On Being a Rookie in a Town of Experts…

I live in a town where swimming is kind of a big deal, the same way high school football in Texas is kind of a big deal.  It seems like everyone around here is a swimmer: you can’t snap a pool towel without hitting at least one Olympian, probably three.

I, on the other hand, am decidedly not a swimmer.  Sure, I can get across the pool but I’m not a swimmer swimmer — the kind of person who has an effortless butterfly stroke and can execute a flip turn all while managing to somehow not look goofy in a swim cap.  Yet despite being a rookie in a town of experts, I recently joined a masters swim team.

After my first practice, I attempted to describe my complete lack of skills to my mom, who — always the mom, always the optimist, (moptomist?) — said, “I’m sure you’re great.”  No.  Objectively, I’m awful.  If I manage not to crash into anyone while doing backstroke, it’s only because I’m tangled in the lane line like a dolphin in a tuna net.  While the rest of the swimmers cut gracefully through the water, I flail for an hour until practice is over and then drag myself out of the pool; nauseous from all the water I accidentally swallowed, wobbly with exhaustion and happy.  Very, very happy.

Happy because I can’t remember the last time I learned a new skill.  Happy because my brain is lit up with all the new things to think about.  Happy because for the first time in quite a while, I’m able to check my ego at the door and not care about how ridiculous I look while attempting something new.

I’m reading an insightful book by Brené Brown called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  She reminds us we can’t wait until we’re perfect or bulletproof before finally putting ourselves out there.  I’ve missed a lot of opportunities while waiting for my ducks to get into a neat little row.  Inevitably, there’s one stubborn duck not willing to line up.  I’ll never be perfect.  I’ll never be bulletproof.  Meanwhile, life, and the opportunities it offers, marches on. Swimmers are swimming.  Writers are writing.  It’s better to join them and see what happens instead of watching from a safe but boring distance.

So I walk around in a bathing suit without the security of a cover up.  I squeeze into a swim cap that makes me look, oddly enough, like a penis. I put on goggles that make my eyes bug out, changing my look to a surprised penis.  And then I swim.  It’s not pretty, but I’m out there, splashing around with my one stubborn unaligned duck, happy in the effort of daring greatly.

Beginner

Oddly enough, I’m raising a couple of perfectionist kids.  Weird, I know.  Homework assignments are started and restarted, eraser dust piling up on the floor like peanut shells at a dive bar.  Artwork crumpled up and tearfully tossed towards the trash can.  Other activities never even attempted for fear of sucking.

My go-to phrases in these situations sound like this:

“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“Nobody expects you to be perfect.” 

“One of the best parts of being a kid is that you get to be a beginner.  It’s okay to try something and decide you don’t like it or aren’t great at it.  Right now it’s your job to get out in the world and figure out what you like to do.”

And then it hit me: why on earth does this wisdom only apply to kids?  Why can’t I try something new?  Enjoy being a beginner?  Why don’t I give myself the same compassion I’m imploring my kids to give themselves?

So off I go – to write and shoot (photos, not bunnies) and blog and just try stuff.  I’m a beginner and that’s ok.