"To get started in the outdoors, you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be a little brave."
Wise words from my friend Johnie over at Dirtbag Darling. One of Johnie's missions is to foster a community that encourages women to take risks. Perfectionism is a joy killer that can stop us from moving into action. Instead of aiming for flawless, just start something!
When was the last time you tried something for the first time?
The reason we pursue what we're good at (and avoid what we're not so good at) is obvious. We dig the praise and the feeling that we've become proficient at something. Overall it's less effort and most likely more reward. And frankly, it's satisfying to be GOOD at something. Playing on our strengths is fun. Working on our weaknesses not so much. But do growth and comfort exist together?
In the last year, the situations I look back on where I incurred the most growth were moments of extreme discomfort; tension with clients, tough conversations about differing needs and desires, digging up and dealing with internal struggles and learning how to cross country ski. Did you see that last one coming?
Let me explain. I identify A LOT with my pursuit in outdoor activities and athletic inclination. When people ask what I like to do, it's my authentic answer. It's what I love to write about, photograph and seek pretty much anytime I'm not working. While I'm no superstar at one particular sport, I've grown accustomed to picking pursuits up on the fly and at least being able to keep up.
Last year when I popped on a pair of skiis to try Nordic skiing, I was met with the internal frustration of not being good enough, quick enough.
Let's start from the beginning...
When 50% of your snow sport experiences end in crashes and making friends with Ski Patrol, it’s really easy to dismiss the winter season all-together and stick with other activities you’re good at. After a broken wrist and a fractured fibula (both snowboarding accidents), I vehemently decided that “I was not a winter person.” I figured the statistics spoke for themselves and the risks weren’t worth the reward. Also, I was scared shitless of breaking another bone.
Fast forward four years and here I am in the Pacific Northwest, where winter greets me indubitably every year. I held out for two full seasons of resisting invitations to try downhill skiing or snowboarding. By year three I gave in, but I wouldn’t be returning to downhill or snowboarding (still too much mental scarring).
Enter: Cross Country Skiing!
No worries if you haven't heard of the sport. I didn’t know it existed till my husband and his family convinced me to get on a trail with them last season. They were graceful in everything they did, from the way they clicked into their boots to their soft and effortless glides. I on the other hand, looked like a baby giraffe finding it’s legs. I caught on slowly, didn’t fully regain my breath till we stopped, and felt sore in muscles I didn’t know existed the next morning.
But, it got me out in my least favorite season and kept me warm while outdoors.
I got another chance to tackle the sport this Thanksgiving when we stayed in Canada for the holiday weekend. Being the least experienced in the group, I was self-concious of my beginner skill level. Our differences in practice became obvious as we got started and the distance between me and everyone else grew rapidly.
My skis were slippery on the newly groomed trails and my struggle to go anywhere seemed to be getting me nowhere. I couldn’t hide my emotions, ranging from frustration to embarrassment to shame. Why had it seemed so much easier last year? Why did I care that everyone was better than me? Why couldn’t I just let go and have fun? Was I going to spend all weekend skiing alone because I couldn’t keep up?
Not a moment too soon,I found the semi-familiar groove of gliding on the skis. I let the others go on ahead as I focused on my breath and felt the thoughts escape my brain. “Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, too hot, too cold, feet cramping, arms exhausted, can’t keep up, can’t slow down..... “ And on they went as I finished the loop and felt the balance of endorphins from the work and peace from being on a quiet mountaintop settle in. Sure it may have taken me longer and I needed to work harder, but I was injury free and overall relishing in a new experience.
My main take away is this; it’s really important to cultivate brave persistence, which comes from saying yes to curiosities and going for things outside our comfort zone. It takes a willingness to drop the ego, know you’re going to look silly and just do the thing anyways.
That’s a risk that I believe will reap big rewards.
I would love to hear about your experiences with starting something new in the comments below!