Friday, December 30, 2016

[Life Evidence] We Can Grow by Doing

In 2009, my first time leaving the USA, I brought a frisbee along with me to Madrid for the year.

My ultimate frisbee playing experience before then involved some indoor playing in high school before school, some pickup in the summers, a semester of intramurals at college, and a summer of MUFA's rec D league. I think someone had tried explaining the force to me, and I didn't really understand it.

Prior to my just-for-fun ultimate frisbee playing, I'd never competed in any team sport. (I mean, not counting elementary softball/baseball in the summers, which I was forced to do and strongly disliked.)

I was often super nervous in gym class growing up, because I was not athletically inclined. It was embarrassing to suck so badly in front of classmates, or to be picked near the end when choosing teams. I didn't know how to just enjoy playing and have fun—I was always so worried about how terrible I was. (I mean, you remember my history of swimming, right?)

It wasn't until later in middle and high school when some of these nerves started subsiding. In high school I remember loving our weightlifting unit, and my senior year I joined cross country (wha wha?).

So jumping back to Madrid, at some point during the year I googled "ultimate frisbee Madrid," curious if anyone played it abroad. The Quijotes+Dulcineas website was the top result. I saw that they had pickup (pachanga) on the weekends, but was definitely intimidated by the organization and officialness of it all.

I faintly remember at least a few Saturdays where I lightly considered going to play pickup.

But I never went.


Not even once that entire year.

Granted, I did stay busy with school, friends, and traveling. But I was definitely afraid of going—of not knowing anyone and of being the worst player there.

Thankfully my story doesn't end here, and that's because there's always a tomorrow. As long as you're alive, you will always have tomorrow to learn from the mistakes you make today.

So if we fast-forward two years—and as you already know if you know me—when I moved back to Madrid after graduation to teach English, I did go to Q+D's ultimate pickup.

I was so nervous and scared that first day. But I wanted friends, goddamnit, bad enough to put myself in this temporarily uncomfortable situation.

At pickup, I learned that the deadline was soon approaching to become a socio (member) for the year. That meant you had to pay the dues via bank transfer, and then you could attend weekly practices with the team, participate in fall/spring league, and be eligible to play at tournaments. I knew it was something I just had to bite the bullet and do—so I joined the team and signed up for fall league.

And then a few weeks in, I signed up (thanks to peer pressure) for my first tournament. Ever.

I'm not sure if I was more nervous on that first day of pickup or for my first tournament.

A whole weekend of competitive game after game? Traveling to play a sport? Who am I?

I felt like such an impostor, since "non-athletic" had been ingrained into my identity ever since I was a child. But I played in my first tournament, and then my second, and continued playing all year.

Night before my first tournament in Rivas-Zaragoza
See that girl to the left of me in striped dark blue? Thats my bff Hannah, currently living in London.
See the girl on the right? That's Caroline, my snail mail buddy who currently lives in Switzerland.

The farthest I traveled was to the Canary Islands for a hat tournament, and the most "serious" tournament I played in was in Gent, Belgium. I couldn't tell you how many total games I played. A lot. We had practice twice a week, plus pickup/tournaments on the weekends.

Watching a video of me playing in that very first tournament would be super hilarious (and it probably still exists—the team was definitely recording games that weekend). Yet that's exactly how you start doing anything!

I see three main takeaways from this experience:

The more you do it, the easier it gets.

I was really nervous to go to that first afternoon of pickup because I didn't know anyone and it was a sport. After that second year in Spain, I joined a B-rec summer frisbee league back in the states, and played in my first state-side ultimate frisbee tournament.

By the time I finished my year in Korea, I really knew how to make friends anywhere. You just have to go to events from the start, and keep going—even if you feel like staying in your comfortable room. The more times that you see people, the more comfortable you feel around them and the sooner they can become your friends.

So when I arrived in Montpellier in 2015, hardly able to string a sentence together in French, I signed up for the ultimate frisbee events I saw on Couchsurfing as soon as I saw them. Never mind that it took a good hour and 15 minutes to get to the beach, and never mind that I was nervous. I knew I just had to go and get that first time over with. Then the nerves would float away and I could put faces to names, scenery to places.

This past summer it was me who hosted ultimate at the beach on Thursdays in Montpellier, and me who took turns hosting weekly Meetup events with a friend. I even went to this random event I read about on a French blog and a creative writing workshop without batting an eye!

Websites are not people.

My editing job at FluentU was awesome because I got to see the behind-the-scenes as we grew over 2.5 years. Likewise, at my job with the university during and after college, I loved seeing the behind-the-scenes of a large department. I let my imagination go wild when I first saw the Quijotes + Dulcineas website all those years ago, and as a result I let fear overcome courage.

Having been on "the other side" in so many different situations, I can confidently remind myself: Websites are not people, and people are simply human. So don't be afraid of appearances on websites (or any other non-face-to-face representation of a person/group).

We can grow and transform by doing.

Finally, this is wonderful proof that we can grow and transform—through action. I'd never thought of myself as athletic or sporty, but that second year in Madrid, this was my reality:
  • I play ultimate frisbee 3x/week
  • I do drills at practice each week
  • I travel to compete in about one tournament a month
The evidence is in what I was DOING. I could no longer call myself "unathletic." I've seen this advice in other places—if you want to be a writer, write; if you want to be a runner, run; if you want to be a singer, sing—but the other important piece is to remember is that we can change

Speaking in absolutes, as in "I'm not athletic" or "I can't ~" is very limiting. Better replacements might be "I'm not very athletic right now" or "I can't ~ yet, but could improve by ~ing." 

You can become whoever you want to become. You are the author of your future (because you're the author of your present), and future you can be very different from past or present you—if you want.

Lately I've been growing further into a writer and starting to self-identify as a creative. I play with watercolors, I practice calligraphy, I'm getting inspired by creative books, and just this week I wrote my first micropoems (thanks to the #TLPoetry biweekly prompts).

This is how it starts, by doing. I'm so excited for who future me will be.

I'd love to hear your experiences with this type of growth.

What's something that used to feel scary, which no longer does?

What feels scary today?
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