After his inaugural attempt at doing yoga using an online video, my friend excoriated his performance.
Likewise, another friend recently described the first time he went skiing so many decades ago: “I was terrible.”
Neither had plans to return anytime soon to either activity.
And I’m left to think: Why so hard on yourself, man? (Is this a male trait? Or did I just happen to catch two men on off days? Weigh in, readers.) Why would you think your first time at anything would be award-winning?
Yes, of course, there are exceptions, such as those people who nail their first soufflé, sink every last one of their balls during their debut pool game or get every job they apply for.
And then there’s the famed beginner’s mind, where your blissful ignorance allows you to achieve. This mindset seems to fall away, though, the more you learn about something. See also: some of my earliest attempts at playing poker for money with stoic-faced, hard-nosed, card sharks, sorry, my co-workers. I raked in the chips until I started overthinking it.
But those are the outliers. Mostly, the scenario looks like this: You try something new, whether through peer pressure or genuine interest (I hope it’s the latter, though I’m not at liberty to say whether I leaned on my friend for years to try yoga) and you inevitably kind of stink at it. This has been me with growing vegetables, learning guitar and learning to check the oil in my car, a skill that will remain ever elusive to me, I fear.
Chances are you didn’t walk so well the first time you wobbled up to your tiny footsies and took those zombie-like steps across the room. But after you fell, you didn’t sit there with your arms crossed and say no thanks, not for me, I’m terrible at that whole walking thing. All you big people can tote me around for the rest of my life. Or did you?
In terms of yoga, which can perhaps apply to other undertakings in life, I would argue there’s no such thing as being “good” at it. I never gave a rat’s patootie what students who took my classes looked like when they did postures, as long as their alignment wasn’t potentially going to cause them injuries. I was more interested if they enjoyed it and how it made them feel in their body, mind and spirit. It was disheartening when some walked out almost ashamed of their performance, even apologizing for their lack of balance or tight hamstrings.
For all my attempts to remind them it didn’t matter what it looked like and that it would get easier with practice, I also knew some couldn’t hear me. Not that their ears weren’t working, but the failure tape was running too loudly in their head. I don’t particularly care for that word. It’s so black and white, so judgmental, when there’s such a beautiful range of grays to be had. And you always learn from something that doesn’t go the way you wanted.
My friend said he didn’t look like the online teacher (Hi, “Yoga With Adriene”). He couldn’t bend as far as she could, due to a previous injury, which is totally fine. You don’t have to be as flexible as the teacher or anybody in class. You don’t need to whiz down the slopes your first or even 30th time on the mountain or learn Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” during your first guitar lesson. You do exactly what you can in the exact moment you come to it. It will look different every day. Some days forward, some days backward.
We can be so hard on ourselves. Let go of expectations of perfection and instead immerse yourself in the process of learning and watching yourself get better over time. That’s way more fulfilling.
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