The puzzle

As I look back, particularly on the chaos of the past fifteen years, I’m always a bit surprised by the fact almost everything that’s happened in my life fits together in a such an orderly way. One thing, whether an achievement or an error, led directly and inevitably to the next. Had I changed even one decision, I would not be where I am now… or even who I am now.

If I hadn’t married the first time, I would not have worked on the 2002 Connecticut gubernatorial campaign and met one of my mentors, Art House. Also, if not for the campaign, I may not have divorced and needed a job when I did. This led me to Washington D.C., where I gained banking experience – experience that qualified me to work for Art in public affairs for a bank in Connecticut. If I hadn’t been working for a bank in communications, my dear friend Amy would not have offered me a job at Citi in New York. Had I not taken that opportunity, I would not have met my husband and moved to England.

At the time, it often felt like the winds of chance were blowing me to and fro with no discernable plan; but in retrospect, it all seems so organized – each step clearly rising from the one before. Even experiences that seemed like outliers have proved themselves important (my year-long stint at a PR agency not only taught me useful skills, but introduced me to people who have been good friends and enormously helpful).

Yet, all that personal moving and growing and puzzle-piece fitting slowed to a crawl after Conall was born. Of course, parenthood makes you grow and learn, but this is a different kind of personal development.

Then…

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I returned to the sport of diving to deal with subconscious prodding, which took the form of recurring dreams. When I discovered I simply could not dive any more, not because of my mind or body conditioning, but due to some strange allergy, I thought that was it for me; I could once again allow diving to sink back into my past. I would never have guessed I was just at the start of a new chapter, the first words of which were, “Would you be interested in coaching?”

Fitting it in

I feel invigorated after every session at Dacorum Diving Club and love working with all the coaches and divers. In particular, the head coach’s son, a rising star with unlimited potential, reminded me of all the reasons I was once so passionate about the sport. Though I’ve found new friends, new skills and new challenges, I initially thought this was just a hobby – an outlier – not a piece of the puzzle. I was wrong.

Shortly after I started coaching, I read an op ed in the New York Times by David Brooks, called Genius: The Modern View. Brooks writes the following:

“The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.”

This struck a deep chord in me. ‘Ah ha!’ I thought, ‘This explains it!’ The premise has significant implications for any sports club trying to develop young athletes, so shyly, I sent it to our head coach (HC). I didn’t know him well, yet, and wasn’t sure what he’d think. My hope was that we’d have an interesting discussion about it, and maybe it would help us work with our young divers in a different way. Well, his interest exceeded my best expectations.

I’m embarrassed to say that despite my fascination with the subject, it never occurred to me to purchase the books referenced in the op ed to learn more. But the same is not true of HC. He told me he’d ordered not only The Talent Code and Talent is Overrated, but also Bounce, a book Amazon had suggested. He seemed a little surprised I hadn’t bought the books and immediately offered to lend them to me. I am extremely fortunate that HC has a curious mind, as well as a strong drive to learn and excel. Because when he shared the books he’d bought, that’s when this outlier fit back into my life’s puzzle…

If it hadn’t been for the recurring dreams, I wouldn’t have gone to diving. If I hadn’t gone to diving, I wouldn’t have met HC. If I hadn’t met HC, I never would have read these books. Without these books, I would not truly understand what it takes to succeed. These books have completely changed my outlook, my approach to personal goals, and even my parenting style.

That’s the exciting thing about life: even when you’re traveling a path that seems familiar or mundane or irrelevant, you can suddenly find yourself in a momentous place and come to realize that whether you knew it or not, your steps were always taking you where you needed to go. That’s why we must follow our inner promptings, even when they seem nonsensical. (Like going back to diving at 35.)

In part 2 of this post (next week), I’ll talk about the ideas in these books and why they have affected me in such a profound way.

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Hard Truths

First, let me just say hello… it’s nice to be back!

Now, today’s topic…

I have some trouble being honest.  Not about the big things… but those little white lies spring easily to my lips:  “Yes, lamb for dinner would be great.”  “No, that hair cut isn’t a disaster.”  “Sure, I’m very happy to help out with that project.”  You get the idea…

In the last few days, I’ve forced myself to be honest about a couple deeply personal issues and I thought I’d share them in case they help any one else feel better about saying those difficult words: the truth.

