So, my theme for January is “Explore.”
I’m still kind of working out what that means. I had decided that in general it meant that I would try out things that leave me feeling squirmy. Just push my comfort zone a bit. I set out a few activities that I’ve been avoiding but that still interest me. Cross-country skiing. Aikido. Dancing. I’m going skiing this weekend, and I start aikido next Monday. Dancing is still kind of on the back burner, but I’ll get there.
I’m finding, though, that I’m planning the activities but not really thinking all that deeply about them. I think about them to get anxious (Where will I park when I go to the high school for aikido? How will I know which room to go to? What should I wear? How cold will it be when we go skiing? Will I be a big wimp?), but not to really get to how I feel about doing them.
A lot of times, I decide to do something simply because it scares me or is something I’m not good at. When I was in college, I spent the first half of freshman year (wait, they don’t call it freshman year anymore, do they?) convinced that I ought to major in biology rather than English simply because I knew I did well in English and enjoyed it and I thought I ought to do something I wasn’t good at and didn’t really enjoy because it would be a bigger challenge and leave me more well-rounded. In the end, I decided that playing to my strengths and interests was a totally reasonable way to go, and I majored in English (with a writing concentration).
The trouble is, I don’t like doing things I’m not good at. If I try something and it seems too hard, I quit. But what if I kept doing it, became good at it, and then liked it? This is a big reason I continue to try new things. It’s also a big reason why I continue to try things I’ve already tried. It worked with broccoli.
When I was a kid and didn’t like broccoli, my mom told me to just take a tiny taste of it every time it was offered, and that maybe one day I’d like it. Lo and behold, I love broccoli now, along with a whole bunch of other formerly yucky foods. Discovering the fresh versions helped, too. Frozen brussels sprouts don’t hold a candle to fresh. Even my kids eat fresh brussels. But if I hadn’t kept trying them, I wouldn’t have ever discovered the variation that was palatable to me.
I tried karate many years ago. I lasted one class. The format (the class was held on a basketball court) left me feeling exposed. And sparring was absolutely terrifying to me. I don’t like conflict and I’m not confident with gross motor skills, so hitting each other (or even pretending to) was just too much for me. A few months after I tried and gave up karate, I saw an aikido demonstration. Controlled falling looked like more my style. I looked into it, found out when and where the classes were, and then never went. That was more than ten years ago. Every time we move to a new place, I look up aikido classes and then never go. So, now I’m going.
Skiing (yes, even cross-country skiing) is just terrifying to me, but it’s what practically everyone in Utah does in the winter. We have the Greatest Snow on Earth. If I moved away never having skied, it would be like living in San Francisco and never visiting Alcatraz or living in Washington, DC, and never walking along the reflecting pool (I’ve lived outside both cities and done both things, incidentally). I just have visions of myself standing up on the skis and just sliding all over the place. Or getting out there and, despite my best efforts, being so cold I get all whiney in front of my poor friend and beg her to take me home. (I’m only comfortable getting whiney in front of my husband and maybe my sister. Not that I don’t get whiney around other people. I’m just uncomfortable while I do it. And embarrassed afterwards.)
My defense against all of these anxieties is to just push all thoughts about the new activities to the back of my mind. I know I’ll show up at my friend’s house on Saturday morning wearing every warm item of clothing in my wardrobe. I’ll have to control myself so I don’t try to bring five pounds of trail mix and a gallon of water (when I’m nervous, it calms me to bring along adequate provisions for being lost in the wilderness for up to three days. Even if I’m flying). I’m trying not to think beyond that. On Monday, I’ll have my husband kick me out 30 minutes before aikido starts. What comes next, who knows?
Maybe that’s the essence of Explore month: beginning a story to which I don’t already know the ending.