All The Possibilities
In my lifelong perusal of self-help books, I have often come upon advice that reads something like this: “Don’t argue for your limitations.” It’s one of those sentences that immediately makes me nod in agreement, but it always feels too big to actually begin following it. Plus, I usually like to think I’ve grown beyond focusing on what I can’t do in the world—and to a certain extent, I have. But I also know I’ve made a fairly big commitment to the dichotomy between what I think is possible and what I believe is not.
When I consider this, what comes to mind first are all the sentences in my repertoire that begin with, “I’m terrible at …” I can finish that phrase with any number of words and phrases—math, singing, sports, saving money, technology, living in the moment, chemistry, and baking, to name a few. It's not that I exactly argue for my limitations in these areas as much as I simply believe that I can’t do any of these things very well. Even glancing at the list, I can see some connections, and I am also aware that I have made little to no effort at any of these in many years. But not having skill in these areas is part of how I define myself. Of course I don’t have a huge interest in being good at some of them, but it’s very hard to tell which came first—a lack of skill, a lack of interest, or simply a lack of confidence.
I’m seeing now that it’s the doing and being that are really important, and appreciating my own journey while I’m at it.
Overall, I think the shaky confidence has had the strongest impact on how I have met the world over the years. When I was young, I hadn’t yet developed the critical thinking skills to understand that practically everyone questions their skills when they try something new. Mix that with the awkwardness and the need for approval that are practically baked into 12- or 13-year-olds, and I can see where my self-assurance might have gone a bit astray. I fully believe now that if a clever 7th grade math teacher had made it his or her goal to get me to like math—or to truly see all of the ways that it would open the world for me by making it more relevant, I might have felt braver and done better at algebra.
But social acceptance doesn’t mean nearly as much to me anymore. I now realize that many of us grew up worrying what other people thought of us. That means we also missed the chance to take some risks, do silly things, try new stuff, make mistakes, and build a good solid sense that we were proud of ourselves for living fully. But I'm beginning to see that it’s not too late. In fact, this might be the very time to figure out how many great things I like to do, and want to do, and quit spending so much concentrated energy on my lack of expertise in certain areas. It’s also the perfect opportunity to acknowledge that my list of fun new things to learn, or perfect, or just enjoy, does not have to look like anyone else’s.
At this moment, I haven’t even started that list, and that is both exciting and daunting. What if I’ve trained myself so well that I’ve lost the ability to be creative about new things I’d like to learn or activities or endeavors that are really fun to me? But I know that’s not true. I also know it’s an iterative process. If I’m going to form some new neural pathways, it’s not something I will do overnight. One thing leads to another, and then another—just like the paths of our lives to this point. My favorite stories are the ones where we started out to do one thing and then met someone along the way and that person connected us to something else. That’s how I met Jodi, the love of my life, and how I found myself teaching, and being a runner, and doing any number of the things I adore doing in my life.
It’s all wide open from here. Of course it always was, but so many of life’s necessities and obligations blocked my view so I haven’t always been cognizant of the wonders that lay ahead for me. But I’m seeing more possibilities these days—the chance to explore, and learn, and discover new things. I won’t excel at all of them, but I’m seeing now that it’s the doing and being that are really important, and appreciating my own journey while I’m at it.