As those of you who are on Facebook with me know (and to the rest of you, friend me on Facebook!), I started coaching diving recently.  I don’t go very often due to the fact that I really like being married and I’m afraid that would change if I were out of the house every evening (not earning money).  Therefore, I know when I’m there, I am just helping out where there’s a need.  Somehow, though, I fell in to taking over a particular class.  At first, I was just sticking around during the class because I wanted to keep coaching.  But when the instructor was no longer available, I found myself in charge.

However, as my enthusiasm for Saturday mornings began to wane, I had to ask myself what was going on.  The answer was a surprise and made me admit an uncomfortable truth about myself: I don’t like to be “in charge.”

Why is this an uncomfortable truth?  I feel like it says something fundamental about me – that I’m not a leader, for instance.  Everyone likes to think of themselves as a leader.  This isn’t to imply I’m a follower; I just don’t really fit neatly into a group.  I’m more comfortable in the role of independent contractor or consultant.

I first noticed this about myself in my social life.  I feel dreadfully uncomfortable having to make decisions for anyone besides myself about even the most mundane questions – where shall we eat? What movie shall we watch?  I always have an opinion, but I hate to feel like I’m imposing it on any one else.  Maybe I’m afraid of making other people unhappy; I can deal with my own disappointments but hate to be responsible for others.  This trait certainly hindered my development in the corporate world.  I couldn’t stand up with confidence and say, “This is what we’re doing.”

So, why should this bother me with eight pre-pubescent divers?  I suppose the short answer is, it shouldn’t; which is why I was so embarrassed to tell the HC (head coach) I didn’t want to run the session.  Part of the problem for me is that beginners’ repertoires are limited and I seem to lack the necessary creativity to make their lessons interesting.  With advanced divers, it’s easy: they come in and run through drills and all their dives.  But with beginners, they stare up at you with their little faces after they done their front jumps and back jumps, their bright eyes wondering what exciting thing they’ll be asked to do next… and there’s me, with no good ideas.

Most people are probably clamoring for more autonomy and control.  Yet, I sounded, to my mind, rather pathetic as I begged off.  I was nervous about 1) losing the HC’s respect and 2) frustrating him by making him feel he had to take on even more responsibility.  Both ideas make me feel lousy.  But, the more knotted my stomach at the thought of the class, the more I felt I had to say something.  So say something I did.

As it turns out, at just this point as I was writing the blog, the HC called me to discuss.  He was actually nervous to talk to me about an unrelated subject for which I felt he had no reason to be uncomfortable… and the subject that I was so reticent to discuss was, for him, no big deal!

It’s amazing (she says, wryly) how accommodating and supportive people can be when they understand where you’re coming from.  And it never ceases to surprise me how the things we feel awkward about are far worse in our own minds than they are in actuality.  Ah, communication, what a useful tool you are.

The second thing has to do with a very significant decision I’ve made about my book.  But, as it’s after 5:00 and my little boy is waiting for me at nursery school, I’ll have to write about it and the ramifications of truth-telling on Monday.  Tune in!!!

 

 

Published in: on October 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm  Comments (6)  
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…but I get up again!

I can’t breathe through my right nostril and I feel like I’ve been punched in the face.  Moreover, I suspect I have hyper-extended both my knees.  I’m horribly embarrassed to admit this, particularly in light of my last post (Never too late…), in which I waxed enthusiastic about my return to diving and gymnastics.  Ah, poor fool.

My nose is stuffy because I’d forgotten I have some sort of chlorine allergy that makes my sinuses close tightly for the first few weeks back in a pool.  I can deal with that, but the knee thing?  That’s got me worried.  I was doing what is, for me, a basic dive – just a front flip – to prepare myself for a harder dive.  I did the first one and felt something funny in my knee when I landed. “But I’m on a low board and there’s no reason for my knees to hurt,” I thought and proceeded to do 3 more, each with increasing pain.

I finished the practice with no problem, even accomplished a major goal for myself (more on that in a bit), but when I got home, I realized something wasn’t right.  I had trouble getting from the car to the door.  As yesterday wore on, my knees became more painful and walking, less of an option.  I’m much better today, but it’s a stark reminder: this is a young person’s (or, at least, a very fit person’s) sport.  Perhaps I “dove in at the deep end” too fast.  As has often been the case with me, I tried to get where I was going too soon, without proper preparation.

