As I spat out a mouthful of snow, I realised my nose was bleeding.
“Are you alright? That was a crazy fall.”
Assuring the friendly skier I was OK, I managed to smile, limp to the end of the run and find my way to the bathroom. Where I promptly burst into hot, embarrassed tears. My face hurt, my hip hurt, my knee hurt and man, my pride hurt.
But let’s backtrack a moment…
In 2004, Ben and I lived in Canada. We got jobs on a ski hill in Banff and were so excited. It was going to be awesome!
There was the small problem of never having seen snow before, and being completely incapable of skiing or snowboarding – a requirement of the job – but that was a mere trifle. No big deal. Until I realised snowboarding was hard and I sucked at it.
And instead of resolving to learn and improve my snowboarding skills over time, I slipped into envy, resentment and fear. Turns out I had a very low threshold for being bad at things.
“Those people, sliding around the mountain with their grace and ability. Pfft. They probably grew up on the mountain. It must be easy for them. I’ll just sit here drinking my coffee. Who needs this anyway? Stupid sport with stupid boards and stupid skills.”
The Problem With Perfectionism
For as long as I could remember, in almost every aspect of my life, I’d worshipped perfection. I’d gone after it and expected nothing less of myself. Any results beneath excellent were unsatisfactory.
I expected mastery before I’d started my apprenticeship. I expected great results without putting in the work.
The problem is – you don’t get good without practicing, experiencing, failing, doing, falling, sucking, learning and getting back up.
Letting Go of Being Good
No-one got good at snowboarding while sitting on their arse drinking coffee. Yet that’s where you would find me on my break. Watching everyone else slide by, in control, with easy grace, smoothly shifting their knees and feet to get where they wanted to go.
I was envious and arrogant. I assumed it was easy for them. That for some reason it came naturally for other people. I conveniently ignored the fact that “these people” may have practiced for years or grown up on the mountains. Who knows? And really, who cares? I still wasn’t learning anything by sitting around sulking.
So I got up. Strapped on my board. Promptly fell over. Got up again and started moving. Then I kept moving. Adjusted my stance. Worked out what worked and what didn’t. (For the record, straightening your knees doesn’t work. See bloodied nose above.)
Getting Good – Over Time
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us we need to spend 10,000 hours working at a skill or craft before we can master it. While I don’t necessarily agree with the specifics of his theory, I can appreciate – as can my bloodied nose – that we need to give ourselves time.
Time to fail, to try new things, to learn each of the small parts of a particular skill, to assess our performance, to fall down, to get back up again. Time to complete our apprenticeship step by step.
Can you imagine how different we would feel if we stopped putting pressure on ourselves to become immediate masters? How free we would feel to experiment, to try, to fail, to start again?
Parenting: No-one knows how to be a parent straight away. Even if the instinctive response of caring for our young comes very naturally, the approaches to dealing with toddlers, preschoolers, tweens and teens? Notsomuch. Parenting is a learnt skill, and one that constantly changes.
Creative Work: Van Gogh wasn’t born a master. Neither was Brian Wilson, Neil Young or Tim Winton. Before we’d ever heard of them, they’d tried, failed and studied. And they haven’t (or didn’t) stop learning. You can apply this to your writing, singing, poetry, painting or weaving. We all start at the beginning.
Running A Household: Moving out of home, getting married, starting a family – these are huge shifts in circumstance, and expecting ourselves to know how to do it all without any experience is simply setting ourselves up to fail. Give yourself grace and time.
Sports: Kelly Slater works hard at his mastery, and would have been wiped out as a learner just as much as you or I. He didn’t become the best surfer in the world by giving up and heading in. You probably won’t ever be the best runner, basketballer, swimmer or jujitsu-lady in the world, but giving yourself over to learning the craft over time means you will become as good as you can.
Living an Intentional Life: No-one can turn their life from hectic to calm overnight, and to expect such a dramatic change will lead to resentment, anger and the likelihood of slipping backwards. Instead, harness the power of small changes over time.
Pack Away Expectations
What if we put away our expectations? What if we said, “I will not be perfect at this. Ever. I might get good at it, but in the meantime, I’m probably going to suck.”
It’s OK to strive for great things. It’s wonderful to have goals and aspirations and dreams. But giving ourselves grace while we learn (and we are always learning) is one way to stop worshipping at the altar of perfection, and instead start experiencing life.
As for me and my snowboard?
By the end of the season, I was good. Blue-run good at least. Black-run…shaky. And moguls? Forget about it.
What I do remember is our last day on the mountain. I won the day off in a lottery and spent hours riding, laughing, falling down, still not being excellent. The last run of the day was sloppy – the May sunshine beating down – but it was excellent. I was controlled, aware, carving and I felt free and exhilarated.
Just think, I would never have had that moment – the moment I can still feel nearly 10 years on – had I given up. The bloodied noses, broken sunglasses, frustration and embarassment have faded, but the memory remains.
Do you allow yourself to be bad at things? Or do you expect greatness immediately?