We talked yesterday about how much fun surfing was and how much I learned about life and God and us from my brief time with Dustin. One of the things I DIDN'T mention was this moment -- when we were pulling up our wetsuits and looking out at that rough water -- this moment when I thought, "What am I THINKING?" All the little devil thoughts raced through my head: "What if I can't do this? What if I drown? What if I look like an idiot?"
Years ago, those thoughts might have driven me right back to the Surf Station, grinning sheepishly and saying, "You know what -- I've changed my mind." Or I would never have considered the lessons in the first place. I would have interviewed some surfers, watched a few movies, read several books and called it good to go. That was before I really, really knew and trusted God, before that love and trust showed me who I am. As you can see, the fears come back to me sometimes. After all, the surf was rough and I am not athletic and people were going to be taking pictures of me floundering around out there. But just as quickly the fears were chased away. Dustin wasn't going to let me drown. More than likely I wasn't going to be able to stand up on a surfboard and hang ten. And way more than likely, I WAS going to look like an idiot. But who cared? What difference did it make? I just wanted to find out what surfing lessons were like so my next book can be real. And I wanted to have fun doing it. It wasn't about succeeding or failing. And in life itself, it almost never is.
Really -- what if you never tried anything you were the least little bit afraid you would fail at? What if you were so constantly worried about what other people thought you couldn't even walk to the pencil sharpener in your classroom? None of us would get very far if we did that -- and for many many years I DIDN'T get very far! I didn't have as much fun as i could have. I didn't have as many meaningful experiences as I might have. I probably didn't meet as many wonderful people as I would have otherwise.
So what changed? And what can change for you? Here it is -- step 5 on the journey to being yourself: don't be so afraid you're going to fail that you don't even try.
Before we go any further, let me make this clear: there is a difference between overcoming your fears and taking unnecessary risks. I didn't beg Dustin to take me way out beyond the breakers and let me try to stand up in water strong enough to beat the stuffings out of me. Nor do I drive 120 miles an hour on the freeway, jump out of an airplane (even with a parachute!) or try my hand at diving off a hundred foot cliff into the Pacific Ocean. If I fail at those things, I'm dead! In your life, that can be translated as: Don't try to drive a car, drink a beer, or sneak out your window in the middle of the night. Of those things, be afraid. Be VERY afraid.
I'm talking about the things you really can't fail at as long as you're trying -- as long as your goal is to learn or to have fun or to see what you're capable of. Here are some examples:
* Do you not try very hard at math (or science or writing or test-taking) because you're afraid you'll fail -- so if you don't try that hard you can just say, 'I would've done better but I didn't care'?
* Do you wish you could try ice skating or watercolor painting or memorizing Shakespeare, but you're afraid people are going to laugh at the results, so you just sigh and keep wishing?
* Have you attempted something once and it didn't go well so you're not going back there again? Maybe soccer when you were six, before you were even co-ordinated? Or poetry when you were seven and didn't actually know that many words yet? Or fractions last semester, before you knew your math facts?
* Did someone make fun of you when you excitedly went for something and weren't perfect at it? When I was 9, I really wanted to ride a horse, but the people I was with told me I was being way too gentle with the animal and I would never get anywhere doing it that way -- and I haven't been back on a horse since. When I was in my 30's, I took a skiing lesson in the Sierras and the instructor told me I had no common sense whatsoever so I took off my skis and resigned myself to watching Jim and Marijean on the slopes while I sipped hot chocolate in the lodge.
The root of it all is that we're not so afraid of getting hurt or losing the competition. We're afraid of looking ridiculous, or being laughed at, of not being perfect. Does any of that sound like God to you? God doesn't laugh at us. There is no record of Jesus pointing at his disciples and making fun of them because they didnt get it. The Holy Spirit doesn't give us great ideas and beautiful inspirations for us to back off from them saying, "But what if I fail?"
What God wants is for us to be free to be who we are, who we were made to be. I wasn't made to be a surfer, but I was made to be a writer who writes real, a person who enjoys God's gifts, a person who reaches out and connects with people. What if I HADN'T put on my wetsuit and gone out there and looked like a spastic over and over again? I couldn't write the next IRL book with nearly as much authority. I wouldn't have delightful memories. Dustin wouldn't be my consultant on the surfing scenes. I wouldn't have this confidence that your generation has kids like him in it who are sincere and honest and passionate about what they love.
So how do you keep from being a kook -- a person who is afraid to try?
(1) Choose the things that really look fun or meaningful or challenging to you. YOU. I don't want to learn to wakeboard or kayak or grow a rose garden. Those things don't interest me -- though I think they're all pretty cool things to do. But I do want to learn to ride a motorcycle and ballroom dance and speak Spanish.
(2) Have a reachable goal for yourself. Rather than,"I will write the perfect poem," how about, "I will write the poems that come from my heart." You can't possibly fail at that.
(3) Learn from the mistakes you make while you're trying. Didn't quite complete that flip off the diving board? Ask a good diver what you could do to make it a little better next time. Aren't totally satisfied with that drawing? Study it and figure out what you'll do differently on this go-around.
(4) Stay away from people who make fun of your efforts. If your older brother snickers every time you dribble a basketball in the driveway, wait 'til he's not around. If you can't avoid them, laugh them off. "You think I look like a geek when I tap dance? You're probably right -- but I'm having one heck of a great time!" If the teasing gets ugly and you can't avoid it, confront that joker. "I'm just trying something new here, and I would appreciate it if you would back off so I can enjoy it." Don't defend yourself or run off cryng (even though you want to!) Somebody's teasing says a whole lot more about who they are than about who you are. What are they doing? Standing there being hateful. What are you doing? Getting out there and enjoying your life.
(5) Deciding something isn't your thing isn't the same as failure. I don't imagine I'll be getting back into the ocean with a surfboard, but I don't see my lessons as a failure or even a waste of time. Same with running (after twenty years I decided to walk instead) and riding a ten-speed bike (I just never could get that gear-shifting thing down) .There are other things I've tried that I HAVE loved and stuck with -- yoga (I could barely touch the floor at first) , writing tween fiction (no, no, I was a TEEN writer, I told that publisher!), and writing books for grown-ups (no, no, I told that publisher, I'm a children's author!)
None of this means we shouldn't try to be the best we can be at the things that ARE us. I am constantly trying to improve my writing, my relationshups, my life as a Christian. I work at not gossiping. At being supportive. At stretching a little further into wide angle seated forward bend. And I know I can't do any of that without God showing me who I am and what I can do and how I should do it and how it can help someone. With all of that on my mind, I don't have a lot of time to wonder if somebody thinks I'm silly or clumsy or a hopeless wannabe.
So what abolut you, my brave, adventurous, godly mini-women? How is fear-of-failure keeping you from trying something fun or enriching or important? If you post that today, you will show great courage. You will show that you trust God and rely on his plan for you, more than you look for the approval of the critics, who wouldn't be laughing at you or putting you down if they really knew who THEY were. I can't wait to hear from you. I want to help. I want to see you having life and having it abundantly. THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!