At the end of each school year, I always give my students a list of non-English related life lessons that I have learned and that I want them to know about before I send them off into the world. Just to give you an idea, some items from the list are:
- Always write thank you notes for gifts, and be specific about the gift and how it was meaningful to you.
- Have a firm handshake. (and then we practice firm handshakes)
- When you are chronically late, you are saying with your actions that your time is more important than other people's time. Don't do that.
- Presentation is very important; turn in crisp papers, iron your clothes, and wrap gifts beautifully.
Another one that I always include is this:
- Be confident. And even if you don't feel confident, fake it.
I tell my students the story that when I was in high school, I wasn't super confident in who I was. But I had this incredible friend who was extremely confident, and I used to watch the way she walked into a room like she owned it, and laugh when anyone questioned her quirky style. It didn't hurt that she was head-turning gorgeous, but more importantly she was original, a non-conformist, and totally comfortable with her own unique self. I started to consciously start acting like I was confident like she did. Lo and behold, when I started acting confidently, people began to perceive me as confident, and then soon enough, I was confident. Like magic.
A few years later, I went to NELP (New England Literature Program) which was a spring semester of college English in New Hampshire. A woman on the staff who later became a great friend of mine told me about her first impression of me when I arrived on the first day of the program. She said that she noticed me and thought that the vibe I gave off was best described as: “I don't know about the rest of you, but I know who I am and I know what I'm doing.” When she told me that, I laughed to myself and thought: “See, it works!” By that time, I really did know who I was and what I was doing, but I was close enough to my old self-conscious self that I really appreciated her noticing my progress. (Hi, Laura).
All that back story was to tell you that I've been thinking a lot about bravery and doing brave things, and even though I don't always feel brave, I've decided the best thing to do is just proceed as if I am. Close my eyes and jump.
This fall has been a drawn-out struggle, and as I am in the process of clawing my way out of it, I've been thinking about actions, things I can do, steps I can take. I've also had to do the opposite: resist moving so fast all the time, write, think, talk, sit with uncomfortable feelings, have hard conversations. And that feels just as brave. It felt brave for me to write about my sadness. It felt brave to ask for help. It felt brave to get the tattoo that I've wanted for years, which not coincidentally, is a symbol of strength and soaring and freedom, just as a reminder. It feels brave to face conflicts within myself that I could just as easily ignore. It also feels brave, and really fun, to make some race plans for 2012.
When I signed up for my first marathon, I had so many doubts that I could actually run 26.2 miles, and I remember thinking that when I hit ENTER on the registration page for the Nike Women's Marathon, that it was like stepping onto a moving train. It was thrilling and scary, and obviously, I did run the marathon, and finishing was beyond exhilarating. I feel ready to do something big and scary (I mean brave) again. Here goes.
I am going to run another marathon this spring, the one I trained for last year but got sick and then couldn't run. Because what is the meaning of life without a training plan on the fridge? Because what is a winter in Maine without cold, suffering long-runs on the slushy roads on Saturday mornings? You don't know pleasure until you have peeled off three layers of soaking wet running clothes after a ten-degree 15-mile run and then stepped into a steaming shower. You really don't. And oh God, the hot coffee after the hot shower when your skin is all tingly and warm. Hmmm.
And then (this is where I start acting brave) in September, I am going to complete a Half-Ironman. (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run = 70.3 miles).
Don't try and stop me. Because I'm not scared at all. Not even a little bit. No big deal. I mean, I've never swam that far in open water. I've never biked more than 30 miles at once. When I see people warming up before a half marathon, I think: “Good God, people, you have 13 miles to run! Rest up!”
Like I said, I'm not scared.
So, starting in January, I will begin an 18-week training plan that will lead up to the Sugarloaf Marathon, and then starting (ahem) the day after the marathon, I will transition into an 18-week training plan that will take me to the Pumpkinman Half-Ironman. Telling you about that makes me feel like this. Woooo hooooo.
New Year's resolution time is coming soon. Do something brave with me! And if you don't think you are brave or confident enough to do the thing that scares you (let's review today's lesson): Just fake it. Nobody will know the difference.