“Never be afraid to try new things and make some mistakes. It’s all part of life and learning.” ~Unknown
A few months ago, I was warming up for a dance class. It was a beginners’ class, but the instructor was one of those people who have been dancing all their life, so movement came easy to her. This was the ninth week of a ten-week term, and we’d been working on a choreography for a while now.
Then, the reception girl came in with a new student. She introduced the new girl to the instructor. “Hey B. This is Nat. She is new to the studio, and I offered her a trial class. Do you think you can take care of her?”
“Of course. Hi Nat. We have been working on this “coreo” for a while, but I’ll explain each move as we go. I promise I’ll go really slow. Besides, everyone here is a beginner.”
A little uncertain, Nat came in and took a spot at the back of the class. You could see she wasn’t very comfortable. But everyone encouraged her to stay, so she did.
The truth is that the cues were confusing and the moves were hard to perform. Even though we were all beginners at that particular class, many of us had taken other classes before. Besides, we have been working on this choreography for eight weeks.
Unable to follow the class, Nat burst out of the room in tears after only ten minutes. And on her way out, she said, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I’m clearly not good enough.”
Have you ever been through anything like that? Feeling out of place and inadequate?
I know I have. You see, I’ve never been what you call an athletic kid. Mostly because I never had the opportunity to become one.
In my school, during PE classes, only the talented kids were chosen to play. Everyone else stayed in the sidelines. Watching.
Also, I never participated in extra-curricular sports activities because my parents couldn’t afford it. So I grew up believing that I was not good with sports. Just a scrawny girl, uncoordinated and awkward.
And that was my belief until my late twenties. But then, something happened.
When I was twenty-eight, I decided to give the gym another try. Because I had no previous experience, I carefully chose classes that I believed I could follow. But apparently, the universe has a sense of humor.
Through a mistake on the timetable printout, I ended up on an Advanced Step class. Oh my. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my whole life. I was so bad at it that one of the ladies stopped following the class to try teaching me how to do the basic moves. I was mortified, but… I stayed until the end.
At the end of the class, many of the ladies came to talk to me. I explained how I ended up in that class and was repeatedly apologizing for my lack of coordination. But the truth was that no one cared about my inability to perform the moves.
I was welcomed into their group and encouraged to come again. They assured me that it would become easier with practice.
Long story short, I was the one doing all the judging and criticizing. Nobody else. I was feeling inadequate because I believed that making mistakes would make me look bad in front of people. As if I was only allowed to do things that I could do well.
But hey! You only learn through practice, right? And before you become good at something, chances are that you will suck at first. Or were you born knowing how to ride a bicycle?
Anyway, that experience changed my life. Even though, it was “traumatic” in some ways (I still blush when I think of it), I learned so much from it.
Before, I thought that I needed to be perfect at everything that I did. I had this belief that making mistakes was shameful and that people would think that I wasn’t good enough. Consequently, I shied away from trying new things, just in case I, well, “sucked.”
The truth was that this misbelief was holding me back big time. If I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes, that meant that I was stuck with whatever I’d learned when I was a child. But I haven’t learned everything I wanted just yet, have I?
No. I wanted to learn more, to become better, to grow. I was curious about lots of things but at the same time afraid to fail. Can you relate?
I was at a crossroad. Be perfect but still, or imperfect but moving. So I chose growth. I chose to see mistakes as part of the process of learning. I chose to live a life of discovery and excitement rather than perfection and dullness.
The experience at the group class showed me that I was my worst critic, not others. And if I could be kinder to myself, I would find much easier to navigate the world.
When I stopped taking myself too seriously, I started enjoying life more. Taking more risks and getting bigger rewards.
Because of these learnings, I had the courage to continue my fitness path and become a personal trainer. Even though I was never an athletic kid. And despite my lack of coordination. (Which got better, by the way. With practice.)
To remind myself what is to be a beginner, I often take classes that push me way out of my comfort zone. I call them my “vulnerability” classes. I step into these classes with no expectations to perform. In fact, I give myself full permission to “suck.” To look lost, to feel goofy, to not understand the instructor’s cues.
It’s my way of being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. The more I challenge myself, the stronger I get. This works not only for the body but also for the mind.
So go ahead. Give yourself permission to “suck” and jump into that Zumba class you’ve always wanted to try. There is nothing shameful in being a beginner. No matter how old you are.
About Carla Torres
Carla Torres is a personal trainer and mind-body coach with over ten years of experience in the health and fitness industry. She is the founder of Bodypeptalk and has developed a unique systematic approach to help people make sustainable lifestyle changes so they can become healthier, happier and more confident in their own skin.