If you read my blog post Taking Off the Training Wheels, you know I was going to start a group art class. The night before, I tossed and turned. By morning, my stomach was in full butterfly-mode (the size of condors). As I got ready, I gave myself a pep-talk and the cheerleader rah-rah-rah’s. But as one side of me you-canned, the other side dug in her heels.
The heels won out.
And yes, I know. I could have pushed harder and made myself go. Yes, doing it would have felt invigorating and given me a “Yesss! I did it!” moment. Yes, choosing not to go meant missing out on an opportunity to learn and grow.
But wait a minute. I did learn and grow. Just in a different way.
In the guilt-ridden moments after deciding not to go, my brain whirled around trying to classify the decision as either good or bad. Was it based on a fear that I needed to face? If so, tick box marked “bad”. Was it because I know myself, and that being the new person in an already established art group was too much of a stretch for my insecure creative-muse to feel safe in? If so, tick box marked “good”. Oh, wait a moment. Was that last one me listening to myself or rationalizing? Not sure. Better scribble out good and go with bad.
Catching myself about to fall into beat-yourself-up mode, I consciously shifted. The decision was in the past. The present was about what I was saying to myself / doing / feeling / being, after the decision. So I chose to let go and forgive myself for not being able to dive in. And when I did, I realized there was nothing that needed forgiving.
My left-brain analytical self had been steering me towards something that in theory, would be good for me. But to my right-brain creative side (where the fledgling artist lives), attending a group class felt like diving off the high board. She was only ready to dip her toe in. Listening to one over the other was simply a choice.
If I needed to be a toe-dipper, so be it. There is nothing wrong with dipping my toe in the water and experimenting on my own for a while. Once my ankles get wet and the water warms to my skin, I get to make another choice: I can invite someone into the water (i.e. the retired art instructor/neighbor for some tips and trick over coffee), play in another pool (group class) or keep enjoying splashing around on my own.
Just like drawing from photographs does not make me less-than or a fraud (a realization that came after writing Training Wheels) being a toe-dipper does not make me less-than either. Yes, we live in a society that idealizes the deep-end divers, go-getters, strivers, risk-taking, no-holds-bar-doers. Toe-dipping may not look as glamorous as high-diving, but as long as it gets us in the water, does it really matter?
I am a diver when I am confident, a toe-dipper when I feel vulnerable. Sometimes I need to stay at the shallow-end and watch the swimmers for a while. Other times, I start swimming as soon as my head hits the water. My breath and stroke may be steady or I may need to float and tread water along the way.
No, there is nothing wrong with being a toe-dipper. It only becomes less-than when I get stuck in the past and am clouded by self-judgement. But when I look at it through clear eyes, toe-dipping and diving are the same at heart. Slow or fast, tentative or sure, each are a way of getting in the water.
For me, it’s about trusting when to dip and when to dive.
“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” — Chinese Proverb
“Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.”– Julius Charles
“Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.” — Dr. Seuss
“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
“Your mind, this globe of awareness, is a starry universe. When you push off with your foot, a thousand new roads become clear.” — Rumi
“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” — Doe Zantamata