not just scrawling messy feelings in my diary.

3. I am still a novice teacher; I just graduated in June for Pete’s sake

4. Who the hell is Pete, anyway? Is it Peter like the apostle Peter, the one who became the first Pope?

5. I really hate that dude.

I am a good teacher; I am also a good writer. I have innate talent in both of those areas (I mean, if I do say so myself). BUT (did you see that but coming?), innate talent will only get you so far. The rest of the way to success is hard fucking work. It’s hard work, and the road is never smooth – every time I succeed, it will likely be followed by a few failures, and it will be a while before I get to the point where I feel like everything is settling down and working out the way I want to. Maybe I never will. See? Fucking scary.

People like to say that failure is not an option, except that it totally is. I could totally pack up my yoga mat and go home. And I could justify that decision a million ways: teaching was wearing me out (true!), I felt like I wasn’t seeing my family enough (also true!), I wasn’t sure how to improve or move forward (double true!). Failing would be easy.

But I don’t want to fail.

I don’t want that to be the lesson that I teach Theo.

I don’t want that to be the lesson that I teach myself.

So if you’ll excuse me, I will take my lovely voice, my excellent cues and my beautiful practice and go work on learning how to properly walk around the room. It’s going to suck at first, and I’ll probably screw it up the first few times I try it, but I’ll ride that out and see it through until I get better. And I will get better, because I am a smart lady who can figure this shit out.

My child, even though I am a stupid misogynist and it’s totally my fault women can’t be priests, I will pray for you.