Friday, November 26, 2010

Young and Fearless

Matt and I went to the skate park with our nephews yesterday, and Matt’s already predicted what type of skateboarder each is going to be. Justin, six-years-old, will be a ramp skater. He is a perfectionist who will keep doing the same thing over and over until his technique is exactly right. He waits at the top of the ramp, making sure he’s at exactly the right angle and psyching himself up. Devon, who’s almost five, will be a street skater. He’ll be the guy who’s jumping curbs and riding down cement steps and handrails. He won’t care about technique and will try anything that looks like it might be a fun challenge.

But these two little skaters have something in common. They’re both young and fearless. They’re filled with promise and confidence. In their minds, there’s no reason why they can’t be the best skateboarders in the world. They’re not yet worried about rejection or what other people think. The possibilities of what they can be and what they can do are endless right now. This magic time in a child’s life is precious and entirely too short.

In his book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon McKenzie describes talking to a classroom of first graders. He asked them to raise their hands if they were artists, and every hand in the room shot up. When he asked that same question in a second grade classroom, a few hands stayed down. By the time he got to the fourth grade classroom, only a couple of students raised their hands. The fourth graders had already felt the sting of rejection, compared themselves to other kids, and come up short. They no longer had the confidence in their creative abilities to raise their hands and call themselves artists in front of their peers.

Something happens to all of us as children, to make us a little less fearless, less confident. Maybe someone teased you about your clothes, made fun of your drawing, or called you a name on the playground. Someone said your nose was big, your ears stuck out, or that your hair was ugly. In some way, someone made you feel small so they could feel big, and you believed them. You heard someone else’s beautiful singing voice or saw their amazing artwork, and you thought you could never be that good. This is all part of growing up, but sad nonetheless. A little bit if childhood innocence disappears in that milestone moment, as the harsh reality of adulthood begins to shape who we will become.

When I was in first grade, I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. But like the fourth graders in McKenzie’s book, I lost that confidence somewhere along the way. I went from a young, future-author to a grown woman who was too nervous to even start a blog. Whenever I am alone, lost in my thoughts, I’m “writing” in my head. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, and I think to myself, “Too bad I am not a good writer, otherwise I would actually write this stuff down.” Over the last couple years, other blogs and conversations with friends have inspired me to actually start writing. I still “write” in my head all the time, when I am driving, in the shower or on the elliptical. Except now, I open my laptop as soon as I’m done and type up everything that came to my mind. The writing part is actually easy. Publishing it is another story.

I almost didn’t start this blog. I was scared, as any of us would be when we’re putting ourselves out there, risking scrutiny and judgment. What if people hated it? What if they thought my blog was dumb? What if they thought I was arrogant for thinking anyone would care what I had to say. But I look at my little nephews and decide to be fearless again. If you like my blog, you’ll read it, subscribe, and share your favorite posts with others. If you don’t like it, that’s okay, too. You never have to read it again. I may not be a fantastic writer, but it’s something I enjoy, and the blog is a great way to practice writing every day. I still hold my breath when I see there are comments on my post or on my link to the blog on Facebook, but everyone has been very supportive and encouraging. So there was nothing to be afraid of after all.

Three years ago, Matt taught me to snowboard. I had never even been on skis before, and I was terrified. But after a couple of seasons, I got the hang of it. And I LOVE it! I’m not going up into the trees or doing tricks, but I don’t fall off the lift anymore, and I have a great time. We’re going to Tahoe with our nephews in a few weeks, and Uncle Matt’s going to teach them to snowboard, too. And they’re not even a little afraid.

What are you too afraid to try? What would you start doing “if you had the talent?” Would you sing, paint, play guitar? Would you learn to snowboard or take a cooking class? Would you go back to school or start your own business? What is the fear of failure and rejection keeping you from? Whatever it is, just give it a try. You might have a natural talent that will inspire others. Or you might not be great at it at first, but who cares? Eventually, you’ll stop falling off the lift, and you could be incredible if you keep at it. Channel your inner six-year-old and set an example of fearlessness for others to follow. Just don’t forget your helmet and knee pads.