Thursday, September 28, 2017

50 for 50 day 22: Looking foolish, trying again

This is the 22nd of 50 posts, celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

When I was younger (and in this case younger sometimes means yesterday) I had a great fear of looking foolish or incompetent. I would burn with shame whenever I stumbled, stuttered, or asked what seemed to be a dumb question. God forbid someone witnessed me doing any of these things, I would internally replay the incident over and over until it had the weight and volume of a mountain and I was crushed beneath it.

This was a great handicap, because learning new things sometimes requires looking foolish or incompetent, because you are not yet competent at the new thing and the only way to get there is by trying. It's a handicap because everyone does something foolish or incompetent from time to time and it's a great solipsism to think no one else ever does. Even Michael Jordan had to start somewhere and once he's outside his area of expertise, I bet he's as prone to mistakes as most of us. When we focus only on our mistakes we might not notice our progress. This isn't to say I don't sometimes feel that shame, but I try to remind myself that I can fail again and fail better, but only if I don't let my own shame consume me.

To fight my tendency to obsess over my own foolishness, I try to do something new and risky regularly, reminding myself that, at worst, I don't do it well. I feel foolish. I am not yet competent. For example, I was visiting a friend recently. She and her husband were cooking dinner. When I offered to help they told me I could entertain them. Now, as a storyteller I could easily and competently tell them a story. I would have remained in my comfort zone and they would have enjoyed it. Instead I started singing at the top of my lungs, and dancing around the kitchen. I am not a competent singer or dancer. It was awful. But it was also very funny. In my younger days I wouldn't have been willing or able to sacrifice my dignity for a moment of playful foolishness with friends.

Besides, I will never become a better singer if I never sing. I will never become a better dancer if I never dance. I would not be the storyteller I am today if I hadn't stood up that very first time.

My great teacher, Brother Blue, built a life out of looking foolish. I think he did this in part so others would be willing to look foolish as they found their way into their own voices. If Blue was in the room you knew you would never be the only fool. As I approach 50 I find I am more and more willing to look foolish for myself, and for others. What is the harm in being a bit silly if it helps others, if it helped me find a new path?

The Fool tarot card is about a lot of things, foremost among them, new beginnings. It is about moving forward despite the risks. We all have to start somewhere. As I age and grow, I hope I keep trying new things, trying again when I am not competent, and being a fool for the world.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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