If Only I’d Known. Letters to Lost Years: 1988.4

When you suffer disappointment or embarrassment from failure, think about the lesson of the trees:

Biosphere 2 attempted to create a perfectly balanced environmental system.  But scientists were baffled by plants that toppled over when they grew past a certain height.  Eventually, they discovered the missing element necessary for plants to grow tall: wind.  When wind blows against plants, it stimulates the development of stress wood, which holds them in an optimal position.  Plants use the challenge of a storm to make themselves strong for survival.

What can we learn from nature about how to use the storms in our lives?

It’s strange how seemingly innocuous showers can have an inordinate impact on us –  in response we twist ever-so-slightly and wind up growing with a funny kink in our trunk.  One of my “knots” grew after an unsuccessful run for class office in junior high.  That loss became my secret injury.  It was the moment that instilled in me fear of exposing myself to the judgement of others and planted the seed in my psyche that said, “I can’t… I won’t succeed…. I’m not good enough.  It isn’t going to work.”

Every now and then, there is something I can envision perfectly – something I am so completely confident about that I know beyond doubt it will happen: college, jobs, meeting my husband, places I’ve been.  I have other goals and dreams about which I am passionate, but when it comes time to pursue them, I do so with a touch of timidity and a pinch of doubt.  I go after these dreams – no matter how much they mean to me – with an air of apology.  I am that little girl who put herself out there before her school and they said no.  Probably means everyone else will say no, too…

“I realize this probably isn’t the best book you’ve ever read,” the undertone of my query letter says, “but please publish it anyway.”  How can I expect anyone to get behind me, if I’m not entirely behind myself?  

Understanding this has made me aware of two things:  1) I have to convince my subconscious that the past isn’t prologue.  I can get a “yes” on the things that matter most to me; I just can’t be scared to go after them;  2) I have to keep working until I am entirely confident in what I’m doing.  

It’s time to reach into my past and tell that little girl not to take every “no” so personally.  Tell her that rejection doesn’t shine a light on her fundamental flaws.  Help her understand that sometimes it’s just pointing her in a better direction or forcing her to give that extra effort.

After all, a dream delayed is not a dream denied.

I have to let go of that little girl’s hurts and humiliations because they aren’t who I am any more. 

If I am willing to work hard and am genuinely proud of what I produce, there is no reason I won’t succeed.  

No one is entirely successful all the time.  And no one who achieves anything worthwhile does so without struggle and stumbling and disappointment.  When it happens, it’s time to take a deep breath and learn what we can.  But never, ever allow that moment to seep in and infect our understanding of who we are.  

We learn the most from the moments that challenge us the most.  We learn what doesn’t work and what we can do better; what we want and are willing to work for, and what actually isn’t all that important to us.  

We learn to use the wind to develop the traits we need to stand strong and attain the potential within us.


Published in: on July 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm  Comments (3)  
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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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