When I was young (this is how all good blog posts start, right?), even as young as 6 or 7, I was keenly aware of what I was “good at.” I was always in the highest level reading group at school. I considered it fun to memorize the multiplication tables and state capitals. I never had a problem getting the steps right in dance class. Meanwhile, I was running away from anything where a ball would fly at my face, my handwriting was a natural disaster, and my sense of style wasn’t developed until like, last week.
So as I continued to grow, and went through that horrible middle school period where simultaneous braces and glasses are the price you pay so you can eventually be cuter in high school, and your best friend is tall and blonde and lovely and you’re short and brunette and loud, the things I was naturally good at in life became my main source of confidence. Math was a breeze. I picked up a tap class at the age of twelve and was an instant dancing machine. I decided to try out for cheerleading instead of “Bye Bye Birdie” (which my dad was NOT happy about), and I was named Most Valuable Cheerleader at the end of the year. Yeah, I still have that plaque. It’s a real thing.
And so on and so forth I continued, being the ultimate Overachiever in high school, without a doubt in my mind that I would definitely be captain of the squad this year, or I would definitely run well enough in the 100M hurdles to get my varsity letter as a sophomore, and that I would absolutely get perfect scores on my math Regents final exams three years in a row (anyone from New York State? Anyone?). I didn’t give it a second thought, because it all came naturally. I was “simply the best.”
I vividly remember the first time I experienced true, devastating disappointment. It was tenth grade, and I desperately wanted the role of Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes.” I belted my little guts out, and gave the sassiest, brassiest audition I could muster. But it just wasn’t meant to be. The role went to my cousin (who was truly incredible), and I was to play a tap dancing angel named Purity (stop laughing). Stupid tap lessons.
I was gutted and confused and to be honest, kind of a little bitch about it. It happened again the next year, when I had to play Ms. Krumholtz in “How to Succeed” instead of Smitty. And this was when I understood: I wasn’t “simply the best” anymore. I was surrounded by and ensconced in a group of peers whose talents matched, and usually exceeded, mine. If I wanted something, I wasn’t just going to get it without trying. I had to work for it, and I just didn’t know how. My world was rocked.
College only brought about the same realizations, only with more drunken tears and emotional half-epiphanies that I promptly forgot the next morning. The Drama Department at Syracuse University was a motley crew of exceptional humans, Type-A personalities, comedians, and talent that went on for days. All of us had been “simply the best” in high school. Unfortunately for our egos, our worlds were expanding, and working hard and studying was the only way to stay on top, or at least close enough to the middle that you didn’t feel that terrible about yourself.
As we grow up, we naturally gravitate to the things we’re good at. You run faster than your friends? You play soccer. You can do long division in your head? You take Advanced Calculus. You can carry a tune and don’t feel shy about singing in front of people? It’s the spotlight for you! It’s only as we get older and continue to with these hobbies or activities that we find ourselves surrounded by others who are also naturally good at the same things. And this is petrifying. It forces a decision as to whether or not it’s time to quit, or it’s time to push on, and the scariest question of all, if you even like what you’re doing.
So discovering yoga has been life changing, but not in an instant way. I’m just starting to realize that there will not be a finished product. I will never be done practicing. I’m slowly becoming comfortable with the fact that every occasion I step onto my mat will be different. “Practice makes perfect” is not a phrase that applies here.
Yoga has been a wonderful discovery for me. And not just in the ways that every magazine and website names, like exercise and heart health and mental health and things and stuff. For me, and I suspect for many others, it helps find a balance between being naturally good and “simply the best.” We all live lives of hard work and promotions and unfairness and scary politicians and trying, sweating, trying again. For the one hour or so a day that I get to enter that yoga room and establish my own space on MY mat, I can tune all of it out, and tune in to ME.
I don’t ever have to hand in a final report on yoga. There is no Opening Night for yoga. No one will be handing me a Yoga Report Card. Except myself.
And in that lies freedom. Once I let go of the inane notion that other people were watching me and judging my down dog, or giggling inside as I fell out of a headstand, I realized the truth. Most people are too busy thinking about their own down dogs and headstands. They don’t give a crap about my practice. It sounds mean, but it’s just our artificial ego that gets insulted by that. Once you get over the cold hard fact that no one is watching you, you’re able to rejoice freely and in whatever way you desire. Because NO ONE IS WATCHING YOU.
Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes awesome. Practice makes confidence. Practice makes love, for ourselves and for those around us. Practice. Practice. Practice. And smile.