On Trying Something New
"Remember not to kill your mother!"
If you’ve met my mother you know that she’s about 5’2” on a good day, and, like many people of more petite stature, she has a fairly “non-petite” personality. You wonder where I get it from…
She yelled those words at me sitting on the bonnet (aka car hood) of my 1979 Datsun. It was my first car, a slick silver clunker. As long as I ignored the fact that it beeped, beeped like a 10-ton truck going in reverse, I loved it. It had one other tiny obstacle; it had a standard transmission.
Now if you’ve learned how to drive stick (standard, whatever you like to call it) you’ll know that the hardest thing is going from a dead stop to moving without a) stalling the car, or b) lurching forward with a force so strong you thought you might go flying through the windshield.
My mother, in all her wisdom, had decided that this challenge would be the first lesson. To keep me focused on easing off the clutch and easing down on the accelerator, she would sit on the bonnet of the car daring me to toss her off. Daring me not to run her over. And I bring you to: "Remember not to kill your mother."
Why am I sharing this story with you? When working with clients, I often ask them to do something they've never done before. I ask them to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. Now I try very hard to make this process super simple. If you have a 30-minute one-on-one session with me, I send you precise practice instructions. I create the safest, most comfortable, and most positive environment I can think of to get you practicing your new skill.
And yet, I have a hunch that many people don't follow up on the homework. Why? In the beginning, they worry they might look like a fool or make an embarrassing mistake. Worse still is that inner narrative is yelling (probably louder than my mother) about how judgment and derision will rain down.
But here's the other consistent truth I tell every one of my clients. I can create all the language in the world to talk about how amazing you are. I can craft the perfect answer to the question "What do you do?" but if you don't get good at saying the answer OUT LOUD, if you don't get comfortable with the language and make it your own then your investment is all for nothing.
In answering the question "What do you do?" authenticity is one of the key criteria. And, surprise surprise, authenticity comes with practice.
I know, not so much. When was the last time you learned a new skill? When was the last time you were taught something? I think it's so interesting that our entire lives are filled with learning something new: walking and talking, applied mathematics, the philosophies of Plato. We're encouraged to try something new, learn something different from the moment we're born to the moment we graduate college. And then, almost overnight, the lessons slow down dramatically. With that slowing, we forget how much we suck at things at the beginning. We also forget that it's going from not knowing to knowing something is half the fun.
I won't make you all learn how to articulate your unique awesome, at least not today. I will challenge you, however, to try something new, learn something new. Find something simple to begin. It's OK.
Or join in. I tried to learn something new today. I'm trying to learn how to do the timestep. Yes, tap dance. Thank you, Maud Arnold, for inspiring me. I'm terrible. But the good news is my mother is still very much alive, so there's hope for me yet.
Figure out what you need to learn.
Get someone to explain it to you.
Be awful at it.
Practice until you're not.