I’m really bad at Scrabble. So bad that on the rare occasion that I dare play with my husband, he doesn’t just beat me. He demolishes me, with double or triple my score. And no matter how many times he tells me it’s a puzzle game, NOT a word game, it still bothers me that I – someone who lives and breathes for words – can be so dreadfully awful at a game that revolves around… well, making words!
I’m bad at chess too, and all my kids who play can beat me easily. I don’t have the attention span required to think two, three moves ahead (to be honest, paying attention long enough to think through one move is pushing it), and I can never remember the rules.
I’m good at baking, but I can’t fry a decent egg to safe my life.
I like sports, but I’m incredibly clumsy. I ran track one year in high school, and the coach was so frustrated at my repeatedly bungled attempts at the high jump, that he finally said, “You know what, this event isn’t for everyone. Maybe you need to think about trying something else.” I did eventually get the hang of the long jump and triple jump, although doing so gave me life-long shin splints, so I’m not sure it was a fair trade-off.
I struggle with math. Once I go beyond the basics, something inside me cries, “Too hard, too hard!!” and a little switch in my brain shuts off. Refuses to even try.
I have a terrible sense of direction. I’ve lived here in Phoenix for over 8 years now, and while I never truly worry that I’ll get lost-lost (mainly because the layout of the city is very gridded, and I know I’ll eventually get to an area/street/highway that I recognize) my track-record outside of my own normal stops is… spotty. The thought of going anywhere I’m not very familiar with, especially without my little sticky note of directions (I tend not to trust the GPS) makes my palms sweaty.
So why am I sharing this list of shortcomings? Because, about a month ago, I started taking a karate class as part of my 40 for 40 list of goals for the year. I always thought it’d be fun, and it is fun. But it’s also really freaking hard, at least for me. It doesn’t come naturally. I keep getting my left and right confused, I’ll start a middle block and some how end up with a high block, and when my hands are finally doing the right thing, my feet forget what they’re doing. I get flustered and embarrassed and I have to work really hard to mentally get past my mistakes.
But I keep showing up, and I keep working at it.
Twenty years ago – probably 10 or even 5 years ago, if I’m being honest – I would have quit. Gone home after that very first class, made some sort of declaration about karate being “not for me”, and never gone back.
I stand before you a recovering perfectionist. For most of my life, if something didn’t come easily to me, if I couldn’t do it well right from the get-go, I simply didn’t do it. I avoided anything that was hard at all costs, anything that would make me feel stupid, or incompetent, or… human. And you know what? It’s really no way to live. I mean, sure, I did some worthwhile things. I wrote! I made art! I played music! But the things I missed out on… the things I really wanted to try, but avoided because deep down I was afraid of failing? That list is longer than I care to admit.
Some of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done as an adult have been things that were terrifying. Things that took me way outside of my comfort zone. Things that were – or continue to be – really, really hard. Over time I’m learning to embrace the challenge, stare the fear in its face and say, “You’re not going to stop me this time.”
My kids? They don’t need to learn how to do this. They’ve already got it. When I interviewed them for my blog last year, and asked the question: “Some people think that unschoolers will only learn things that are easy for them, and will not ever challenge themselves. So do you learn things that are difficult, or do you just go for easy things that you know you’ll do well?” Spencer was quick to answer, “I like a challenge!” Right now he’s currently challenging himself with a two-year long small engine repair course that’s going to mean assignments, studying, and formal tests. And just last week, when Everett and Paxton started a fencing class, their first comments after the class was done were, “That was SO HARD! And so fun! I can’t wait to go back.”
They’re not afraid of doing the hard things, and I’m finally, after 40 years on this planet, understanding why.
Because that feeling you get when you finally get that triple word score, or solve that polynomial equation, or smoothly execute the low block – middle punch – upper cut without getting tangled up in your own arms…
That feeling is pretty damn awesome.