Nothing Says You Have to Be Good At It


I do jiu jitsu. I don't do it very well. As a matter of fact, my professor likely thinks of me as a remedial student. Sometimes he shows a technique, and I'm sure I look like he's just morphed into an alien because I stand on the mat with a blank stare and my arms on my hips, and my brow furrowed.

Somehow, he goes from lying on the ground facing his standing opponent, with his left leg wrapped around the other guy's lower right leg, and his right foot on the aggressor's left hip to dropping that fellow on his rump and threatening to break his foot. All the while I am thinking, "Yeah, my limbs can't do that. Pretty sure. I'm not even sure what his legs just did." Then, sure enough, time comes to try it out, and I have to laugh because, seriously, my limbs can't do that. Yet.

And that is okay. Because the gym doesn't have a rule that says I have to be good at jiu jitsu. 

As a matter of fact, few things in life require us to be good in order to participate. Probably, if you're a sky diver or a hang glider or a scuba diver or something like that, you should at least be pretty proficient at it in order to keep doing it for a while. I don't think it's a requirement, though. I know some impressively crappy cave divers who keep on keeping on. 

And how wonderful is that? I never have to be the best. I never have to win a competition. Unless I want to try to make some money at something, I never have to prove myself. All I have to do is show up and participate. Or not.

Years ago I had an instructor in a different kind of class tell us not to be "mental masturbaters". He was referring to the habit, that is easy to fall into, of continually practicing the thing one is good at because it feels good. You know what I'm talking about. You cook the same meals every week because they're easy, and you know you'll like it. You choose the same trail every time you go out because you know every hill and turn. You practice the arm bar instead of the sweep because your limbs can do that. The thing is, that way you never learn to incorporate new flavors. You never find that sunset view where the other trail skirts the cliff over the river. You never get to the arm bar because you never learned how to get your opponent on the mat. You never get better at anything other that what you were already relatively good at, so in the end, things stay the same, and you learn nothing of what you might become if given the opportunity.

The most life altering blog post I ever read was by an athlete named Geoff Thompson. It talks a lot about how growth requires getting outside of your comfort zone, how things can be "difficult difficult" or "difficult easy," and I have reread it dozens of times. The "difficult easy" things are those that are hard but that are also familiar. The edge has been taken off of them. When we do them, we can pat ourselves on the back because, sure, they are no joke, but let's face it. They're no stretch, either.  The "difficult difficult" things. though, are uncharted territory. They're those situations we wonder if we're even prepared for, the ones we aren't sure we'll make it through. They're the ones we will find ourselves a little bit changed from when we get to the other side. This concept regularly influences my decisions, and I have always done it without actually being aware that I was. Now, however, when I face a choice, I consciously consider whether or not I'm taking the path that will lead to a better me or the one that will lead to a more comfortable me. Sometimes I do choose to be more comfortable, but I do so with awareness. I can't say that I've ever regretted the choice to be uncomfortable, though. 

To do the "difficult difficult" or quit the mental masterbation, however, we have to be open to not being good at things. Being comfortable being uncomfortable or being the remedial student allows us to find ourselves one day in that same position but then to be proficient and no longer feel inadequate. 

Thank goodness there is no cosmic rule that says we have to be good at something to participate. That would block the door to progress, to finding our better selves on the other side. And what fun we would miss out on!


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