The lesson, I think, is that it’s important to lay the groundwork and be willing to exert much effort to accomplish a goal.  One ought not to expect immediate success, even if it seems there for the taking.

That said, perhaps what I set out to do by returning to diving has been accomplished.

I got knocked down…

When I was competing in high school and college, one dive was my nemesis: the reverse.  To perform a reverse, one walks forward toward the end of the board, jumps and does a back dive in the direction of the board.  When I first started diving (around 13-years-old), I did a reverse flip and landed standing back on the board.  Afterwards, I had a mental block: whenever I imagined the dive, I forever saw myself hitting the board, in the manner of Greg Louganis at the ’88 Olympics.

Since what we visualize, we realize – I was sure this would eventually happen to me.  (A reminder of how important it is to control the thoughts in our minds.)

At practices, I would stand on the board forever, refusing to go, exasperating coaches and teammates, not to mention myself.  This psychological block nearly got me thrown off my high school team and  had much to do with why I didn’t finish my college career.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this had conscious and subconscious ramifications.  For fifteen years, I’ve had a recurring dream about correcting this fault.  Consciously, I’ve always felt I let myself down.  I allowed an irrational fear to dominate me and make me less than what I could have been.  I didn’t like this about myself, but fortunately, as with all character flaws, I could change it.

To feel fear is fine… to be controlled by fear is not

The first time I noticed that my attitude was different was when my childhood friend Leighanne and I took a trapeze lesson in New York.  Some of you might remember the Sex and the City episode in which Carrie tries to do a catch?  Well, I was inspired.  I was determined to do a catch; but to do so required facing my fear of heights.  To get to the trapeze, I had to climb up a small ladder about 20 feet.  I was wearing a safety harness, so I wasn’t really worried, but still, it was unsettling.  Then, I had to lean out off the small platform to grab the trapeze, while someone held the harness.  Again, I knew I was safe, but it didn’t stop me feeling frightened.

The difference was I wasn’t going to let that fear stop me from trying the catch.  My determination to achieve my goal far outweighed the fear I felt.  And caught, I was…

I was caught at the NYC Trapeze School

Despite this small achievement, diving still dominated my dreams; so I guess my subconscious wasn’t convinced of my ability to push past my fear.

And rightfully so, it has only just occurred to me how many places in my life I still feel limited.  I’m naturally a shy person and have avoided what could be fun events for fear of socializing with strangers.  I have been too embarrassed to post my writing on various public forums.  I have been unable to make sales calls for fear of being told no.  Instead of viewing the world as a friendly, helpful place, I’m constantly afraid of imposing myself where I’m not wanted… breaking some unspoken rule.  But actually, it’s probably something even more deep-seeded.

Rather than keeping perspective – remembering that my experience of the world is of my own making (so who cares if some stranger on a discussion forum doesn’t want to read my work?), I allow myself to indulge fear of the unknown, of change, of success, of rejection.

… but I get up again

So Monday night, when I stood on the board, facing down my enemy, I found my thoughts strangely wandering about – wondering if I was afraid.  Then, I decided to stop thinking and just go.  And there it was, like an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile: a bit awkward at first, but then just slips into a familiar routine.  My reverse dive.

Having looked for the demon and discovered it doesn’t even exist, perhaps, at last, I can move on.  Move on and apply the lesson to other parts of my life.

Our experience of the world really is ours for the making.  It can be warm and receptive, supportive and exciting.  Or it can be cold and lonely, frightening and hard.  It depends on how we choose to view it.  To what beliefs do we give credibility?  How do we imagine ourselves?  Fundamentally, do we have self-confidence, or do we only pretend to the world we believe we can succeed.  We will never fool ourselves.  And we have to know, as truth deep inside, what we can accomplish before we can accomplish it.

We are limited only by our understanding of ourselves and the scope of our imaginations.  In other words, we need not be limited at all.

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm  Comments (8)  
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Never too late…

A few years ago, I took up ballroom dancing.  One of the school’s standout performers was a spritely and flexible 80-year-old woman named Fioretta.  Nothing – not age, not injury, not gravity – would stop her from her dream of competing as a dancer.  (For pictures of this miniature maven in action, check out the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Hamden website and look at photos 1020081320 and Fioretta Mystic 14 Nov 2009 – top and bottom left of gallery).

Fioretta is an inspiration, but she isn’t alone in believing age is irrelevant when pursuing a dream, taking on a challenge, or even starting a new life.

