Who remembers this “healthy” snack for kids: peanut butter spread on a celery stick and sprinkled with raisins (ants)? As a kid I remember thinking it was a great idea, except for the raisins, which I meticulously picked off. I simply had “logs” which weren’t nearly as fun, but at least it was snacking on my terms. Sometimes ideas are better in theory. I’ve found this to be true of so many things I’ve been drawn to in my life. I flitted from one idea to another, one “passion” to another. Each time I’d get really excited at the prospect of doing something new, but within months (sometimes in mere weeks) it would lose its shine.
In third grade I begged my Mom to let me have guitar lessons. Money was tight at the time, but she brought me to the music store, bought the guitar and signed me up for lessons. I carefully picked out my guitar strap and could barely contain myself. Soon I would be entertaining the family at holidays and impressing my friends with my new-found coolness. I was expected to practice at least an hour after dinner. Practice? I just wanted to play. My complaining started almost immediately. “It hurts my fingers.” “The cords are too hard.” I would get a pit in my stomach every time my Mom drove me to Larry Bee’s Music School. Soon I was begging to quit.
In fifth grade it was horseback riding. My Mom drove several towns away to buy my riding gear which wasn’t cheap. Riding lessons were every Saturday morning. I was scared to death to go to my first lesson. The familiar pit in my stomach was back. Despite the fact that I got to ride a beautiful dark brown horse named Diablo, I wanted to go home. I just wanted to ride. I didn’t want to take orders and learn the proper way to trot and canter. Can’t we just go and have fun?
My pattern was clear. I wanted to be good at things without putting in the work—not necessarily out of laziness, but rather fear of embarrassment. I wanted to skip over the awkward phase of not knowing what I was doing and cut right to greatness. I wanted everything to be on my terms. In my head I was good at everything I tried, but in the face of reality, the fear of embarrassment or failing stopped me cold.
Soon my Mom grew tired of my shenanigans (can you blame her?) and after horseback riding hit the skids, I didn’t have lessons for anything. Sure, I did extra-curricular activities but with few exceptions, I only did the things that kept me fairly “safe.” There were so many things I didn’t try for fear of looking stupid. I sat on the sidelines and observed instead of participating. As I entered high school it was more fun (that’s what I told myself anyway) to make fun of things than participate in them. It was all a smoke screen, all a wall to protect my fragile ego. It’s no wonder that by the time I was an adult, moving out of my comfort zone was paralyzing.
In my professional life, especially in the early days, any time I was handed a new project or book of business, the pit in my stomach was back in full effect. What if I screwed it up? What if I made the company look bad? What if the clients complained about me? I’d “what if” myself into a frenzy. Interestingly, in these situations where I wasn’t given a choice, I worked through the fear. I’d get too busy working and learning to think about how scared I was to fail. Guess what? I never failed. Each time I did a great job. Sure, there were hard days where I was secretly dying inside from spinning my wheels. But each time I’d overcome a challenge, my confidence grew. And so, it’s gone like this for years.
Still, sometimes I wonder if my life would look different if I had been forced to do the things I didn’t want to do. Would I be playing the guitar and loving it or would I resent my Mom for making me spend time on something I didn’t like? It’s hard to say. I do know that, as the years have passed, I don’t look for the shortcut anymore. I put in the work and even enjoy the process of learning something new. These days I’m trying to do more things outside my comfort zone—a trampoline class, a networking event, speaking engagements—the list goes on. But I still won’t eat raisins.