When I was a freshman in high school, my boyfriend was a sophomore on the tennis team. The first fight we ever got into was on a tennis court. He was trying to teach me how to play. I was standing basically immobile on my side of the court, reaching out only when the ball came within about a two-foot radius of my trunk, and then only half-heartedly.
The longer this went on, the more frustrated he got. Why, he asked me, wouldn't I move from that spot? Run for it! he would shout as the little yellow sphere zipped by.
I explained to him that running for it was pointless. I wasn't going to get to it in time. And even if I did, my eye-hand coordination was so bad that I wouldn't actually make contact. I knew I wasn't good at sports, and I wasn't about to make a fool of myself in front of him.
None of this made a bit of sense to him. What was the point of going out there to learn if I wasn't going to do anything? If I wasn't going to at least try? You look like a fool just standing there, he told me.
I handed him my racket and walked off the court.
It's not a completely ridiculous position - there is that saying, play to your strengths.
Someone who spends all her time doing things she's not good at will feel pretty frustrated at the end of the day. But on the other hand, someone who never tries anything new, who never reaches out even though she knows she might fail - well, that person is missing out on a lot.
Trying new things is still hard for me - especially if there's the risk of feeling foolish. Or of failing.
I figure, if I only half go for it, or if I pretend I'm not really interested, then if it doesn't work out, what have I lost?
But of course, those are only mind games. The truth is, I lost the whole experience, the ability to really enjoy something new, to take in the feeling of putting my whole self into something exciting. To find out if I love it.
Changing our patterns is hard - I wouldn't stand like a lump on the tennis court anymore, but I play the same mind games with myself in lots of other arenas. I'm still afraid of failing. I still hold myself back so that I won't look foolish.
But I practice - with little things. I practice going big, doing something new. I practice with little things that don't seem like a big deal to anyone else. A game of croquet (anything that involves eye-hand coordination), arranging some flowers, presenting my legal theory, singing a song in front of lots of people, telling a joke, posting on this blog - all of these turn into opportunities to go big, to put it all out there and let the chips fall.
And now, this week, it's painting.
I'm not a painter. I don't know what I'm doing.
I had an idea in my head, and I'm running with it. It's not traditional.
I'm mixing colors and using careful brush strokes, and it's not exceptional. It's not perfect. I'm not even sure it's good.
But I like the way the paint feels coming off the brush. I like squirting it out of the bottles. I like pretending I'm a chemist as I mix this color with that.
I'm having a really good time.
So, if it looks like crap in the end, I figure, what have I lost?