Tuesday, January 11, 2011

ON FUN ~ Put One Foot In Front Of The Other...

Image courtesy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua J. Wahl, via Wikimedia Commons

At the age of 45, writer Regina Brett wrote a column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer listing 45 lessons that life had taught her thus far. As a breast cancer survivor, many of those lessons were learned the hard way. Five years later she added five more lessons rounding her list up to 50 and turned her popular list into a book called God Never Blinks. I found her list to be entertaining, inspiring and thought provoking. I thought I would go through each of her lessons learned and write about how that lesson has or has not come up in my own life, now that I am 40 and feel old enough to have finally learned something.

"When in doubt, just take the next right step."

I grew up moving all over the place. This meant that I was always "the new kid." Which is a cool thing to be when you are less than 10 years old. Once you hit about 5th grade, it is more of a suspect title. And as a teen, it is as if you have leprosy. Lucky me - I got to experience all stages.

No matter how many times you are dropped into a new world where everything is different, you still experience fear, self-doubt and shyness. Eventually it wears off. You learn to become an observer. Feeling things out until you have had time to decide what to do, who to talk to, where to go and what to share. Sometimes it is more challenging than others. But there is always that moment where you need to decide what to do.

Do I go up and try to sit at that table with the friendly looking kids? Should I accept the invitation to come out and play with these two people I have never met? Will they beat me up? Make me the butt of their jokes? Or will they show me the ropes? One bad move and you can really screw up your self-confidence in addition to your reputation - which is of the utmost importance when you are 12.

Each time I was confronted with such a decision, I was able to handle it by thinking small. When the opportunity arose to join the kickball game, I could sit on the teeter totter by myself, search for bugs with the strange looking kid or subject myself to the humiliation of being the last kid picked. I decided that being last was better than not being at all. I wasn't trying to kick the game winning home run. I honestly was shocked if I made actual contact. What I focused on was taking that small step in the direction of the group I wanted to learn more about. I just wanted to be on someone's team.

I was usually picked last, but I kept lining up to play. I had made that first baby step towards the goal of getting to know other people in a new school. I was well liked by the former bottom dwellers who were now no longer last, but next-to-last. I allowed them to move up in the food chain and for that, they watched my back.

Sitting on that bench gave me time to listen and learn. I figured out who the nice kids were and who were the jerks. I learned what the favorite songs and styles were of the day. I discovered which teachers were best to avoid. I found out who liked who and saved it all in my mental rolodex. And then I used that information to adapt to my surroundings and find better ways to fit in than by attempting to play kickball.

But in that initial moment of doubt - should I play or not - I decided to take that first step, or kick so to speak. From there I took another small step by mumbling a few words to the kids on my team. Using that, I had a base of familiarity to build upon and gain the inclusion in actual conversation. And from there, I found some new friends. Which was the overall goal. I needed someone to show me the ropes in this new town in yet another part of the country new to me.

If I had started that first day determined to come home with a posse of new friends, I would have been overwhelmed and likely disappointed. I also could have made some poor connections just for the sake of trying to accomplish the big picture too quickly. Breaking it down into one step at a time and seeing where that went allowed me to relax and take a more natural approach.

I still turn into a bit of a wallflower instinctively when I encounter a new group of people. My lips are zipped but my eyes and ears are wide. I try to muster the courage to talk to someone about the weather. Or the sports scene. To gain a foothold in the setting. And then be invited in to the crowd. Once I find a comfort zone, I am far from quiet, shy or demure. I am loud, teasing and jovial. After all of those baby steps to get there, it feels good to let loose and celebrate by kicking...up my heels.


Malcolm R. Campbell said...

Whether it was in our PE courses or at the playground, I was usually picked last for almost every sport. It was better to sit on the bench than be invisible. And sometimes that small step led to some interesting conversation or even a ball hit over the fence.


soleil said...

I moved a lot as a kid too. I think the most nerve-wracking move was changing schools sophomore year.

My approach was to zero in on people that seemed interesting to me. People my gut said, try them. Then I would gather my courage and and approach them.

I still do it today when I am in new settings. It is a skill for life.

Kathleen said...

This habit, formed in childhood, of sitting back and observing has made you a GREAT writer!

Margot said...

People usually think wisdom comes with age but your experience proves wisdom is something you are born with. You were wise to use the disadvantage of always being the new did into a skill that's carried you on into adulthood. The plus is that now you are able to share this with others.

I'm looking forward to more of these life lesson posts.

Anonymous said...

I love this post! I went to the same school from 1st grade til graduation and we only had a graduating class of 111 so I knew everybody. I always felt bad for the new kids because the teen years are hard enough without all the added drama of being the new kid. I appreciated seeing it from the other side, your side. I did move quite a bit after college and finding new adult friends could be viewed the same way.