a lesson in failing gracefully?

During the month of August, I attended a few introductory aerial dance classes at a studio in Seattle. No, it’s not as if I planned on someday performing as an aerialist or anything like that, but it seemed like a good way to get in shape… and maybe, hopefully, it would end up being my thing.

I fell in love with it, with the joy of learning new skills, new things to do with my body. I fell in love with the soreness that lasted for days afterwards. I fell in love with the fact that I was doing something none of my friends were.The problem is, it didn’t fall in love with me.

I missed the final class due to a family emergency, but already I knew I was the worst-performing student in the class. I was always the one who needed the most help, from proper positioning to remembering the sequence. When I told the instructors I had to miss the last class, they suggested I sign up for a private lesson – after all, there are things you need to learn in the last class in order to “graduate” to the next level. Some part of me figured that there was some possibility of my continuing to the next level, I guess.

All of this is to say that I had the private lesson this past Thursday. And I still, quite frankly, suck. At the end of the lesson, the instructor (who is also the owner of the studio) gave an open gym pass to my lesson companion. It was clear I was not getting one, so I finally bit the bullet. I said that it’s clear I need more help than, well, probably everyone ever, and asked what she would recommend. I’d secretly hoped for a “Oh, everyone starts out needing this much help!” or something, but I just got a nod and agreement, and the suggestion that I retake the intro series or sign up for private lessons.

And it’s fine, really. She pointed out that I seem to be a kinesthetic learner, which I agree with in some senses (I really do learn better by doing) but disagree with in others (the internet says kinesthetic learners have good hand/eye coordination, science and math skills, and physical abilities – uh, no). It’s just that I had hoped that maybe this could be it, the thing I’m finally good at. It isn’t, and I generally don’t believe people should do things they’re terrible at. That is to say, if you’re awful at singing but you love it, fine, sing in your car – but don’t try to join a choir. If I’m awful at aerials, why should I waste the instructors’ time by expecting them to teach me, when I can’t actually learn? And why put myself through the embarrassment and awkwardness of an entire class of people watching me flail (and fail)?

The thing is, I can’t help but wonder when it’s my turn. I’ve spent my entire life longing to be good at something, to be talented, to have that elusive thing everyone else seems to have. As a kid, I took gymnastics classes, but after four years I gave it up – after repeatedly watching my peers move up to higher and higher levels while I stayed in Beginners. I was regularly teased to the point of tears in gym class because of how awful I was at sports, so I refused to play on a team. I’ve never been visually artistic. In high school, I joined the choir, but never made it out of the “no cuts” class, knowing full well I’m not a gifted singer.

I’ve never just been good at something. Everything I’ve tried, from jewelry making to yoga to writing classes, has been ten times harder for me than for everyone else. It’s always very clear that I’m the least talented in the class. Part of why I tried to push myself to run was in hopes that it could be my thing; after all, none of my other friends run. As it turns out, I’m not a gifted runner, either. I even failed drivers ed.

Small things come to mind, things I might be good at: talking to people, public speaking, conversing. But then I remember how hard it is for me to keep a conversation going with a stranger. I remember a recent compliment on my public speaking skills, but when I pause to consider it, I remember college – and a public speaking class in which my small discussion section voted my speech the best, sending me to a competition among other students. And I remember it felt good, until I actually competed and was voted dead last by every single judge, every single time, in every single category.

And so I’m left wondering, yet again, what is wrong with me? How is it that I, at twenty-five years old, don’t know what it feels like to be good at something? I don’t know the feeling of being “a natural” at something, nor do I really know the feeling of working hard and finally succeeding. I know the feeling of working hard, of course, but that’s about it.

Most days now, I can ignore it. I’m so busy that there isn’t much time to stew over my lack of talent in life. But it’s always going to come back to me, and I’m always going to be the same girl I was at seven years old, sitting there wondering what is wrong with me, why I can’t be good at anything, and why I always feel like I’m never going to measure up or have anything to offer.

[I had to get this out of my system; more positivity later, I promise.]


2 thoughts on “a lesson in failing gracefully?

  1. I’m *so* glad you tried it! I’m one of those people who doesn’t really have a “thing”, I was never talented at sports or singing (though I did have a stint of time with the oboe, so it sort of counts. Except I dropped it so meh. I’m trying to make aerials my thing, we’ll see.

    I’m one of those middle-ground people in class, I’m the least flexible by far. And every week the instructor mentions to everyone that “now is a great time to work on your straddle”…except everyone else can do the splits and I can’t. So you know she’s talking to me.

    Something I was always told is that if you don’t know what your talent is, start looking in unconventional places. Like maybe you have a talent with hospitality or driving, the little things count too. đŸ™‚ And I’m pretty sure you’ve got some talent in writing, I do like reading your posts.

  2. Pingback: when failure actually doesn’t suck in the end « either eat this soup or jump out of this window

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