Rodney Dangerfield was a late bloomer – his career didn’t take off until he was 42.  Liz Smith, a famous English sit com actress, caught her first break at 50.  Grandma Moses started painting in her 70s.  Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House series in her 60s and Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows after he retired from his career at the Bank of England.  Richard Adams’ first novel, the best-selling Watership Down, was published when he was in his 50s.

Irene Wells Pennington turned her hand to business for the first time in her 90s and corrected financial irregularities that threatened to ruin her husband’s $600 million oil fortune.  Colonel Sanders was in the 60s when he started his chicken franchise.

In her 2002 one-woman show, Elaine Stritch described meeting the love of her life as she neared the age of 50 (of course, she blames her earlier lack of success on her taste in men, which included Rock Hudson).  Though the relationship lasted only 10 years because her husband succumbed to cancer, Ms. Stritch makes clear it was worth every minute of the wait to meet him.  She might not yet have learned how to love, had she met him any sooner.

Subconscious prodding

I quit the Cornell University diving team to study abroad in Ireland my junior year.  Well, that was the primary reason I quit.  Secondarily, I had a love/hate relationship with the sport.  I had physical talent, but mental weakness.  I allowed fear to control me, to limit me, and frankly to make me the team pita (pain in the…).

Ever since, I have had recurring dreams in which I beg my old coach to let me back on the team.  Sometimes, I’m back in college.  Sometimes, I’m much older.  Always, I’m passionate about proving to myself and my coach that I’m a changed person.  Inevitably, I get on the board, only to fall off, unable to dive in my sleep.  Invariably, I wake up feeling frustrated and motivated and disappointed with my past.

For years, I’ve been trying to apply the lessons of these dreams to the rest of my life.  Live without fear… no more regrets.  Still, the genesis of the dreams remains unresolved.  Until recently, it never occurred to me that whatever I have to work out would require an actual diving workout.  But, after weeks of taking my son to a gymnastics school for toddler time, I realized how much I missed by childhood passions.  On a whim, I looked up adult gymnastics and found both a gym class and a diving program.  Suddenly, I felt like I had to give it try.

Too old?

I’m not going to lie and say I’m as limber and strong as I was when I was 12; I feel every pound I’ve put on since.  But, it’s a laugh to get back on the floor and see what I can do.  It may not be much (I’m trying hard not to hurt myself!), but it’s more than I thought.  I was making fun of myself, in a self-deprecating way, for being old and broken, but the coach told me that there are 70-yr-olds competing at the veterans meets.  He wasn’t terribly impressed by the 35 circles I’ve got round my trunk.

And when I started diving, I found it wasn’t too hard to reignite the body memory.  Moreover, some of the old demons seem to be gone.  I still feel fear, but I find it does not stop me.  I concede to myself “I’m scared” and then go anyway.  Maybe it’s because now I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone but myself.  Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes from experience (or dare I say, age?).

Always time…

When I was little, my mother always assured me I could be anything I wanted to be.  I remember one day in my late twenties allowing myself some time to mourn all the careers that I actually couldn’t have: broadway star, Olympian, astronaut, etc.  But I’m starting to rethink my list.

Maybe we are reincarnated and have lots of lives.  Or maybe this is our one shot.  Regardless, we’ve got this one now, so best make the most of it.  Whether its climbing a mountain or learning to knit or taking a language lesson or skydiving or changing careers or mentoring a child or directing a movie or writing a book or taking a photograph, what’s to stop you?

Sure, it’s easy to come up with all kinds of reasons why something can’t or won’t work, but the truth is we are the only ones standing in our way. As Richard Bach put it in his enlightening book, Illusions“argue for your limitations and they are yours.” When we get out of our way, and open up to the possibility that we can become anything we can imagine, it’s amazing the opportunities that present themselves.

The truth is that you’re never too old, too poor, too responsible, too tied down, too busy, too … too… too… to explore a passion and realize a dream (literal or figurative).

I honestly have no idea if my subconscious really wanted me to dive again, but you know what?  It’s fun.  It makes me feel good about myself.  When I was a young athlete, I always had my sights set on some great goal (like the Olympics) and I was always disappointed in what I was able to accomplish.  Maybe I’m supposed to learn that it’s okay just to have fun… to enjoy something for its own sake…

That is an achievement in itself.