It was a spontaneous decision that saw me getting round horse kicked by people a third my size and a quarter my age. Sessions were split in between laughing, learning and lying on the ground (mainly from laughing – but the occasional round horse kick from a five-year-old also did the trick). It was more fun than I could have imagined. I arrived home in NZ with a Green belt and some handy self-defense tips for dodging those shady figures lurking around on Ponsonby nights out.
So when the opportunity to start a new adventure and become a Surf Lifeguard arose, I was floored when the first thought that came to my mind was ‘Na, I’ll look like an idiot, I don’t know anything about that stuff’. Hold up a second. Why does it suddenly matter who sees me? And why do I care if they see me make a dick out of myself, if it’s something I’ve always quietly wanted to do?
I realised that starting something new was a lot less daunting when I knew no one, and no one knew me. I lived the identity I’d created while overseas, but since returning to NZ something has been holding me back. A cheeky little gremlin in my head; called shame.
If we take a trip down memory lane, back to fond memories of being children, where Hollywood and eccentric bedtime stories teach us to harbour dreams and imaginations. In classrooms we brainstorm what we want to ‘be’ when we ‘grow up’, enabling creative reinventions of ourselves. From Olympians to educators, kids throw around words with more syllables than their age. It’s the precious window of time where we’re taught that the world is a blank canvas, waiting for us to paint our colours.
Time passes. High school rolls around and as we develop our perception of the world around us, we begin to prescribe titles to the people and places we know:
“Cool”, “Not cool”, “Sporty”, “Hot”, “Artsy”, “Weird”
It’s an innate and subconscious way of filing the assortment of incoming messages. We begin surrounding ourselves with the familiar and go about doing the sports/activities/subjects we feel comfortable in. It’s a natural process.
By the time we hit out 20s we’re familiar with our identity. With social media at our fingertips, we become aware of the perception of ourselves that we create through the elements of our lives we share online. We become known for certain interests, talents and personality traits. Deviating from these norms creates vulnerability, and for that reason alone, we tend to stick to what we know. Popularly misunderstood as a weakness, vulnerability opens the door for a sneaky little gremlin that says ‘you’ll look like an idiot if you do this’, that gremlin’s name is shame.
From media campaigns to famous quotes; we are drilled with the message that ‘life is about daring greatly’. A personal favourite of mine is an excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming”, yet researcher Brene Brown’s points out that shame is the gremlin outside of the gates of the arena – telling us we’re not good enough to enter. Shame is a focus on self, it’s the uncomfortable feeling we get when we hold who we are up against who we want to be, it speaks to the fact that most often the gremlin holding us back is ourselves.
Listening to shame and becoming comfortable with vulnerability are considered the key to starting new adventures, they blindside the gremlin at the gate, they put you in the arena. Brown points out that if there’s an antidote to shame, it’s empathy. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle are “me too”. By acknowledging the fact that our identity is our own shifting creation, we give ourselves and the people around us the permission to be authentically themselves. There is nothing more invigorating than friendships with people who understand that you’re continuously growing and learning as time rolls by. By reciprocating that empathy and encouraging the people around us to tackle new mountains, we co-create a space that rewards individuality and self-expression. Empowering others can empower us as individuals to be authentically ourselves and have a crack at adventures that traditionally exist outside the self-created boundaries of our identity.
We can start the adventures that the child in us used to dream about. We begin the new adventures we’ve suddenly become interested in and embrace the fact that there is no template or default setting for our identity.