Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Study and the Olympics

from here

This is my 400th post, so, to keep with the tradition I accidentally started, here’s an update on where I’m at with finding a vocation and dealing with those crippling feelings of mediocrity and directionlessness I first confessed to back in my 100th post, in 2012. Reaching this post this particular week is timely, thanks to both the Olympics and the end of my Graduate Diploma. Let me explain…

First: direction. In my 200th post I mentioned my desire to study psychology, and by my 300th post I’d decided to apply for a course I’d found. I wanted to study psychology back when I left high school, but, convinced I wasn’t intelligent enough for it, I ended up choosing linguistics instead. “Brainy” was the word attached to two of my siblings; I got “pretty” and “sporty.” Though these labels aren’t solely (or even mostly) responsible, my self-esteem is hale and hearty when it comes to looks and my ability to kick and/or catch things, and a crumbly mess when it comes to my academic abilities. This fear of crumbling messily was enough to stop me from pursuing psychology in 2002; I’m thankful that by 2015 I’d finally worked up the courage to sign up despite the scared and screamy voices in my head. And now I’m done! And I did well! The road ahead is long (there’s no end in sight yet), but I know where I’m heading now, which is comforting.

Next: mediocrity and the Olympics. This discovery is fresh out of the oven, and also so simple that I’m embarrassed it was something a) I even needed to discover, and b) I didn’t discover until I was 33 years old. I was tempted to not write about it, but it’s pertinent and it’s been huge, so I figured I had to. Are you dying to know it? Huh?! Oh man. So the Olympics have just finished, and I enjoyed them far more than I expected I would.* I loved Moses and Hazel turning on the TV and seeing women excelling at various sports. I loved the slow mos with uplifting music. I loved the close races (Kyle Chalmers’ 100m final!) and the weird, connected feeling that comes from cheering for the same stranger with other strangers in a café. All of these made me well up with happy tears many times over the fortnight or so the Olympics were on, and I can’t wait for the next one. 

While the Olympics were on, I heard an interview with Kim Brennan’s husband, Scott, who was talking about how hard Kim had trained before the Olympics (she ended up winning the gold medal in rowing); apparently it was a three-times-a-day, six-days-a-week commitment. Three times a day. Six days a week. And I realised: that’s a LOT. Like, to be really good at something, you have to practice a LOT. And maybe I was mediocre at lots of things because I’ve never tried that hard to get better at anything before. I think I’ve always assumed that people who did things well were born with their gifts; I’ve never associated their achievements with effort before! Isn’t that crazy?! You can get quite skilled at things if you work at them, people. You’re welcome. So I’m learning the guitar (again), and practicing singing along. My goal this time is not to become brilliant, but to persist. So far I’ve learned the A, D, and E chords (enough to play Three Little Birds by Bob Marley, which is what I’ve been doing, enthusiastically but awkwardly), as well as how to breathe properly while belting out Nashville songs. My neighbours are probably loving it. 

I was worried that I’d feel an overwhelming sense of purposelessness once my course finished, and I’d need to fill up my time to feel okay (yesterday I heard Brené Brown talking about the things she struggles with that go against everything she’s learned about wholehearted living, among which were perfectionism and linking self-worth with productivity; I completely related). Fortunately, I’m doing fine. Better than fine, in fact! I understand and appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to spend my time learning about Bob Marley songs and breath, and reading books and taking it easy and being, rather than doing.

So, that’s where I’m at: I’m no longer directionless, and my feelings of mediocrity have been sweetened with a dollop of hope that with some effort I’ll be slightly-better-than-mediocre at something, one day.


* Alan and I realised this year that we have polar opposite views of what was great about the Olympics. Me: I hate equestrian. Him: I love the three-day event in equestrian! I can’t stand swimming. Me: What?! Swimming’s the best!! Field events, though. I’m not a huge fan of those. Him: I love watching the field events!! Shot put! High jump! Me: Boring. Him: You know what’s boring? The running. Me: I love the running! And on it went…


  1. I love that Linguistics was your idea of a less academic subject!!

    I have found that even if there IS such a thing as talent and natural ability, it serves me (and my students!) better if I choose not to believe it exists. In my experience, evn really abstract things such creative problem solving and flexible thinking can be practiced and worked at.

  2. Congrats on the diploma and the realization!! It took me to 38 to figure this out. I finally got my driver's license simply by... would you believe it?... practicing driving!!! It really drove home how flawed my thinking on this was. Since then I've read about the research on how kids are praised and I manically praise my kids for TRYING HARD and PRACTICING!! And I really try to stop myself telling them 'mummy isn't very good at x' - I say 'mummy hasn't practiced x very much' (applies to all sports, maths, reverse parking, using the coffee machine...).
    Also, yes, I'm amused at the idea of linguistics as the easy option!!

  3. Another great blog. Can you please point me in the direction of that particular Brene Brown video?

    1. Oooh, I really should have linked to it in the post because trying to figure out exactly where it was has truly tested my memory! It was definitely a podcast, and I'm FAIRLY sure it was John Shuck's interview with her on his Progressive Spirit podcast (from December 18, 2012) about Daring Greatly. I think it was a throwaway line about productivity, but it stuck with me!